Disturbed Disciples

 

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to exploit the richness of this earth,

We have allow our vision of the earth restored to dim.

 

Disturb us Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas

Where storms will show Your mastery;

Where in losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.

(with apologies to Sir. Francis Drake, 1577)

 


 

May 17  John 15:9-17

 

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

Disturbed Disciples

 

Embedded in the very word “Become” is the wonderful notion of process.  It is as if the word takes something that isn’t yet and moves it toward its destiny – what is intended to ‘be’.   For a disciple of Christ, the idea of becoming is essential.  Nineteenth and twentieth century religious salesmanship, rooted in a misleading urgency sought to market Christian discipleship as if it consisted simply of a personal choice one would make among competitive systems  of belief – and voila (wa lah for most Non French speakers) – they were born again disciples. Some of us in our growing up days experienced those emotion laden gatherings around a mourner’s bench at the conclusion of a revival meeting after which each newly saved sinner would be expected to immediately declare, without time for reflection, what God had done for them.  Becoming a follower of Christ was thought to be an immediate and instantaneous the result of a decision. 

 

For many reasons, that well intended marketing approach to conversion has pretty much fallen out of vogue.  It gave rise to great debates over the eternal security of the believer. It was often abused – or should I say some who practiced it were guilty of abusing a great many people.  It sobers me when I consider the lasting impact it had on me and many others.   I have to admit to being a product, somewhere along I choose not to be a practitioner.  

 

When we look closely at biblical examples of persons becoming a disciple what we see, quite consistently, is a common process.  One description set out three stages: recruitment, formation and assignment.  Most of you know that Susan and I spent a year driving big trucks across the country.  This isn’t like having your own RV and going where you want to go.  It is called forced dispatch.  The only way you get paid in this business is for the wheels on the truck to be moving toward an assigned destination.  Ideally it goes like this:

 

Let’s say you’ve just had a couple of days off so the system knows exactly where you are and in preparation to return to work you are getting your gear and food stowed in your truck and an on board device on the truck called a ‘qual com’ beeps, then it beeps again and then one more time. When you read the message attached to the first beep it tells you where you are to go to pick up your next load. It also tells you how many empty miles you will be driving from where you are to get there and when you are to be there.  The message attached to the second beep tells you the destination of the load you will pick up and how many miles you will have to drive and how soon you will have to make the delivery. The message attached to the third beep is a question, “Can you make this delivery on time?” 

 

You write all the information down in a little book then check your map book and then send them back a message accepting the load.  Why it is called forced dispatch is that to refuse a load puts you on the dispatcher’s list of uncooperative drivers and that’s a place you don’t want to be. For example we were dispatched to leave Greensboro and drive empty to Wilmington, NC to pick up a load of children’s furniture that we then drove to a warehouse near Dallas, TX.  And once delivered the cycle would start over again: beep – beep  – beep.  Sometimes we were dispatched to pick up a load some six hundred miles away from where we were and the schedule time for getting under the load was already past but we’d have to reply – “Yes” we can do it when the dispatcher knew it was an impossibility.  

 

I’m suggesting that discipleship is something like a forced dispatch system.  It includes an initial call or recruitment, displacement or relocation, and then  load assignment or what you might call a  commission.

 

Think about the rich and despised tax collector, Zacchaeus. He had climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Jesus initiated the encounter.  His process toward discipleship began when Jesus called him down. Then  Jesus did the unthinkable, he invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home, completely upsetting his life.  The call of Jesus on one’s life always disturbs.   And the result: Zacchaeus’ life was changed forever, he was sent, commissioned.  “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost (19:9-19).  We can see a similar process in the calling to discipleship of Peter and Andrew, and James and John.  Jesus called them. Jesus’ initiated the call.  

 

Today, when a person wants to study some particular discipline, they look around at the faculty of various schools and then apply to be a student there.   That was the way it was In Jesus’ day too.  A student would choose the teacher, or the rabbi, with whom he wished to study.  Jesus turned the tables on that system.  Jesus, consistent with our text for today,  sought out those to be his disciples and invited them in a personal encounter.  The Gospel of Mark tells us of one instance where a reversal of this pattern was tried.  A man with a spotless reputation and tremendous talent, resources and connections initiated an encounter with Jesus.  He ran up and knelt before Jesus and asked “Good Master, what must I do…”  Evidently he didn’t like Jesus’ answer because he went away disheartened.

 

In all our stories about persons receiving a call, not only in the gospels, but even in the Old Testament this pattern is found.  Think about God’s call on Abraham, Moses and Aaron.  How about Elijah and the other prophets.  God’s call on Samuel is another that is well known to us.  Life was never ‘as usual’ after hearing God’s call.  The pattern for someone becoming a disciple began with an encounter, a call, from Jesus. And the call was the start of a relationship.  Jesus encountered people so that they came to know him directly.  His love was not for people in general but persons, individuals, in particular.  Discipleship came not simply as a result of knowing about Jesus but from actually knowing Jesus, having a relationship with him. Theology alone does not make disciples.  It is to a relationship that Jesus invited people.

