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Being SJLC 2023: Discipling

February 5, 2023 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2023

Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 5:13–20

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

February 5, 2023

Matthew 5:13-20

 “Serving Jesus -Living in Community: Discipling”

Having returned from Florida a week ago, some of you may be wondering, “So where’s your suntan?” As you can see, I didn’t really come back with much of a tan. Although the weather there was certainly warmer than here, it was mostly cool and cloudy while we were there. Of course, this past week – right after we left Florida – turned out to be beautiful sunny weather in the 80s. It’s a Murphy’s Law kind of thing. But the upside here is that we experienced something really amazing in connecting with a young man named Trevor, whose family operates a hydroponics garden. This was a very eye-opening experience, and Trevor graciously showed us around and explained how things work on a basic level so we would understand. Hydroponics is a way to grow plants, including crops, without soil using water-based nutrient solutions that are continuously recycled. On a space that was only several hundred square feet, all kinds of lettuce plants and other greens were being grown on these towers built out of a PVC kind of material. Trevor said that growing the same number of plants in a traditional soil-based garden would require approximately five acres of land. This has enormous potential for all kinds of places around the world where soil-based gardening and crop growing is not possible. This is one of the things that I hope to delve into more deeply on my upcoming sabbatical. I hope to become something of a hydroponics disciple, and I’ve got so much to learn. To be a disciple involves discipling, and based on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, this is what’s before us today in our Epiphany series, Serving Jesus-Living in Community, or Being SJLC 2023 for short. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

By way of review, we revised our congregation’s Bylaws several years ago and regrouped how our governing body, the Church Council, is structured. We now have five ministry areas: Gathering, Connecting, Discipling, Living Faith, and Messaging. Messaging permeates and runs through the other four, and this is how we are structured as a congregation to join Jesus on his mission. In our 4-week Epiphany series of Being SJLC 2023, we have looked at Gathering and Connecting, and that leads us to the third ministry area: Discipling. So what does that mean? Within the word “discipling” is the root word “disciple.” To be a disciple means that you are a student, a learner. If I’m going to learn about hydroponics, I have to become a student, a disciple, and grow in my understanding about all of this. The same holds true in just about anything we want to do: car repair, home maintenance, playing an instrument, baking or cooking, photography, sports, and much more. We learn from someone who is more experienced. We become disciples of teachers who are skilled in these various things, and we learn by doing. OJT, as it’s sometimes called: on-the-job training. Something that previous generations did not have, but we do, is a virtual teacher. How many of us have gone to YouTube to find out how to do something? There’s a YouTube video for just about everything. If you go to YouTube and search for “becoming a disciple of Jesus,” all kinds of things pop up. I can’t vouch for everything that does pop up, but it’s there. This is the digital world we live in, where more and more information is available online to anyone who wants to search for it. We could discuss all day the pros and cons of in-person vs. virtual discipling. There are trade-offs, of course; advantages and disadvantages with each. What one person likes another may dislike. What works for one may not work for another. But the reality is that discipling is happening both in-person as well as virtually, and we are doing both within our own congregation. The purpose of both is to help us and strengthen us to live as followers of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a follow-on to last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. It is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and here we have two competing visions of discipling: one that is outward-focused as we are called to be salt for the earth and light for the world; and another that is inward-focused and rooted in self-righteousness. The purpose of discipling is that there be less of us and more of Jesus; or as John the Baptist said: “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The flavor and seasoning that the world needs is not ourselves, but Jesus. The light the world needs is not our own, but Jesus who is the Light of the world (John 8:12), who has called us out of darkness into his own marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Contrast this with what follows, where Jesus speaks of how he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. The closing verse in the Gospel lesson is significant: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). It’s those words, “your righteousness,” that are concerning. When it comes to faith, do we really want to rely on our own righteousness? Relying on ourselves, how will we ever know if we’ve been good enough, or done enough, to be accounted righteous before God? That will lead either to utter despair or smug complacency. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” When all is said and done, what works – what saves – is not our own manufactured self-righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus, sealed with his own blood on the tree of the cross, given and shed for us and for our salvation. It is this blood-bought righteousness of Jesus that covers all our sins and becomes ours through faith. This is the source of our discipling, and this takes place through preaching and teaching of the Word of God. It happens through conversation and prayer, through Word and Sacrament, through small groups, huddles, and missional communities where we are strengthened and encouraged in our journey of faith, and where we invite others to join us.

The truth is that we are all in need of being discipled. No matter where we are on our journey of faith – new believer, cradle Christian, or somewhere in-between – we will find blessing and strength for living by being in the Word with fellow believers who help us grow and lovingly hold us accountable in our faith walk. To help with this, we have retitled our Director of Christian Education’s position to “Director of Discipleship.” It is that important! It’s about know, grow and go. It’s about knowing this God who loves us with an everlasting love; who did not withhold even the life of his only Son, but freely gave him up for us all; who wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us and trusting that God is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31). Building on this knowing, it’s about going deeper, and growing in who God is and how God has revealed himself in his written Word, the Scriptures, and in the living Word, the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ. From this knowing and growing, we will then be moved to start going out into the world to join Jesus on his mission. He’s already out there ahead of us in all the places of our daily lives: at church, at home, in the coffee shop, at the gym, over lunch, standing in line at the check-out. In our going, we see all of these places through Jesus’ own mission eyes.

Join us next Sunday as we close out this Being SJLC 2023 series with Living Faith. Amen.



More in Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2023

February 12, 2023

Being SJLC 2023: Living Faith

January 29, 2023

Being SJLC 2023: Connecting

January 22, 2023

Being SJLC 2023: Gathering