Monday, October 29, 2012

The Value Added Grace Of Discipleship

It is good to be with you again 
at St. Martin’s.
I am grateful for the good example 
this congregation
         sets for others in the diocese.
I assume you’ve seen the filmthe national church 
produced about you.
We showed it at Convention,
not just to give you a pat on the back,
         but to inspire others.

That film did not mention the half of good things
afoot here in Pahrump thanks to St. Martin’s.
For one thing,
Julie has been teaching -- and several of you 
have been taking  --
a Basic Discipleship class.
It’s a foundational, Christianity 101 
encounter with the faith.
Basic Discipleship is the prerequisite
for most licensed lay ministries 
in the Church.
More importantly, it’s basic preparation 
for serving God in our daily life and work.
That brings us to our Gospel lesson.
Mark uses just a few words 
to make a point.
His message doesn’t get lost 
in a lot of clutter.
But you have to pay close attention.
Miss just a few words 
and you miss the point.
The point today 
is about discipleship.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, 
cried for mercy.
He wanted his vision back.
So Jesus said,
“Go. Your faith has made you whole.”
What happened next is the zinger.
Two things happened 
– and to put a point on it –
Mark says they both happened immediately.
First, Bartimaeus regained his sight.
His faith had made him whole alright.
But he didn’t “go.” He stayed.
The second thing 
that immediately happened was:
Bartimaeus followed Jesus.
He joined the disciples.
That’s what a disciple is – a follower.

The sequence here is crucial.
Bartimaeus did not become a disciple
then Jesus healed him as a reward.
No Jesus healed him 
just because he asked for it.
Jesus did not expect Bartimaeus 
to become a disciple.
He didn’t even bother to invite him.
But the minute the blind beggar 
saw the light,
he hit the road behind his master.

We can see here two kinds of grace,
         or maybe two stages of grace.
The first is the free gift of healing.
It’s pure mercy.
The most we ever have to do 
is ask for it;
oft-times it comes unbidden.

That’s the grace that forgives us, 
heals us,
slips blanks in our executioner’s rife.
Christ just does that out of love -- neither
         requiring nor expecting anything 
         from us in return.

We don’t even have to say thank you.
We just take it and
 -- as Jesus said -- “Go.”
We can go our own way 
sustained by God’s mercy
         without so much as a nod 
         or an acknowledgment.

But Bartimaeus wanted more.
He wanted Stage 2 grace – the disciple’s grace,
         the grace that transforms us right to the heart.
Bartimaeus wanted more because Stage 1 grace
healed his eyes,
                  but it didn’t change his soul.
It gave him mercy; but it did not make him merciful.
It showed him God; but it did not make him godly.
His character still wasn’t strong and noble.

He still wasn’t the kind of person
 who can fill a room with hope and serenity
                  the way Jesus did.
Spiritually, Jesus had given him a fish
Bartimaeus wanted to learn how to fish.
He wanted more; 
so Bartimaeus followed Jesus.

Now this brings me to the harsh point 
in today’s sermon.
I assure you 
I am not criticizing this congregation;
         though there are no congregations 
where this shoe might not fit someone.

I sometimes deal with 
the darker side of church life.
I know there’s a lot of authentic Christianity
         going on in our churches.
But day in/ day out, 
I see Episcopalians behaving
toward each other in ways 
that are not only unchristian;
         they aren’t even polite.
I often see congregations indifferent 
to the hurting world
while secular humanists are showing
the kind of mercy 
that used to be called “Christian.”

Sometimes veteran Episcopalians 
are mean-spiritedtoward each other, 
toward our guests,
 and toward the folks Jesus called 
“the least of these” and said 
“the way you treat them is how you treat me.”

Sometimes that discourages me.
I think, if I had an illness 
and had been taking a medicine
for it 20 or 30 years and wasn’t getting better,
 maybe I was getting worse,
 I’d give up on that medicine.

I see a lot of Christians 
who aren’t getting better.
Some of us are getting worse.
That makes me wonder.

It makes a lot of young people 
wonder too.
There are several reasons 
today’s young adults 
are not joining churches
 – but a big reason is that 
they don’t see authentic spirituality here.
They don’t see kindness, integrity, 
serenity, wisdom,
generosity of spirit.

They look at us and they don’t see Jesus.
They don’t see Jesus because
so many of us amble about 
in a no man’s land between 
the Stage 1 Grace of forgiveness and healing
and the Stage 2 Grace 
of growth and transformation.

We have been blessed so we go to Church
         and say the words – all of which is more
than we have to do for Stage 1 Grace.

Church isn’t necessary.
We can take the goodies and go 
if that’s all we want.
If we want a blessing, 
all we have to do is ask for it.
If we want to be a blessing,
 we have to follow Jesus
– which takes a lot more than going to church.

Many of us don’t take the next step 
to become disciples.
Discipleship takes learning 
the core teachings of the faith,
 discerning our gifts, training to develop our gifts,
         and learning how to work with others
                  in a spiritually healthy way.
It’s work. It isn’t for spiritual slackers.

That’s why I commend those of you
who are taking Julie’s Basic Discipleship class.
Taking a class won’t make you a disciple,
         but it’s a start.

When Wes Frensdorff introduced 
Total Ministry to Nevada,
he wanted discipleship to go viral.
That was the point – not a  point – it was the point.
But a lot of our people 
who talk most passionately 
about Total Ministry have missed the point.
It isn’t a way to do church on the cheap.

It’s a way to form and nurture disciples of Jesus.
It’s a way to move from Stage 1 Grace
         of receiving a blessing
         to Stage 2 Grace of being a blessing.

That friends is 
where the real action is.
That’s where the grace 
doesn’t just touch
our outer circumstances.
It penetrates to our inmost being.
It opens our spiritual eyes 
to see God’s glory.
It breaks our hearts open to the world.

Sitting on the road 
and having Jesus toss us some grace
as he goes by is a good day.
Following Jesus along that road 
is a holy joyful life.