 

Following the call the person experiences a disturbance, a disruption. No greater illustration for this exists than for Mary who, when asked to declare her response to God’s call on her life admitted to being “much perplexed” or as the Jerusalem Bible translates it: deeply disturbed” as the angel declared “the Lord is with you”.

 

The third piece of the process is what we could call a commissioning, a sending forth, or if you can forgive the truckers analogy – being dispatched.  What happened with Zacchaeus?  How about the woman Jesus met in the Synagogue. James and John, recruited by Jesus had there lives disrupted and Jesus’ “follow me” became the start of call to being fishers of men.

 

The 1.) encounter and relationship with Jesus, 2.) the disturbance or displacement and 3.) a resulting commissioning.  And as true as it was in the Old Testament and the Gospels, it continues to be true is the age of the Spirit.  When Jesus departed this earth – and we need to remember that he in fact did – his spirit, the Holy Spirit, was given to us.  The Apostle Paul never met Jesus, in the flesh, but he too experienced Christ’s call on his life.  Remember, how on the road to Damascus his encounter with Christ was so real that he was blinded in the encounter.  His very purpose for living, the eradication of the followers of the Way from the synagogues, was upset, disturbed, displaced and he received a new commission.  Wow! Same pattern.  And it continues this way.

 

In our own tradition, the pattern can be seen in the lives of a man who came to be the most able speaker in the movement that became the Society of Friends, James Nayler.  His testimony was “I was at the plow, meditating on the things of God, and suddenly I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get thee out from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house’.  And I had a  promise given with it, whereupon I did exceedingly rejoice that I had heard the voice of that God which I had professed from a child, but had never known him….And when I came at home I gave up my estate, cast out my money; ….After I was made willing, I began to make some preparation, as apparel and other necessaries, not knowing whither should go. But shortly afterwards going a gate-ward with a friend from my own house, having on an old suit, without any money, having neither taken leave of wife or children, not thinking then of any journey, I was commanded to go into the west, not knowing whither I should go, nor what I was to do there.  But when I had been there a little while, I had given me what I was to declare.  And ever since I have remained not knowing today what I was to do tomorrow…(The promise was) that God would be with me, which promise I find made good every day.”

 

You too, Christ encounters you like God’s messenger did Mary, like Jesus did James and John, like the Holy Spirit did Saul of Tarsus – in the very middle of what seems so important to us and keeps us so busy.  It will be a simple but authentic encounter.  And, if unlike the young man in the Gospel story we respond to the divine messenger and begin a relationship in which we discover love and acceptance, forgiveness and compassion, our lives will be turned upside down.  Our expectations, goals, aspirations will be modified in this new life giving relationship and that will open to us new vistas.  I’m telling you it can be down right scary. John 14:12 reads:  “Very truly, I tell you”, Jesus said  “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…”

 

All of us, at times, and some of us all the time, resist the God who disturbs, displaces and disrupts our well laid plans, goals and expectations.  We also resist the prophets among us who serve as agents of disruption.  We like the quiet, contented life.  We like to think we are in charge of our own affairs, and we want to remain in control.  That isn’t quite the model of a disciple, is it?  A true disciple, in relationship with Christ, like a true prophet, responds to and serves God’s mission, God’s interests.  Those who are disturbed by the God of righteousness inevitably find their lives reoriented and redirected. 

 

If you can forgive my going back to the trucker analogy for a moment.  The load that the truck driver is dispatched to deliver – it’s not his stuff.  It belongs to the shipper, he is just, well a messenger.  God’s purpose in calling people to discipleship – the response Jesus intended to evoke, the response the Holy Spirit seeks is that we are called to mission.  The purpose of discipleship is mission – but it is God’s mission, not the disciple’s own.  Remember the verse from the 104th Psalm “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth” . 

 

Our story of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension is Jesus’ call to God’s mission.  As God’s chosen one, God’s servant, Jesus himself was commissioned to bring God’s mission to fruition – on earth as in heaven.  He didn’t resist.  And as with Jesus, so with you and me.  The one thing we all have in common is Christ’s call on us, his intention to disturb our lives and our plans and to lead us into continuing Jesus’ mission in the world. Hadn’t Jesus told his followers in John 13: “you also should do as I have done to you”.  And what is it to which we are commissioned?  God is about forgiving, reuniting, reconnecting and restoring all people, all nations and all creation to him and his original design. 

 

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to exploit the richness of this earth,

We have allow our vision of the earth restored to dim.

 

Disturb us Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas

Where storms will show Your mastery;

Where in losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.

(with apologies to Sir. Francis Drake, 1577)

 

 

 

 

       

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