I was really struck by the word ‘disciple’ in today’s reading. I’m not usually one given to doing word studies but this time I did. I looked over all the Greek and every instance in Matthew’s gospel where he used it and it seems to me that if we were to use a modern day term we would talk about students. This is a common and easily understood word so why do even our most modern translations continue the use of the word disciple? Now, most of you know that I’m engaged in trying to gentle and train to saddle a mustang and nothing seems more like the ancient arguments about whose disciple you are than trainers arguing about which method they follow. Some are disciples of Clinton Anderson, others Buck Brannaman, some follow Parelli or Lyons. But there is something beyond which horse trainer we are students of, or disciples of, and that is the love of the horse and the desire to shape and form a willing, working partner out of a scared, feisty, thousand pound animal.
Now, I’ve heard some critics say that today’s Christians are more followers of Paul than of Jesus and I’ve heard more arguments about wanting to institutionalize and mandate the laws of Moses than the way of Christ and so it behooves us (see what I did there?) to consider what undergirds our worship, our study, our discipleship. If the formation of a willing, happy partner undergirds all horse training, what undergirds our discipleship? What are we to create students of? And this brings us to Christ and the way of Christ and what it means to follow that path. What are we to be students of?
Our job is to love radically. To refuse to give up on people. to love the unlovable. To forgive. To accept. To create spaces of belonging where people can experience grace directly.
We ought to be strange and different. We are not of this world. We are supposed to be odd and weird. If we are just like the rest of the world, why would anyone bother to come in? Someone once said that, to all those outside the church it’s like a football huddle, we know something important is going on in there, but all we can see is their backsides. If we speak the Word of truth we have been given, we will be speaking against the dominant world paradigm. We will be living from a different place, and this will be apparent.
The world will tell you that all is hopeless and you ought to live in fear, you ought to dehumanize your enemies, you ought to competing fiercely for every little thing. But this is not what God tells us. The world will tell you, you are not good enough as you are, that you must change, shape, form yourself into something better, achieve, compete, win. But this is not what God tells us.
We are the opposing voice to the dominant paradigm. We are the ones inviting people to see that God and all that is good is stronger and more enduring than any evil the world can come up with.
We are not called to force the gospel, an ideology, or correct theology on anyone, but to love them, to love them with an unworldly, crazy love, without any prerequisite. When we hear people say, “those people aren’t even human” or “those people are evil,” or “those people don’t count,” we are called to be that opposing voice, that loving voice which says, “they, and you, are a beloved child of God, and nothing can change that.”
We are not called to make students of all nations because we have the right answers or the best worship, the most correct way of doing and being Christian, we are called only because we have decided to follow Jesus. We are welcomed with all our doubts intact and invited into a relationship with mystery and awe, with wonder and amazement. Love that is real, loves before any assurance, it does not demand that one conform or surrender their minds. Some doubted, some hesitated, and that’s okay. We are not called to enforce a particular theology or correct idea, we are called to love and let this love be a radical, life changing witness to all God has done. As Anne Lamott reminds us, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty, it is rigidity, it is to lay hold of an ideology with such firmness that you forsake God in pursuit of being right and correct.
Last week we asked how we can possibly sit still with all that God has done and is doing! I hope that when you come to church you leave bothered and inspired, troubled and motivated, full of courage and without fear. Jesus said, You will do greater things than I, and perhaps he said that because he was working with 12 disciples and he left them with a legacy that changed the world! With an incredible story to tell, with the Holy Spirit running through their veins! If only 12 can change the world, what do you suppose 24 might do, or 48, or 96? If we attend closely to where the Spirit is leading us, if we allow the Holy Spirit, that life-giving breath of God, to live and breathe in us…what can’t we do? So yes, leave here disturbed and shaken because we have so much to do and we are so very capable of doing it! Each moment can be that moment when we launch into a spirit-guided, spirit-driven, radical life of witness and love! And that ought to disturb you a little.
Years ago I met a pastor whose congregation had confronted him. They thought he was going too far, too out there, too radical and so they confronted him. “How far do you intend to take this?” they asked. He held up the bible and said, “No farther than this.” Placated they left, feeling assured that he would stay within the bounds of good order and decency. He laughed as he recalled this, picked up the bible on his desk, and said, “Haven’t they ever read this?”
So yes, maybe we ought to be a little disturbed by this call to go and make disciples, go and to make students of God, students of love, mercy and justice. Go and turn people’s lives upside down, giving them a new rule by which to order their lives, a rule of mercy, grace and love, a rule of restoration and not retribution. It offends our sense of justice, there is no eye for an eye, no balancing of the scales, all debts are wiped clean. It is scandalous grace! So go, and make people students of this! Students of forgiveness, students of mercy, students of service, students of love.
Is it any wonder that we resist the urgings of the Holy Spirit when it wants to turn our lives this upside down? Yet if we live this way, if we really live this way, all of our neighbors will know. There will be no inward focused huddle, backsides to the world, seeking only our own good! The whole world will know what we are doing, will see it! because we will be living lives of active mission.
These days it seems like one can hardly look at the daily news without one more horror story and it can be tempting to give in to the idea that evil and hatred are too powerful to oppose, but we must not. A friend of mine, the Reverend Dr. Steven Koski, wrote this week that, “we are in the midst of a daily onslaught of violence, tragedy, hate, discord, injustice and pain. What will be our reply? There is a temptation to allow fear, despair and division to lay claim to our hearts… Now, more than ever, we need to lean into love.” Now more than ever we need to study love, mercy and grace. Now more than ever we need to be devout students of the way of Jesus.
We are called to be students of love, to love radically. To refuse to give up on people. to love the unlovable. To forgive. To accept. To create spaces of belonging where people can experience grace directly.
Scripture tells us that we can have lots and lots of wonderful things, but if don’t have love, we have missed the mark, we have stumbled and lost our way. We are not called to go and make students of great philosophy, ideology, or even theology, we are not called to maintain big, beautiful church buildings. We are called to make students of Jesus’ way, the way of mercy, love, and grace, the way of healing and feeding, the way of inclusion, the way of love. We are called not to our own salvation and healing, but for the salvation and healing of the whole world.
So it is fitting and wonderful synchoncity that the great commission was on the lectionary the day that we get to bless and send a mission to New Orleans.