Called Disciples

Epistle Lesson: 2nd Corinthians 4:3-6

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. Horeb) Picture By: Dawn Ranck

Gospel Lesson: Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Sermon

Six weeks ago we begun this sermon series called Called with the celebration of Baptism of our Lord Sunday. If you were here that Sunday, you may remember that the first of this sermon series was called Beloved. As a response to that sermon we began this season of Epiphany with a Remember your Baptism service where I invited you to come forward and place your hand into the water, take a blue glass stone to remember and be thankful for your baptism. Throughout this season of Epiphany we have been continuing to discover through Wednesday night studies and our sermon series what it means to be a baptized child of God. We are through our Baptism called many things. We are called Beloved, we are called Visionaries, Reckless Evangels, Prophets, Incarnational, and last week we came to understand ourselves as called Healers. Finally we come to our final lesson in this series, on Transfiguration Sunday we begin with similar words to that in which we began in Jesus’ baptism. Jesus came up out of the water and God said, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) God speaks to Jesus giving Christ his identity. And now, although slightly different we are up on top of what we believe to be current day Mount Horeb, and God breaking through the Divine Earthly firmament and proclaims to Peter, James, and John, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). It is in this command that leads us to our final discussion of who we are called to be: Disciples.

This proclamation from God the Father leaves us hanging a little bit as to what exactly are we supposed to be listening to? We of course know from our Children’s Time the answer is always: Jesus, but what exactly is Jesus saying that we are supposed to hear. I am actually going to leave you with that question for a bit and let that question continue to fester as I speak a little bit more about what it means by being a Disciple.

Disciple, in the Greek μαθητής (mathētēs) Math e tees a word that appears throughout the NT roughly 260 times, stems from yet another Greek word μανθάνω (mathanō) which literally translates to mean “to learn”. We are called learners. As I thought about the deeper meaning of Disciples, it is obvious we learn in many different ways. We learn by sight, by watching what others do, we learn by reading, we learn doing. All of these are viable ways of learning, ask any teacher. But still today the number one way in which we learn is by listening. Not by hearing, but by listening, which is yes hearing, but then from hearing digesting what we have heard. If this were not so, then we would no longer need teachers in our schools, but rather just a library. This calling to be a disciple, often we call discipleship is not a passive calling, but rather it is an active calling on our lives. To learn takes work, it takes responsibility, it takes time. And (pause) it takes a noun to define our discipleship. If you are confused let me explain. One can be a disciple, a learner to many things. One can be disciples of Duke Basketball, one may be a disciple of Entertainment Superstars, and yet one still may be a disciple of Nationalism. Now with that said, it is not wrong to learn about such things, but a disciple is one who devotes themselves to learning such things. They devote their time, their energy, and their lives to such things. And this is the danger of being such a disciple. But we, in our baptisms are called to be disciples of our living Lord, Jesus Christ. We are to learn from Christ, we are to devote ourselves to learning from Christ. Now this begs for the obvious question. How do we learn from Christ? How is it that we learn from a man who lived 2000 years ago. Well let me rightly and firstly say, he is not dead, but is alive yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We experience His presence in our means of Grace of fasting, communion, Christian conferencing. We experience Christ in our outreach and in and through Love of others. We learn the most about Christ through what we in the Methodist Church call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Which if this is a new term to you means that we come to do theology, or the study of God through these four means. Primarily and centrally we study about God in his fullness Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our scriptures. The studying of our scriptures is imperative, absolutely essential, and non-negotiable. This living Word of God as contained in the Old and New Testaments offer us not salvation or fullness of life, but rather they contain all things necessary for salvation through Jesus Christ, and are authoritative for the Church’s faith and life.[1] This is why the church is concerned with our attendance of our Sunday Schools and our Bible Studies. If you are not taking the time for instruction from these places and from our scriptures, where and to whom are you being a disciple of Jesus Christ? This is actually the issue at hand with which Paul is speaking about in  the second letter, which is actually probably the fourth letter, just the second letter that we have, to the church of Corinth. You see, after Paul had gone to Corinth and people had come to believe the Gospel according to Paul who claims was given to him from the risen Lord, another group of superapostles came and began to give a different teaching from that of Paul about Christ. The dispute between the two is summarized by Ronald Allen as “Paul’s gospel calls for people to be discontent with brokenness, injustice, scarcity, exploitation, violence, and death, and to believe that God seeks to increase community, wholeness, justice, abundance, peace, love, and life. On the contrary, the superapostles believed that God’s purpose was to create a religious experience that allowed one to feel good within oneself without seeing the need for social change. The gospel of the superapostles provided an escape from the present social setting, whereas Paul’s gospel envisioned the transformation of the world.” Even in that time of the early church, there were many being persuaded from one belief to another. There were those who were looking to believe the “feel good” gospel, whereas Paul preached another gospel about living through the evils of the world and being discontent with such evil as we through Christ transform the world. So what does this have to do with the study of scripture? Everything because you see we still have those preachers today that are like these superapostles who unless we are vigorous in our own study will and can lead us astray from whom God has called us to be.

