Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Living Dangerously in a Safe World!

Extract from Parish Easter Vestry (AGM) Sermon/Address 2008

Readings of the Day: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 & Luke 24: 13-35

An Easter Vestry is as good a time as any to look at how we are being the Body of Christ and indeed where we fall short and miss the mark.  And of course it is a time to consider how we could do better.  So I want to bring us back to today’s Gospel and isolate a few verses from the end of that story of The Emmaus Road:

“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on………….'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' ………When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight………That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. ……………they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

A familiar story and the danger with familiar stories is that they wash over us and we don’t really hear them.  They become like background noise or elevator music – its there but we don’t really engage with it.  And that is a shame because this story has a radical message for us:

Two disciples are on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus…they meet this man who appears to know little of the events of Jesus death, but yet interprets the Scriptures relating to Jesus.  As they approach the village it seems the man is not going to stop and so because it is late they urge him to stay with them.  'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.'   Probably for safety more than anything else. He does and subsequently they recognise him in the breaking of bread! And then what? He vanishes! And what do they do? They go out, despite the lateness of the hour and they go to their communities and share their extraordinary news! “they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

On one level this is a story but it is also instruction in discipleship which we badly need:  Jesus is not inclined to stop and seek comfort and safety … the disciples are different….they find safety and security and invite Jesus to share it with them…..this he does but only for a short time…..until they realise who he is, through his actions (in breaking the bread), significantly not in his previous exposition of the Scriptures but rather through his actions! And then he moves on…..not just moves on.. He vanishes!

And how do they respond? They leave the safety and security of this house and go out into the night to spread the news! No longer concerned for their own personal safety and security they go back to their community and “told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

This is a model of Christian discipleship, perhaps even the model of Christian discipleship.  But what’s that got to do with us? We are not the disciples! We are members of the Church. Yes we are the successors of the disciples but we are modern Christians and times have changed and our calling has changed!

If that makes you feel uncomfortable, it should do – It should make all of us feel uncomfortable and yet that is exactly the way we in the Church today are inclined to respond to Jesus teaching on discipleship. It’s not for us!   As Dallas Willard, the author of  The Great Omission” said: “The last command Jesus gave the church before he ascended to heaven was the Great Commission, the call for Christians to “make disciples of all nations”. But Christians have responded by making Christians not disciples”  This in Willard’s view, has been the Church’s Great Omission. 

Apparently, because someone has counted, not me; The word “disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament while the word “Christian” only occurs 3 times and then as a description of the disciples of Christ.  Should that be telling us something?   And what is a disciple? A disciple according to Willard (and Jesus incidentally) is someone who acts. They are a “learner, a student, an apprentice but most importantly a practitioner, even if only a beginner….people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of Heaven to every aspect of their life on earth.” Jesus did not call us to set up churches and sit in them but rather to build camps or bases from which we move out! We are called in what sounds like a contradiction to break camp, to “break out of the churches” in order to be the Church!  Willard himself comments that “most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ." We have never broken camp!

The question we have to ask ourselves today is this: Are we about making disciples or are we running a multi-national corporation?  It seems to me that the message of the Gospel is clear – Jesus never intended us to stand still – to sit in comfortable spaces – to seek safety and security – but rather to go out into the night and bring the light of Christ into dark places. To obey his call as did the disciples to “FOLLOW ME!”

Sometimes we make following Jesus so complicated and dress it up in so much talk that we miss the obvious solution: “When all else fails, follow the instructions” or as it is sometimes abbreviated: RTFM!

And how do we respond to these instructions ? How do we “Go and make disciples of all nations”? Do we convert the World? Do we convert the Church? Or do we convert ourselves? For an answer we need look no further than our lesson from Acts chapter 2; Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost.  The crowd ask Peter in response to his proclamation; “'Brothers, what should we do?' and Peter’s response is this:  'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.'

And the result of all this: So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”   Not just 3000 people, not just 3000 Christians, but 3000 disciples!  And that question asked of Peter is one we are asking today, or if we’re not we should be: Brothers and Sisters, what should we do? If you’re looking to me for the answers you are going to be disappointed!  This is something that we can only discover through both looking at ourselves, and allowing ourselves to be converted to this path of true discipleship and also sharing and praying together to see where we as a community of faith are called to be in OUR call to discipleship.


Anonymous said...

Like the new look. Much brighter. Still a bit heavy on the widgets though - plays havoc on low-speed connections. But overall, brilliant.

Stephen Neill said...

Thanks Primal :-) I will have a look at those widgets as some of them are actually redundant