Who did you want to be when you grew up? I wonder- who were your role models? When I was very little- I was going to be a cowboy- No- I was going to be the Lone Ranger. And my parents tell the rather embarrassing story of their son who woke them on Christmas morning running around the house wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and a hand gun- shouting Hi Ho! Silver! Away! Perhaps we`d better draw a discrete veil over that image. But whoever you wanted to follow- whoever you wanted to emulate, I hope you`ve realised that every time we open the Gospels – this is what we`re presented with: Role Models. Our role models are the disciples. This is what it`s like- we`re told- to be in the company of Jesus. To be a follower. To be a person of faith. And at the end of Matthew`s gospel you`ll remember, Jesus tells us that this is our task- `go and make (more) disciples`.
Now, it`s really important to get this notion, as it were, under our belt. Why? Because it`s all too easy to assume that the Christian faith is about the beliefs that we have- No. It`s all too easy to assume that the Christian faith is a philosophy- the particular thoughts or ideas that we have- No. It`s all too easy to assume that the Christian faith is a way of life- the things we DO- No All of these have merit- but they are only part of the picture. For the Christian Faith is a relationship- The Christian faith is a life lived `in relationship` with the God who made us. A relationship made possible by Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.
So, for example, when the Buddha was dying it`s said that his disciples asked him how they should remember him. He told them not to bother- because it was his teachings not his person that mattered. But the Christian faith is the other way round. Everything centres on Christ. Discipleship (being a Christian) means knowing him, loving him, believing him, serving him, commitment to him- and not for our own edification- but for the sake of the world God loves. So I say again- these are the spectacles we use when we read the Gospels- The disciples –in all their ups and downs- are our role models.
So what do we see this morning? Well I want to suggest that Disciples are: -those who `accompany` Christ, -those who are `instructed` by him and -those who are `sent out` by him.
So firstly, we heard this morning of Christ going to the synagogue- and everyone was very impressed- but then they became incredulous that this local lad- this un-schooled `joiner` could speak and act with such impact. And they reject him- and Jesus is amazed. But it`s important to note that Mark quite specifically says that the disciples `follow` or accompany Jesus into this setting. And even more important for us -they witness is Jesus failing to get through. They see Jesus confronted by a group of people who all thought they knew him. They summed him up in terms they could understand- and failed to see what was really going on.
Now I find this point helpful. Because it chimes in with much of what I believe we experience today. Because we live out our discipleship in an environment that we have thought of as `home` when it comes to matters of faith. We have thought of this as `home turf` and we`ve thought of this as what we`ve called a Christian Country. Now in fairness we`ve never really examined what that means but clearly, we now know what it`s like to experience the same kind of prejudice and rejection Jesus received in that synagogue. Now, there are a host of reasons why this is so- we needn`t go into them now- And of course- like Jesus, we`re amazed aren`t we that so many people don`t `get it`? But this is where the Gospel comes to our aid. As those who accompany Jesus we take heart from the point that he himself is amazed. And more than that we`re encouraged by the fact that he`s not in any way put off by their rejection. No, Jesus seems to take acceptance and rejection as `par for the course`. There is tragedy in it, yes, but if we look, for instance to the Parable of the Sower- Jesus` analysis of how some respond to the Kingdom and some do not- well then you`ll see that Jesus roots himself in the underlying spiritual reality; if you like, the battle for the soul that confronts everyone. This is just the way it is: So firstly, we have a picture of discipleship as accompanying Jesus into a context of unbelief. He invites us to take heart!
Secondly, we see the disciples instructed by Jesus. Now, in our passage this morning we`re told: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics”. (vv 7-10) So what are they instructed in?
Well firstly, notice Jesus gives them authority over unclean Spirits. At first sight this sounds a bit spooky doesn`t it? But we all know what this means really don`t we? You can get as supernatural as you like but for example, we all find ourselves in conversations each day where someone`s tongue is just out of control- There`s carping, murmuring, destructive criticism, character assassination – (talking behind your hand) we`ve all been there and it`s `unclean` isn`t it? A bit sordid. So, clearly- don`t do it. But more especially, this passage calls us to be aware that we have authority over it- not just in our own life but also in others. The best way forward is to pray about that bit of carping you`ve been involved in- see what it looks like then! And don`t stand for it. If you`re with someone who`s mouth is out of control and you can`t challenge it- walk away.
And secondly have you noticed the instructions Jesus give them? There`s nothing to do with Creeds or aspects of belief- it`s all about conduct isn`t it? Take a look- “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics”. No, Jesus gives them instructions about food, possessions, money and clothing. In other words what matters to Jesus at this point is not his disciples` religious observance or beliefs but their `conduct`- their lifestyle- their values in relation to food, possessions, money and clothing. Quite pointed isn`t it? And as I`ve said before- one of the big crimes these days is to imply that you`re telling someone how to live their life. Well sadly I think the time has come for us to be a bit politically incorrect. Of course it begins with ourselves and in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to `fret and fuss` about these things- He says: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear`. … because these are the obsessions of the world around us. But all too often they`re OUR obsession. And so in this passage and in others like it Jesus calls us to a distinctive way of life where our priority is God`s Kingdom- and as he says- “all these (other) things will be given to you as well”.
So the question is: Can we pray honestly about the words we use? Particularly the words we use about others? And can we pray honestly about what we eat, our possessions, our money and clothing? Are we prepared to allow his Spirit to transform your priorities. This is the challenge. So we see the disciples- we see ourselves- accompanying Jesus into a context of unbelief. Instructed by Jesus about their authority or mandate over all that unclean stuff- and challenged about their outward lifestyle.
The thirs thing to notice is that the disciples were `sent out` by Christ. Such is the underlying prejudice about the words `missionary` or `evangelistic` these days I think it`s really hard for many of us to hear what`s going on in passages such as this. But the inescapable point is that Jesus is quite seriously sending out the disciples (our role models) as his representatives. Time and again in the Gospels, we see how some encounter or incident is followed by Jesus saying something like `Go your way`. Encounters or meetings with Jesus are always missional. And this is especially true of our meeting with him in our times of prayer or worship. One of my favourite definitions of prayer is `To relax into the reality of being love by God- and rising to the realism of loving like Christ`.
The two things go together: – the relationship – and the sending out as a witness. And notice we`re told that the disciples went their way “and proclaimed that all should repent”. Repent is perhaps an old fashioned word to use- but at the heart of it is a beginning again- a turning around. Something which many are too cynical to believe possible and something which other are crying out for.
So, what do we have here? Firstly- the disciples are our role models- those who keep company with Christ- it`s the relationship that matters. And then we learn that discipleship means not being put off by the fact that some folk don`t get it. It means confronting the negativity and uncleanness in our own hearts and in the lives of others It means having some of our lifestyle assumptions challenged in relation to food, possessions, money and clothing. And discipleship means being sent out. We all need to ask `to whom is Christ is sending me this week. To whom will we offer that call- that opportunity to begin again? and to become a disciple? Thanks be to God