Today marks the start of the week of prayer for Christian Unity within and between all people of faith and so it is pertinent that the theme of our readings is discipleship.
I want consider this concept of discipleship this morning and I need your help.
What is your experience of discipleship? – well before asking you to answer that question I’d like just touch on what discipleship is – and to share some of my learning with you. The text that Jane read to us from John follows on from Jesus baptism, which Keith spoke about last week. It is an interesting reading which introduces us to the character of Jesus. John is standing with two of his own disciples and he points out Jesus – and names him as the lamb of God – the disciples who are not named at this point begin to follow Jesus – who turns and asks them, “What are you looking for”, this must have been quite threatening to the disciples and hard to answer. I always think that this exchange is like someone staring at a Liverpudlian who may ask – Who do you think you’re looking at? The disciples must have been caught off guard by Jesus question and they answer with a question (bit like a politician) – Rabbi/teacher – where are you staying? Jesus invites them to go with him – “come and see”. Come and see – it is the answer that Jesus gives to all who come to him – come and see – come and stay awhile.
We then read that the disciples went with Jesus and stayed with him that day.
Those two questions are really important. Jesus asks those that follow him, “What are you looking for?” – Well what? And in order to answer that question we need to spend some time with Jesus – to stay in the presence of God. I was encouraged in my preparation by the psalm that Chris had chosen for us to share today – which I think reflected my thinking – “I stayed – I waited patiently on the Lord”, the psalmist speaks of the relationship with God lifting, affirming, strengthening, keeping our feet on the ground – whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Rowan Williams – in his book ‘Being disciples’ which I make no apology for having drawn on in preparing this talk today, says “Discipleship is a state of being, it is about how we live – not just the decisions we make, not just the things we believe, but a state of being”.
Dr Williams says that discipleship is not an intermittent state, it is a continuous relationship where we stay …… following Jesus means to stay – not just to turn up from time to time. Disciples are expectant – that there is always something to learn from the Master –
Dr Williams likens prayer to birdwatching – is anyone here a birder? Rowan is inspired by the idea that prayer is like being a birdwatcher – people who are passionate about watching birds often sit around in the rain all day with not much happening – he says this is what our prayer-life can often be like – you pray continuously and nothing seems to change but disciples ‘stay’ they are expectant – just as birdwatchers, they know that something may happen and they don’t want to miss it. We went out to Martin Mere a few months ago and we joined others in a bird hide looking out over the marshes – over a few hours we watched a few birds fly overhead and watched a crow picking over the remains of another bird… the skies were more or less empty. We decided to go on a walk and come back – on our return the birders were still there. Then one lady picked up her binoculars and said excitedly – here they come – we could see and hear nothing – but others followed her example and began to say to each other – yes here they come – in the half hour that followed over a thousand geese flew overhead – the noise was deafening and the skies darkened with the number of birds. We must be expectant and ready when things happen.
A bit later on we were in another hide and looked out over a pretty bleak landscape with occasional flurry of birds – a man said to us – have you seen the sparrow-hawk – we hadn’t seen anything. That’s because we were looking in the wrong place. He told us where to look and in a little while we caught a glimpse. Birdwatchers stay, they are expectant, they know/learn where to go … and new followers often need help to look in the right place.
Discipleship is more than following – it is a state of being, it is about how we live…it is a willingness to go where Jesus goes, to be in the company of those who Jesus seeks out. In John 12:26 Jesus says where I am there will my servant be also
You will not be surprised to hear that I was a bit of a rebel when growing up, as a young adult I was seeking – finding out who I was and how I fitted in with the world and the church – my mother would constantly tell me – “if you were a Christian you would not behave like this or that” my mother never liked the company I kept nor the political actions and thoughts I had – she wasn’t wrong but … a better question would have been, “how does your behaviour reflect the love of God” – helping my seeking rather than making a value judgement on who I was.
It is useful to think about what discipleship is not – it is not dictated by family or friends, it is not defined by other relationships, by politics, opinions or campaigns – it is a way of being which begins where we are and impacts on everything we do.
I would like you to turn to the person next to you – or maybe with a group of 3 to share a recent experience that you have had in seeking to follow Jesus. I will then ask for one or two examples.
2020 is still very new and promises to be a very challenging year for all of us – in our personal relationships, growing our community, our church building, being an eco-church, caring for our planet and the climate emergency, leaving Europe and as followers of Jesus we need to be aware, to be expectant and maybe stay, listen, learn where is Jesus as we face the year together. Our relationship with Jesus, mirrors Jesus relationship with God – it is continuous, sustained, eternal and unbroken. We are transformed as we stay with Jesus, as we are expectant, because Gods love impacts on all creation, sometimes it is hard to see, and we need to really look, like we need spiritual binoculars (what would they look like?) and sometimes we need to be guided to see where that love is. I am constantly learning what it means to be a disciple, and what helps me is prayer, meditation, listening, reading, talking and sharing with friends within and without the Christian community, with family and with those who know more and know differently to myself. I need to ask myself all the time – What is Jesus/God bringing to me in this situation?
At the end of our service we are going to sing about how we long for God to transform us and shine in us and through us. We should not sing this lightly – transformed by God we may find ourselves way out of our comfort zone – standing in a different place. One more quote from Being Disciples – “If we are in the habit of attentiveness and expectancy toward God and one another… we can be free from ego and anxiety and actually allow God shaped change to take place around us… to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive”.