Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19; Psalm 1
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? As a Deacon in the Church I ask myself this every day, but as fellow followers of The Way I ask each of you this same question: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
In the Gospels we hear of many different groups of people interacting with Jesus:
- The Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees;
- the Samaritans and Jews;
- Greeks and Romans;
- the “Crowds” in general;
- and, of course, his disciples and Apostles.
In our modern minds we have a tendency to group people as “us vs. them”, or “followers of Jesus” and “non-followers”, but in our over-simplification we miss the subtleties of differences that can both illuminate and challenge our thinking.
In 1st Century Judea, to become a follower of a revered Rabbi was something more than clicking “Follow” on Facebook or Twitter. Being a disciple was something more than going to hear the Rabbi preach at the synagogue on the Sabbath, or sitting around with him after the service.
To become a disciple of a 1st Century Rabbi meant you’ve become so convinced of your Rabbi’s teachings that you set aside your job, and maybe your family, to spend all of your time each day with that Rabbi to learn everything you can from his way of life in order to obtain that small understanding of God that the Rabbi is teaching.
- Some of them came to hear what Jesus might be saying—
- some were coming to be entertained for a time—
- some were coming just to see if they could see the “trick” in the miracles.
After they got tired, or were bored, or had better things to do, they left and went back to their lives. Think of Jesus’ parable of the sower of the seeds—does this sound familiar?
The disciples, though, were people who set aside their own lives to follow this Rabbi named Jesus, staying with him, eating with him, sleeping alongside him.
Think of the story of the rich man who came to Jesus wanting the certainty of knowing God. He explained he followed the Law, was generous to those around him, but was looking for something more. Jesus, seeing the call that was within this man, invited him to become a disciple—a dedicated follower. The man was left debating whether his wealth and position was worth more than discipleship with Jesus.
The wealth of this man is not the issue here! Remember, Mary Magdalene and Chuza supported Jesus and his disciples out of their own wealth, so they still had their wealth as they were also disciples of Jesus.
So I turn back again to the question: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? If the choice isn’t between wealth and poverty, then what is the choice?
The answer, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is in how you choose to live each moment of your life.
- Is your faith something you show up for once a week on Sunday, returning to “the usual” the rest of the week?
- Is your faith based on the certainty that we have a life after this, so we have the rest of this life to live as we please?
- Do we praise God on Sunday, and fall into social media outrages the rest of the week?
To be a disciple of Jesus means to live each day, each minute, with the question in the forefront of our mind, “What am I being called to do today to bring God’s Kingdom into this world?”
As Christians we pray ‘May your Kingdom come, and your will be done, in this world as it already is being done in heaven’.
For reasons of empire, though, starting with the Roman Empire, that phrase “Kingdom Come” has been watered down into what happens at the end of the world, but that’s NOT what Jesus taught.
Jesus wanted his followers to pray AND ACT that God’s Kingdom will be brought into this world in the here and now, and that they themselves are the ones bringing the Kingdom into this world!
- A Kingdom of Love.
- A Kingdom of mercy.
- A Kingdom of equality.
- A Kingdom of Justice.
- A Kingdom of healing.
Jesus wasn’t executed because he was talking about how nice things would be in the next life. He was killed because he demanded that those who were comfortable in their power and wealth listen to God’s demand for justice and mercy for those who’d been cast out—those who had been excluded.
Jesus’ message was no more popular back then to people who were comfortable than it is in our own day. It is no less dangerous to be a prophet of the Kingdom now as it was in Jesus’ day.
Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, TN while he was there supporting sanitation workers who were fighting to obtain human dignity and a decent wage. Imagine having to walk around with a sign saying “I am a man” just to be recognized as a person and treated with dignity and respect.
- To be a follower of Jesus means to set aside the selfish focus of this world and live your life based on the idea of bringing God’s kingdom into this life around us.
- It means living our life with the Gospel on our minds, and love in our hearts.
- It means balancing this life of “not being a part of this world” while living in it through a daily life of prayer, reflection, and yearning for the Kingdom coming into the here and now.
As Paul said, “there are no Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, men or women”: all become Disciples of Christ living for the Kingdom.
Jesus excluded no one from his table, and neither do we. All are welcome here!
Everyone who takes up the challenge to become a disciple of Jesus, to bring the Kingdom into this world, is a beloved member of the body of Christ.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus prays for his disciples just before he leaves this world. After spending 3 years living closely with, and loving, these disciples think of how difficult it was for him to leave them behind to face the Cross.
But here’s the Good News: he also loves each one of us just as dearly today. Hear how he prays to God, not just for his disciples back then, but for every one of us today:
“But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
As you pray the Lord’s prayer today, and, hopefully many times in the coming week, meditate on that challenge “May your Kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We are called to be disciples of the Kingdom in the here and now.