Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rector's Parish Address on Discipleship

O GOD of all the ages, the God of our fathers and mothers, we thank you for the heritage and witness of all who have gone before us in this parish. Keep us, we pray, faithful to their vision, & eager for the promises of your call to service in our time. In the swift and uncertain changes of life today, let us not draw back into contentment with things that have been, for fear of things that may be. Reveal to us in the face of all people the image of our Savior Christ, that by the guidance of your Spirit, we may help them to grow with us into the full measure and maturity of his humanity, in truth, in freedom, and in peace; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Adapted from a prayer by Massey Shepherd (1978))
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown?
Will you let my Name be known? Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

That hymn from the Iona Community that we just sang, often called the Summons, celebrates how the Lord calls us by name so that his life can be grown in us. Through the centuries, as today, Christ continues to call people to a life of faith, prayer and service. It is the call - Will you be my disciple?

Those first disciples heard his call. And they left their nets, their left the lives they were living. Something they had longed for, were hungry for, they heard in that call from Jesus and they followed him. Their lives would never be the same.

We are here this morning, because we heard that call to discipleship too. And our lives were never the same again. Discipleship is about letting Christ’s love and name be known through us and the Spirit of Christ be grown in us.
“Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
But it isn’t easy. Today, we endeavor to follow Jesus in a culture that fights against such discipleship, such commitment. I recently read about a meeting a pastor had in his office with a young man feeling conflicted about the decisions confronting him:
"He felt pretty clear about the sort of material success he was after, but uncertain about everything else. So I asked him what he thought he was committed to. What path did he think he was on? Could he describe it? He warned me that he wasn't going after some sappy religious angle. Sappy or not, I countered that everyone has a religion. Everyone functions from a grand operating principle whether or not they admit it. Mostly that principle can be inferred by the wake they leave behind as they pass through their lives. The tangible content of our commitments tells the tale for all of us, notwithstanding what we say. I suggested he check out the wake he was currently leaving behind, or if he was brave enough, ask others what they saw there. Did he want to hear the evidence of what his wake revealed?" (Simple Truths: Our Values, Civility, and Our Common Good by the Rev. Stephen Bauman )
What is our wake? Is it the values of our culture: like wealth, power, prestige. Is it caught up in the rat race or do we feel like we are treading water just to keep up?

For so many people, these days the wakes we leave behind us are often filled with anxiety, sorrow, and exhaustion. I know I have days when the sheer busyness of activities for my kids, school obligations, a visit to the doctor maybe, the work here at church and it feels like I’m on a treadmill from the moment I get up to when the kids finally hit the sack. Then maybe I have an hour or two…

But to frame it this way, lets me off the hook. How I spend the day, my week, how I look at it is really up to me and I do have control over it, even when at times when I feel overwhelmed by it. I have choices to make with what I do and what I give meaning to.

I know there are days that I wish we lived in that by gone era when the culture supported Church and its activities; when people felt volunteerism was a good thing and people felt they had the time to really give of themselves to service and to their church. The culture no longer sees an obligation to church as a necessity or in service to the common good.

But I think in the long run that is a good thing. Because it means we have to be honest with our commitments and it forces us to make a choice with our lives, will we follow Jesus or not? Is the wake I’m leaving behind, the life I’m living, in tune with the values that Jesus challenges us to have when we follow him?
For as one author put it: “Jesus' Gospel is not a collection of pious words we commit to memory; it is a spirit-centered attitude and perspective to which we commit the whole of our lives. We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God's presence; authentic discipleship calls us to become involved in the hard work of making the reign of God a reality in our world today.” (Jay Cormier)
To follow Jesus is not a series of thou shall not do this or that, but it is walking with Jesus, following his footsteps.

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Jesus calls each one of us to the work of discipleship: to extend, in whatever our circumstances, the love of God to all; to proclaim, in our own homes and in our communities, the compassion, the forgiveness, that Jesus personified, to the kind and the cruel, even risking the hostile stare.

As God is present to us in the person of Jesus, we are called to be present to one another in our love and care. Christ calls us to discipleship, to fish, to “cast the net” of God’s love that we have experienced upon the waters of our time and place, to reach out and grasp the hand of those who struggle and stumble, to be that answered prayer.

We are called to do that in our individual lives and we are called to do this as a community of love known as St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. I have always enjoyed how active this parish is. Not only in what it gives of itself in service (Mozambique, Chapel on the Green), in what it offers Monroe (tea, fish fry, apples), and in our own activities (knitting, reading, bible studies) but also through the wonderful spirit this is this parish family.

As we know, we are challenged in our financing of this holy church which is part of our discipleship too. In the midst of our ministries, in our work to give to the kingdom, I want us not to forget that deeper call that Christ calls us to do, even as work to be stewards of our time, talent & treasure.

There is a hunger in the lives of all of us to be in deeper relationship with God, the one who created us. To that end, we are beginning a project together to focus on our discipleship and to create a Rhythm of Life for each of us. These disciplines will not only satisfy our desire to serve and please God, but are in fact the very means by which we come to know and love God better. Three ancient practices, commended to all by Holy Scripture and perfected by countless years of human experience will guide us:
Pray twenty minutes a day - Worship one hour a week - Serve others five hours a month.
((20+1+5) This project is laid out in the handout.) If you want to know God better and be a more faithful disciple, please join with me in this project dedicated to nurturing disciples of Jesus. This is an invitation to spiritual depth. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew, our journey as disciples is not always comprehensible for us, is not always clear to us. It is God who by Word and Spirit will guide us in the way we should go. Not the work or the road which we choose, but by the call of God in whichever way God does, in that way you are called to be his disciple.

Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

So in this 213th year of St. Peter’s Church, I hope you will join me in the Discipleship Project, learning to hear God’s call again.

Christ, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Our discipleship we lead us to deeper love than we have known. It will guide us into our future.
In this we will live and move and grow. “Here, Lord, is my life. I place it on the altar today. Use it as You will.” - Albert Schweitzer

The call of the disciples by Malcom Guite. (which is our call too!)
He calls us all to step aboard his ship,
Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,
Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,
Whatever storms or floods are threatening.
If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,
Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,
For he is always with us and will hear,
And make our peace with his creative Word,
Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set
All his beloved lovers in an ark;
Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float
Above the rising waves, the falling dark,
As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,
Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.

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