Discipling and Disciple Making:
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded of you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt 28: 18b-20.
When we read the Bible as disciples and disciple-makers, what is our goal?
The Bible is the story of God’s acts and people’s response. It is helpful to think of this story as a continuing drama. Act one was God’s good Creation followed immediately by the Fall. Act two begins when God selected Abraham and Sarah and their descendants to form a people to serve him, a people by whom all the world would be blessed. Act three is Jesus’ story, when everyone’s expectations were turned upside down, and God’s plan was fully revealed. We are living in act four, as Jesus Disciples, followers of the risen Lord, until he comes again. Until God’s story reaches its foreshadowed end with creation restored to God’s original purpose.
The Bible is the record of the action so far, and stage directions for the next part of the Drama. Jesus’ Disciples use the Bible to understand God’s drama so well that we can play our proper role as fitting actors. We are expected to improvise our parts so as to carry forward the action under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Improvising is a more difficult skill than following a script. Successful improvising requires understanding the drama so well that we know what will work – what “comes next” when it is time to act. Our actions must advance the story and conform exactly to the director’s intentions.
The way we gain this understanding is by steeping ourselves in the back story, the record of what has gone before. Let’s take a very quick look at bits of that back story.
The Book of Jonah isn’t a simple myth, a “just so” story or a story like “how did the leopard get its spots?” It is a deep meditation on what it is to be a faithful believer, and on how God works around and with the participation of believers.
Facticity is not the point of the tale, just as a historical novel, however accurate, is really about the deeper truths revealed in the interplay of characters.
In the Scripture, Jonah learns how God’s Word goes forward to accomplish its aims, regardless of human intentions. The story is filled with tiny details about how believers, even wrong-headed believers, act and speak when they encounter God. God’s acts are full of surprises, they are often mysterious, and always wonderful, but God’s Word is inexorable, and God’s promises are sure.
The four Gospels are a recorded history that provokes faith. Jesus is what a completely faithful human looks like. Jesus is also what God looks like when he walks among people.
Consider two of Jesus acts and watch how they shape the story:
Zaccheus was a Tax collector, he lived by collecting a forced levy from other citizens. He made his fortune by overcharging, and pocketing the difference.
Jesus calls out to him, as a sinner, before Zaccheus has done anything except climb up in a tree to see the wonder worker. Jesus invites himself into Zaccheus’ life.
For us, as sinners, this reveals the core of the Gospel, the Good News. From Zaccheus behavior, we learn what one fitting response might be: he welcomes Jesus into his home, promises to restore his illegal gains and to give half his wealth to the poor. Zaccheus gives an appropriate response to Christ’s presence. He receives God’s initiative, and makes a fitting “next move”.
There is another set of details in this story. Look at it as one of Christ’s disciples. Jesus doesn’t wait for Zaccheus to act first. God acts first. We, Jesus’ disciples, are called to act first. Jesus doesn’t look for the crowd’s approval – everybody hated tax collectors – he looks to his Father’s approval. God’s will is where our allegiance lies.
One story, many different lessons to take to heart. When we’re called on to make a difference in somebody’s life, this may be the model we use to guide our own actions.
Now consider the woman taken in adultery. We never find out if the woman Jesus saved from stoning went back to her husband, or her lover. Or if she was repentant or simply grateful to still be alive. Again, Jesus offers tremendous hope for us sinners, no strings attached. Go, and sin no more.
But we, as Christian disciple makers, are also called to see ourselves in Jesus’ place. And we’re called to put ourselves in the place of the crowd of the righteous, the ones with stones in their hands. How much do we forgive? How much value do we place on keeping God’s commandments? What is our fitting response to encounters with our fellow sinners today, in the light of this story? In our daily dramas, how do we know what our next move ought to be?
The Bible gives us accounts of God’s acts and the people of God certify that these specific stories, poems, histories and speeches, are authentic accounts of God’s actions and faithful records of the response of God’s people. Christians study God’s acts portrayed in these stories, poems, histories and speeches, making their richness part of our experience, until we know, almost by instinct, what the “fitting next move” is going to be. We immerse ourselves in the Bible to become part of the story.
Let us pray:
As disciples and disciple makers, we are charged with retelling God’s story until it reaches all nations, teaching and baptizing in Jesus’ name, until he comes again. Let us dedicate ourselves as Christians, as Disciples and as responsible members of the congregation, to take full advantage of the opportunity we have before us at St. Timothy’s to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission. Amen, let it be so.