This leads us into the second place from which we come to know God and that is from our Tradition. When I say tradition, I do not mean that the piano is always in this place or the organ sits here because it is tradition. Nor do I look to the previous 50 to 100 years to look at tradition. But rather we have a long line of saints before us to influence the way we currently view and understand who God is. We must look to our early church fathers, and our desert brothers and sisters, and our reformers and the thought that has taken place over the course of 2000 years. When we begin to understand it in that way, we have a wealth of knowledge of God to read and to learn from.

Another way through which we come to do theology is through experience of God. Now we know not all experiences are true experiences. But rather we learn about God from how we experience God AND we take those experiences and test them against that of scripture. For myself, much of my own learning has been through my own experience of God in and through the work of missions, in my interacting with other people, and through my time of practicing spiritual disciplines. This coming season of Lent is a perfect time to begin to practice a spiritual discipline that you may not otherwise have practiced in order to experience God in new ways.

Finally the fourth way by which we come to know God is through Reason. Reason is a tool by which we do theology. Reason is the ability to take our experience and test it against scripture and tradition. It is the way we study our tradition. It is in reasoning that we interpret the scriptures through the work of the Holy Spirit. As you may see, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is quite a big part of how we come to know God, and in itself could be a sermon series. But to bring us back to where we got on this subject, it is through Christ who lives that we are to be disciples to and it is through this Wesleyan Quadrilateral do we continue to seek and learn about God.

So back to this question I left you with at the beginning. “Listen to him” says the voice of God to the disciples of Jesus. They are already disciples, they are already learning from him. The voice from the heavens does not tell anything new or any epihanic messages after this. The message that the heavenly voice directs these three disciples is centered back to Jesus. It is not a new message, but rather instructs the disciples to listen to the message that Jesus has already been saying through his words and actions. What happened just prior to this reading in the writing of the Evangel Mark. What happened just six days before this? Jesus predicts his death for the first time in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus taught about the necessity of taking up the cross, and losing life for the sake of the gospel. And finally, Jesus makes a bold claim that there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power. Maybe, just maybe this is what the heavenly voice wanted these disciples to hear, to listen to, to make their decisions in life based on.

These disciples did listen, they heard, they digested, and they responded and became apostles, ones who were sent out. As apostles, they went out and taught, they envisioned, they evangelized recklessly, they proclaimed, they did ministry incarnationally, they healed, and they were and are disciples of their living Lord, Jesus Christ, in whom and for whom they suffered, and were put to death, and are glorified by their Father in heaven. Are you ready to listen to Him? Are you ready to answer the calling upon your life, a calling that began with your Baptism? Let us draw close to God and pray so and may we this day be strengthened in our journey by this blessed sacrament of Holy Communion. Amen.


[1] Liturgy from the Examination of Elders in the Ordination Service.

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