"Discipleship Without Jesus"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 4, 2008
Psalm 68:1-10; Acts 1:6-14
On numerous occasions I have seen fathers dealing with an enormous mix of strong emotions as they walk their daughters down the aisle on her wedding day. There had been months of planning every detail of the wedding and reception, but the moment comes when I ask, "Who is giving Pamela to be married to Robert?" and quite often that becomes a moment of truth, a reality check for both parents.
That walk down that aisle can inspire memories of Daddy's little girl who was filled with energy and who was that little spark in the family that always kept everyone on their toes. There was the messy bedroom and the innocent giggling at the dinner table. There was the obvious scrutiny of every boy who wanted to date her. When was it that the little girl grew up to become a woman? This experience of parents is one that very few know how to put into words without tear-filled eyes.
Leo Buscaglia once told an audience about the time he was sitting beside his dying mother in the hospital. She had been a rather defining force in his life. She was strong-willed, a mother who knew how to set boundaries. The family was very poor and she was the one who made him go to school wearing his older sister's outgrown winter coat, a coat that had the buttons on the other side. He was mortified because he thought everyone would know. She was the greatest Italian cook he had ever encountered.
As Leo's mind traveled through these memories, his mother regained consciousness and said, "What are you afraid of? Honey, you can't hold on to me." He said, "I know Mamma, but it's hard to let go."
In our lesson this morning, Dr. Luke verbally captured for his readers a very similar moment for the disciples. This precise moment came when they were watching Jesus fade from their presence for the last time. Who will we become without him? No matter how many times Jesus had reassured them, there was still that moment when everything they had experienced together came to an end.
Jesus had been the cornerstone of their very small congregation. He always knew how to still the storms that outcropped among them. He was the one who knew the right words to say to the religious leaders who confronted them. He was the healer, the preacher, the planner and the patient guide whose presence communicated that even though life had its ups and downs, there was nothing that could shake their confidence. As they watched Jesus former likeness disappear, two spirit guides appeared and spoke to them, "Galileans, why are you standing here looking up at the sky?" Many of us can identify with their reflective thoughts during that moment.
It is now nearly 2,000 years later and the way of Jesus has made its way into every nation in the world. The Body of Christ can exhibit countless cultural differentials that make them distinctive. The worshiping communities of Costa Rica, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Russia, for example, would not recognize each other.
Was the spreading of Jesus' message done because of the decisions made by the disciples? The answer, of course, is no. Some of the disciples stayed in Jerusalem, still struggling with the question of whether or not to separate themselves from their Jewish heritage. Some of them scattered as Jesus had suggested. Clearly what happened next was the result of the unfolding of an energy pattern the source of which no has ever seen.
For lack of a better verbal image, we call that force the work of the Holy Spirit. In trying to describe how the Holy Spirit works, Jesus once told a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, "The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
Discipleship without Jesus meant learning to have confidence that God's creative process would unfold in spite of what the disciples did in the past or present. The Way of Jesus did not die during its long history B even during the Dark Ages -- and it is not about to die now. The way we practice our discipleship today is evolving from the dogma, orthodoxy and theology of our past.
For example, people now have Eugene Peterson's version of the Bible, Scriptures in plain English that uses modern metaphors. One of our Bible study classes is studying the book of Job. While Job was describing what it is like to die he said, "Those who go to the grave do not return to visit their families; never again will friends drop by for coffee." (7:10)
Spirit is drawing Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, United Methodists and Episcopalians toward a common union. By increasing numbers, fewer people are concerned about the denominational label attached to their church family. They want to hear the message, feel nurtured and learn what that congregation does to make a difference in the world before committing themselves.
A number of people are seeking God outside the teachings of their heritage. In spite of its label of New Age, Spirituality is broadening its impact on many people who have long since abandoned organized religion. Jesus' message was one that breathed freedom into life, a message that moved away from adherence to the Laws of Moses to embrace a community that included Samaritans, high-ranking Roman officers, members of the Sanhedrin and all classes of Greek, Roman and Jewish societies. What was and is the price of admission? Jesus said, "When you love, others will know that you are my disciples."
Remember what Jesus taught, "The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit." The more we have confidence in God's ability to lead, the freer we become to paint outside the lines as we love with abandon. When we sow our seeds and let God be God, our confidence in our orientation toward life will never waiver in spite of what our fears preach to us about the conditions of our world. Go forth trusting that God's will for humanity is being accomplished.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for these moments together. Many of us do not come seeking the wealth and power that is known by others in our world. We come because we desire the path that allows patience, compassion and peace to flourish in our lives. When we are happy, our world sings. With your will unfolding around us, we no longer need to blame or criticize what does not match our values. We do not know how such circumstances fit into your creative purposes. Help us to remain guardians of our thoughts. Help us to remember that we no longer have to play small. The way of Jesus, taught us to play big even when life experiences give us a cross to bear. Cause us to reflect on our identity as angels on assignment in a world that swirls with change. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, You have created each of us to resonate with happiness and to become extensions of your presence on the earth. You have given us many gifts that we can use to assist others in their growth. We have the capacity to heal with our words. We can reflect compassion and patience in our body language. If we choose, we have the ability to release from our minds our thoughts about the mistakes others have made. We also know we can escape our common humanity by reflecting many of your qualities the moment we give them away.
Loving energy is such a beautiful gift, O God, and it is never in short supply. Our cups are always full even during the moments we feel depleted and spent. We never grow weary of smiling and laughter is so contagious that we pray that a cure is never found. Cause us to remember that we are the sun during cloudy days. We are the nourishing presence when people are starving for validation and meaning. We are the compass that points toward your kingdom of spirit when the sand castles, in which people placed their hopes and dreams, melt with the incoming tides of change. We are the ones in which Jesus placed your blueprint for discovering who we are as your children.
This morning, we thank you for creating us the way you have. Even when we do not understand your truth, we remain confident that it surrounds us and is available and waiting our discovery. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .