For this sermon I am hugely indebted to Robin Gamble and the excellent 'Moving On Course' - which forms the basis of this sermon. The video clips featured here are from the 'Moving On Course'. Further details about this course can be found at http://movingoncourse.org.uk/
Discipleship. I wonder what your immediate reaction is to that word? Do you know what a disciple is? Do you consider yourself a disciple?
I imagine amongst us here today, there will be very different reactions to that word. We’re going to start by listening to a number of people who’ve recently become Christians, talking about what being a disciple of Jesus means to them.
It is interesting to see what a different range of responses there are to discipleship, it is possible that you identify with some of the things that the people said there on that clip, I know I do!
So what is a disciple? A disciple is someone who wants to spend as much time as possible with his master, to learn from them, to be a committed follower, to become like them.
This is God’s desire for us, Paul writes that God wants us to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). So to be a disciple of Jesus is to want to become like Jesus – not in the sense of growing long hair and a beard, and wearing sandals, but being in the moral likeness of Jesus. To have the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in our lives, so that we are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), just like Jesus. And to do the sort of things that Jesus did, caring for the poor, healing the sick, sharing God’s love in words and actions.
Jesus had a very striking expression, he said he wanted people to follow him, to walk in his footsteps, even to be willing to carry their cross, that is to say, to be willing to make sacrifices, do difficult things, push out of their comfort zones. Jesus was willing to carry his cross for us, and he wants us to do something similar for him. That is why he said to his followers, go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Not, go into the world and make church attendees. You see Jesus doesn’t want one day a week church attendees, he wants committed seven day a week followers. The question we need to ask ourselves is which one are we? Are we occasional attendees, or committed followers?
One of my hobbies is photography. As with discipleship, photography is all about learning, growing and developing. I like to think that when it comes to photography I have a pretty good eye, and know what makes for a good photo. But I’m never going to be as good a photographer, as say Steve McCurry, who took the hauntingly beautiful picture of an Afghan Girl, but I can become a pretty good Simon Bickersteth.
Photography is a bit like discipleship, people often say, I’m not as good as others at praying, or reading my Bible, or sharing my faith and caring for people. But as with photography, we learn, we develop, we get better at it gradually. We get better at it by listening to other people, by reading books, and crucially we get better at it by doing it.
The more I pray the bit better I get at praying. The more I try to share the gospel, the better I become at it.
The fact is that when it comes to Christian discipleship, we all wear L plates. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for a few days or all your life, we never lose our L plates, because none of us our perfect. Instead we should be learning and getting better at it as we go along.
It was Albert Einstein who said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” We learn from our mistakes. This is certainly true for Jesus’ twelve disciples. You could not have picked a more unlikely or less promising bunch of people, fishermen, a sprinkling of zealots, a tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans, none of them outstanding for their abilities or achievements. You have probably all come across the management consultant story where they evaluate Jesus’ workforce and advise him to sack the lot – except for one who shows remarkable promise and a good business head, Judas Iscariot. Jesus’ disciples were forever making mistakes, like Peter, who one minute was being congratulated by Jesus for what he had said, and the next minute he is being rebuked with the words "Get behind me Satan!” But crucially Peter, and the other disciples learned from their mistakes.
So being a committed disciple of Jesus is not about getting everything right, because we will mistakes, but it is about learning from our mistakes and by picking ourselves up and pressing on with God when we get things wrong. Being a disciple is also about being prepared to take risks, like Peter when he stepped out of the safety of the boat, and on a dark and stormy night started to walk over the water to Jesus.
Fortunately the journey of discipleship is not made alone, God gives us the Holy Spirit and the Church to help us along the way, and we will think more about this as we explore discipleship over the coming months.
I want to finish by showing another short video clip, this time of Vicki’s story.
Vicki faced a real choice, to go for it and be an active disciple. It’s a choice we all face, what about you?