Monday, February 21, 2011

"The King of Those Who Are Called"

Preached on Sunday, February 20, 2011
Scripture Readings:
Genesis 12:1-9; Mark 1:14-20

I want us to think about some of the phrases of the words that the Lord spoke to Abram (or Abraham). They should be very familiar to you; not because you have learned them by heart; and not because you have read the story of the Lord and Abraham so many times. The words should be familiar to you because it is normal for the Lord to say things like this to his people. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you…and I will bless you….and you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2)

Jesus said the same kind of thing to the first disciples. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

What I mean by saying that these words should be familiar to you is that our spiritual lives, as children of God, begin with some sort of meeting with God. Somehow, God calls out to you; maybe not with words, maybe not with thoughts, maybe not with feelings, but with something too deep to describe; because it is much too clear and too precise for words.

Somehow God meets you. Can you tell the story of how God met you in Jesus? Somehow, in that meeting, the Lord called you into existence as a new creation, and you followed him; or you began the story which led to your coming and following him. The story of our life as disciples, as Christians, as followers of Jesus begins with a meeting in which the Lord calls us to follow.

In the case of Abraham, this meeting in the twelfth chapter of Genesis is the first we know about, for Abraham. As his story is told, you can read about the other meetings followed. The Lord wove a pattern and a history of meetings, and callings, and promises into Abraham’s life that made Abraham a person of God; a wanderer who followed the Lord to the land the Lord showed him.

The disciples also had a pattern and a history of meeting and hearing the Lord that was already being woven into their lives. The Gospel of John, in his first chapter, tells us that at least several of the disciples had been followers of, or hangers out with, John the Baptizer, at the Jordan River. They were already there, at the time when Jesus came to be baptized.

John the Baptizer pointed Jesus out to two of them and he told them, “Look, the Lamb of God.” (John 1:35) They took off from John, and started walking behind Jesus without being asked. Jesus asked them, “What do you want?” (As you probably would if you noticed someone walking right behind you) and they asked, “Where are you staying?” and he said, “Come and see!” and they did. (John 1:35-51)

By the second chapter of Mark, these followers of Jesus are being called “disciples.” (Mark 2:16) Disciple means learner. Learning includes moments of special and sudden insight, but most learning is repetitious, and this is obviously true of the learners (the disciples) of Jesus.

The word “disciple” is not just a word for the special twelve who were called later to be apostles. (Mark 3:13-19) And not even the twelve apostles ever stopped being called disciples. It wasn’t that kind of promotion.

In the gospels and the Book of Acts the word “disciples” is used at least 230 times and it means everyone who followed Jesus. It meant all the people who belonged to the churches that formed across the Roman Empire after the resurrection of Jesus.

The word Christian is used only three times in the New Testament. The standard identity of a follower of Jesus, in relationship to Jesus, is “disciple”: learner. This never stops. Jesus never stops calling us and teaching us. That is only a small part of what we call his grace.

We learn something about Jesus as the King of those who are called from the last verses of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, has hung himself, and the eleven of the twelve who are left go to meet Jesus in Galilee, at some time during the period before Jesus was taken into heaven.

Matthew says: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:16-19)

Notice that the apostles have not stopped being disciples. Notice that they still doubt, even though Jesus has risen from the dead. Notice that Jesus doesn’t stop calling them and teaching them
You might wonder how a doubter could make another person into a learner. The answer is that if Jesus has all authority and power, then he can work through doubters. And it teaches us that being a doubter doesn’t keep us from still being a learner who continues to be called and taught by Jesus, himself. Even a doubter can think faithfully and lovingly about Jesus; and learn and grow in faith, and love, and understanding.

None of us can expect to be any better than those disciples were. And none of us can expect any other Christian to be better than those first disciples were. No matter what we may be called to do, nothing promotes us above the status of learner.

Those final verses in Matthew also teach us that Jesus, with all his power and authority, is unfailingly faithful to his learners. This makes him the king of those who are called.

One of the wonders of the Lord’s calling, his special way of coming to us, is that there is no apparent reason for it. Oh he loves us; of course he loves us! But Jesus loves everyone.

