Being SJLC 2014: Disciple
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 1:29-42a (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
I am a follower.
I really enjoy getting information through Twitter. While some of you might be avid “tweeters,” others might not be all that familiar with just what Twitter is. It’s a social-media service that allows its users to communicate in short bursts of text by posting “tweets,” each limited to a maximum of 140-characters. Some users tend to tweet a lot more than others, though I’m more of a Twitter spectator most of the time. People have used Twitter in really diverse ways, and it reveals both how incredibly mundane and how completely amazing life can be from day to day. It can be a public diary in which you report the details of what you’re eating and what you’re doing. It has served as a means through which governments have been shaken as people communicated freely to the whole world. Like a micro-sized version of services like Facebook, Twitter helps you keep in touch. I tend to use my Twitter account in a couple of ways. I stay informed on news and pop culture by following the tweets of the companies, people, and organizations in which I’m interested. That’s how I came across a story about edible play-doh.
One of the media outlets I follow tweeted a link to their story on tasting a company’s “Sweet Edible Art” product, an imitation of the classic Play-Doh modeling compound. Play-Doh wasn’t intended to be eaten; however, children have occasionally done so – pretty much from the time that Play-Doh existed. This new imitation, therefore, has been created and marketed as something that its users are meant to eat. Both company’s products allow kids of all ages to exercise their creativity through shaping colorful, putty-like dough into whatever you might imagine. The company that makes Sweet Edible Art shows children making things like miniature cupcakes, lollipops, and teddy bears, all of which would presumably get eaten in pretty short order. In case you were wondering, the story behind the tweet reported that the “grainy, mouth-covering texture” of this stuff – while full of sweetener – isn’t something that you’d probably enjoy eating. (I think I’ll stick with not eating regular Play-Doh, thank you kindly.) Unlike this Sweet Edible Art product, good old Play-Doh is supposed to go back into its container so that you can use it again, continuing to craft new creations. If left out, it dries out and hardens until it’s stuck in the shape in which it was left and eventually cracks and falls apart. It’s not meant to just sit around.
This week in our “Being SJLC 2014” Epiphany focus turns to that second word which describes our life together as a congregation: Disciple. When people hear this word, “disciple,” it’s most often as a noun. It refers to a person who’s a follower. Being a disciple is different from following someone on Twitter, though. A disciple is someone who learns from their teacher and who is changed by that teacher. The teacher shapes the student who would follow him: he disciples the disciple. While it’s something of an old usage, that is the verb form of “disciple,” the form that takes its place as a key word in St. John’s vision. This verb speaks of what the teacher is doing to shape the student, the follower.
In John’s Gospel account today, you heard of how some of the men who became Jesus’ disciples first encountered him. They were John’s students, looking ahead with him for the one who God would send as the Messiah, the Savior. So when John bears witness that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the one for whom John was sent to prepare the people, they pay attention! They go and follow Jesus, looking to learn more about him. It’s as if John tweeted, “Hey, follow this @Jesus! #Messiah” – so they do, to find out what’s up with him. Seeing some of John’s disciples following him, Jesus says to them, “What are you seeking?” What if Jesus asked you that question today?
If you follow someone on Twitter, you can read what they’re tweeting, but it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with it. You could just mute them for a time, or block out some topics entirely if whatever they’re saying isn’t to your liking. Sure, it’s good to have access to a source like that, but it’s not something that shapes your life. If it’s not what you’re seeking, no big deal. You’re just a spectator of that Twitter feed: it ultimately doesn’t mean all that much.
John the Baptizer told his disciples that Jesus was the Christ. He is. He is the Savior who would perfectly fulfill his Father’s plan to offer a sacrifice for the sin of all humanity. Jesus didn’t give his life on the cross and rise to life three days later to be a spectacle – and yet you and I as Christians can easily fall into a comfortable complacency that only looks on Jesus as a spectator. But being a spectator is not the same thing as being a disciple.
In response to Jesus’ question, John’s disciples asked where he was staying. They wanted to spend time with him to get to know him. Inviting them to follow him, Jesus would disciple them. He would teach them and shape them, even as he shapes us.
Our faith as Christians isn’t limited to the belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t come together week after week as spectators, just looking back on history or looking ahead to life with God in the age to come. God didn’t send His Son into our world just so that we could “ride the pew” in our congregations and bide our time until we die. No, God has called us together under the cross of Christ Jesus to disciple us as His people in the here-and-now. Being Jesus’ disciple means being discipled by him.
God has given you forgiveness and life in Jesus – but that doesn’t mean that He intends you to stay the way that you are right now, like a Play-Doh sculpture that’s left out to harden in the sun. Your life in Christ isn’t something stuck and static. Jesus has saved you from sin so that you could live and grow in him. The Holy Spirit is continually at work to shape and form you as live, as a master sculptor working with living clay. He can even shape a rock. In the verses immediately after our Gospel text, we hear how once Andrew brought his brother Simon to see Jesus, Jesus game him a new name, Cephas (in Hebrew) or Peter (in Greek), which means “rock.” As he did with Simon Peter, he does with all his disciples: Jesus makes you what he calls you to be.
If you follow Jesus as his disciple, he will shape you. It won’t usually be a comfortable process, and it’s nothing to be a complacent spectator about. But if you don’t want to end up as petrified Play-Doh, being discipled by Jesus is the best thing that could ever happen to you.
In today’s Epistle text, Paul points out what God was doing in those disciples in that congregation in Corinth. As Paul puts it, these believers were “enriched” in Christ in speech and knowledge. The Holy Spirit equipped them with good gifts as He shaped them to be more and more Christ-like. He does the same for you and me. Gathered as God’s people, He shapes us each week through His Word. He fixes broken souls, giving them a new name in Holy Baptism. He feeds and fuels His followers in the Lord’s Supper. You and I have been called into the fellowship of God the Son, Jesus, the Messiah – not as spectators but as participants through His love.
You have a special opportunity this weekend to see some of the ways in which God is working through the people of St. John’s to serve in our congregation and community. The Ministry Celebration Fair that’s taking place before and after each worship service and during our Sunday morning education hour is a part of our “Being SJLC 2014” emphasis. If you haven’t already done so, take a few minutes to stop in and speak with people who are engaged the different ministry areas of our life together at St. John’s. You’ll see that there’s no singular, predefined role for God’s people as you serve one another as the body of Christ and as you serve the world into which He sends you. As Jesus’ disciples here in this time and place, you and I have been and will continue to be shaped into increasingly Christ-like people. This is definitely an aspect of our community worth celebrating.
You are not some dried-up Play-Doh sculpture. God continues to shape you as His new creation through water and His Word. I am a follower. You are, too. But none of us can be spectators. Come, and be discipled by Jesus with me!
other sermons in this series