Discipleship: to be a learner and a follower of Jesus

24 May 2009

Bible Reading: Mark 10: 35-44

They really come off looking bad don’t they?
James and John – at least in this passage – are not the picture that we’d like
of “followers of Jesus” – or “disciples

In fact it seems as if this story created such a bad impression
that by the time Matthew’s gospel is put together probably 10-20 years later
the story has been modified so that it is their mother, not them, that asks.
Much better to make the woman look ambitious for her sons isn’t it!

It’s always easy for us to see the failings of others –
    especially when they clash with our culture and social values as well.

But James and John were asking for something that is actually pretty natural –
and certainly natural in their setting.
They were simply assuming that the way their society operated
was also the way of the movement of God.
The society of James and John was the Hebrew culture
and the society of the gospel of Mark was the Roman culture
    both steeped in class and structure.

In the Roman culture of the gospel of Mark
you could tell what class people came from even by the clothes they wore-
or were permitted to wear.

The Senators had one style or colour of toga, the Equestrians another
The Decurions had striped edging on their togas,
then Roman citizens in plain white.
If you were a “freedman” (a former slave) you got to wear a tunic – not toga.
And the slaves themselves, a different sort of tunic.
And when you were at a banquet, you were seated and fed in order of status

So when you import the values of the society
and assume that they are also the values of the way of faith
then the question makes perfect sense:
“This thing that you are on about Jesus, is so fantastic
that we want to be right at the centre of it for ever”

But the attitude is a barrier to discipleship.
As we’ve been reminded over the past few weeks, our call is to discipleship:
To be a learner and a follower of Jesus
And Jesus says in his response to James and John
that the values of discipleship
are not the values of the society that it is being lived in.

Martin Luther King Junior talks about the tendency of James and John
as being everywhere in the society he lived in.
He called it the “Drum Major inclination” –
that people would move to the beat of OUR rhythm, and notice US.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was looking at the barriers to discipleship in his time
looking at the cultural values of his society
he noted that the barrier was what he termed “cheap grace”-
as if the grace of God and the welcome and inclusion of God
came without demanding some change of us.

Jurgen Moltmann talks about a great barrier to discipleship
being when the church fails to recognise that its context (our society)
is not the same as our text (the liberating life of Jesus)

Discipleship is about continuing the work of Jesus.
It is about helping make new starts for people who are excluded
It is about following the spirit of God, rather than the rules
And in all of that it is something that clashes with the surrounding culture.

What are the values of our society that stand in the way of discipleship?
Certainly the drum major inclination that MLK spoke of
Certainly the cheap grace that Bonhoeffer warns of
Certainly the way that context and text are not interchangeable.

I wonder if the rise of volunteering is a danger for discipleship.
Why?   Because many many many people who volunteer for society’s good
are doing so because of their faith motivations (good, right?)
And volunteering is something that we choose to do, and importantly,
choose to stop doing as part of the way that we live.
But when we get to equating our volunteering with our discipleship
it means that we feel we can turn off our discipleship when time pressures hit.
    We are not called to be volunteers, but disciples
That’s why there is the encouragement for us to study and implement
the Christian practices.
Because discipleship is a 24/7 thing.   
If it does not involve all of us, it is not discipleship.

And I wonder if the way we think and speak of our time and our finances
is a danger for discipleship.
Why?   Because we talk about our discretionary time,
and our disposable or available income,
and we work out what we can allocate out of that to certain “good things”
But if we consider our discretionary time and available income
as our acts of discipleship,
then we have blurred our society’s values and our following of Jesus.

Discipleship asks of us what we are doing with every moment of our time.
Discipleship asks of us how it is that we use and allocate every cent of our $$
I believe that Jesus says to us in a critique of our values-
just as he did to James and John –
You are aware that this is the way it works in the world around you
But it is not to be so among you.

Following Jesus.   It’s no easy road.
But it is the one we have been called to.
It is the one that we choose – and I hope today continue to choose.
And it is the one which offers hope not only for us
but for the entire world in which we live.

Jessica was dedicted today to be a volunteer in the Order of St Stephen.

She will be undertaking volunteer work to assist churches in their consideration of the environment,as they plan and work in their local area.

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