The first disciples of Jesus, and especially the special twelve, had nothing special about them. They had no qualifications. They had no special training or education. They obviously had no special strengths of character. They were shallow, competitive, unimaginative. The strongest lesson that Jesus taught them, over and over, was that they had no faith. And it was true, but that did not disqualify them from being Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus delights in our gifts, and our strengths, and our talents, and Jesus nurtures and uses our gifts. And Jesus brings out gifts we never knew we had. But he does not love us for these. Jesus loves us for our lovely, lowly selves. His love and faithfulness cannot be earned. They are ours by his free gift. And so we can never own our calling. We can never own our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the king of our calling.

It needs to be seen that the Lord’s call, his special way of meeting with us, is highly disruptive. Abraham had to pick up everything, and take his whole family and possessions and go somewhere. He did not even know where he was going, until he got there. The first disciples left their nets, and their boats, and followed him without knowing where it would all lead.

The truth is that the disciples lived in a complex family network. Their brothers and their cousins would take up the slack, and help their families too; no matter how much they may have grumbled about it.

In the Book of Acts, “disciples” is a word that describes the members of the churches of that day. These people lived very much like their neighbors who were not disciples, except that their neighbors probably noticed something increasingly different about them. Most (but not all of them) went on with their livelihoods as before.

But it is true that the call of Jesus disrupted everything. No matter how important something was, nothing was important in the exact same way it had been before. None of their priorities were in the same order, as before.
At first glance it looks as if the people who were called by Jesus no longer had the priority of work. But they all kept working at something. Abraham kept working as a rancher of some kind. He was that in his home town; only, now, he took his ranch on the road. The disciples probably never worked so hard as when they began to follow Jesus. They were as tired at the end of a day following Jesus as they had been hauling nets all day, but in a different way.

As far as work goes, work is holy. God is a worker. God creates the universe (the heavens and the earth) and keeps them going. When the Everlasting Son of the Everlasting Father came down to earth, he grew up as a boy and an apprentice in his father’s carpenter shop. Jesus was known as the carpenter for many years. And I bet he was a good one, too. (Mark 6:3)

And the Apostle Paul was a rabbi with a trade. He was a tent maker and continued to support his mission by his trade when it was necessary. (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12)

The call of Jesus is disruptive because it does change everything. It changes the meaning of your work. It changes the meaning of your family.

The Lord’s call to you is like the westward sun on a stormy day, as it lowers between the clouds and the horizon. Its rays turn everything they touch into gold. The Lord’s calling makes everything holy. This does not make anything easier, though it does make a lot of things much clearer. And for that very reason the calling of the Lord can never stop, or else we would forget the holiness of everything.

We need to say one more thing about this pattern and history of God’s calling and meeting with you. It takes a shape that you cannot foresee.

One thing the first disciples could not foresee was that the King who met them by the Sea of Galilee was, in time, going to meet them on the cross. Jesus was going to meet them as God’s way of dealing with their rebellion and their sins. And Jesus was going to meet them as the one with power to rise from the dead. Jesus was going to meet them as the conqueror of sin and death, when he rose from the grave.

The defeat of sin and death are at the heart of the kingdom of God that Jesus was announcing to them. The victory over sin and death are at the heart of the kingdom that Jesus was calling them to be a part of.

When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he told them to learn who he was until they knew him as their savior and their lord. This is a calling that can never stop, because we can’t stop learning what this means, and this is how Jesus is the king of those who are called.
When the Lord told Abraham to go to the land the Lord would show him, and when Jesus says, “Follow me,” he shows that we are in for a journey with the Lord. Imagine going on a journey as a child of God being like going on a trip with your parents. Parents, on a road trip, don’t your kids learn a lot from you about how to talk to strangers, how to handle a public restroom, how to improvise with what you’ve got, how to be lost, how to handle an emergency like a flat tire or a boiling-over radiator, how to see new sights, how to be observant and alert, how to be free? This is learning at its best, learning as an adventure.

This is how Jesus rules us, as the king of those who are called. In a classroom teachers are on the alert for every teachable moment, and so are parents with their children. Every moment wit Jesus may be a teachable moment.

There are routines and emergencies and everything is new every day. Every day is a dialogue. Every hour is a conversation with the Lord Jesus and his Father.

Following Jesus means learning what he wants us to do, but most of all it means learning, to the core of our being, just who Jesus is. When Jesus called the twelve, part of their calling was simply to “be with him”. (Mark 3:14) The call to be with him is at the center of everything we are, and everything we do, as we follow him. The call to be with him is at the center of how we manage to continue every day as, as his learners, because the power and the life that come from the good news of Jesus is something we can never outgrow.

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