Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples: Committed
“As members of the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness, that in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Today, we finally come to the close of our sermon series on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples. We started out talking about our purpose: what is the purpose of our life? Our church? What’s our life’s mission statement? Our thesis? And then, we spent several weeks figuring out how our life would give supporting evidence that proves our thesis. How do we prove our purpose – and in the collective sense our denomination says our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – how do we prove our thesis in our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness? Those are the vows we’re asked to make, the ways in which we commit to engaging in the life of this community when we become part of this congregation. And so today, to finish our series, reflect on our thesis and supporting paragraphs, we come to our conclusion as we ask ourselves: Are we in? Will we commit to this? Recommit for some of us. Commit for the first time for others. Commit more fully. Commit with a better understanding of what we’re saying. Are we in? Are we committed to the purpose of following Jesus?
Today we find ourselves in the gospel of Mark, in a passage that I hope sounds familiar, because Aaron and I have preached on this very scripture several times since we’ve been here with you. And we’ve talked about the theme of commitment before too. It’s not because we’re forgetful worship planners, and we can’t remember what scriptures and themes we’ve used before! No, this text and theme was chosen on purpose. Way back in September, when we spent the month particularly focusing on our purpose, when my Uncle, Bill Mudge, and Bill Gottshalk-Fielding came to share in worship with us – this passage was our scripture text back on that Sunday in the beginning of September. And we spent a lot of time asking why we were here doing this thing called church, why it seemed important that we keep doing it, why we wanted to invite others to join in with us.
At the beginning of our text, we find Jesus travelling with the disciples, and on the way, he asks them about how people see him. Who are they saying he is? The disciples tell him: some are saying he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, or another of the prophets. But then Jesus is more direct. And who do you say that I am? Peter answers boldly, rightly: You are the Messiah. But then Jesus begins to talk about what that means, his being the Messiah. He tells them about the suffering he’s about to go through, his death, and his ultimate resurrection. Somehow, though, Peter, who just called him Messiah, didn’t understand what that title would mean. He rebukes Jesus, and in turn, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Then Jesus turns to the crowds and says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
It’s been a long time since I had to take math in school. I loved math, but I stopped taking it after 10th grade to focus on other classes, and my college didn’t require a single math class (although I had to take three dreaded science courses in college!) But even though it has been a long time, and even though when I talk to my 6 year old nephew Sam about how he learns math at school and I have no idea what he’s talking about, I still do remember some things. I especially always loved logic statements in math. If-then statements. If x equals this then y equals that. These if-then statements are conditional. One thing is only true if another thing is true. For example, if p = students do an extra credit project for a class and q = students will receive bonus points on their grade, the conditional logic statement tells us that q is only true if p is true. Students will only receive bonus points if they do the extra credit project.
Every time I read this gospel lesson from Mark, I can’t help but think of this type of conditional logic statement. If you want to follow Jesus then deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow. If, then. The implication, as I read it, is that if you don’t deny yourself, and take up the cross, you will have a hard time proving that you are, indeed, a follower of Jesus. In a way, this fits right in with the theme: we’ve been talking about showing the evidence that supports our claimed purpose. As it turns out, Jesus is looking for our evidence too. Peter, voicing what most of the disciples were probably thinking, seems to like the idea of following Jesus, but not some of the hard stuff that comes with it. But Jesus says it doesn’t work that way: if this, then that. If p, then q. If you want to follow, then deny yourself, and take up the cross. Jesus is saying discipleship takes commitment. So what are we ready to commit to?
We’ve recently learned that we’ll be going through a significant transition as a congregation. As you know, now, Pastor Aaron and I will transition into new ministry roles in July, and new pastors will come and lead you in ministry here at Liverpool First. Pastoral transitions bring uncertainty and confusion, and grief and angst and sadness – all those things. And I think the temptation, in the midst of this, is to say, “Committed? How can we talk about the theme of commitment when everything is changing?” How is now a good time to talk about commitment? Who wants to make a commitment when you don’t know what exactly you’re committing to?
In my newsletter article this month, which you probably just received this past week, I wrote: In the midst of change, I can tell you that the thing that would hurt me most, as your pastor who loves and cares for you, would be if mine and Pastor Aaron’s leaving caused others to stop in their tracks, so to speak, in the work of the church, in the work of discipleship. We have talked a lot together about God’s hopes and dreams for Liverpool First and our community. My deepest wish is for all of those plans and hopes and dreams to still unfold in God's time for us. How our commitment will unfold, the details, the specifics – that’s something that we learn over time. It varies from person to person – what following Jesus looks like for you is going to play out differently for me and for the person next to you, overlapping and diverging in different places. But despite different variations on the theme, we really only have one commitment to make: to follow where Jesus leads us. That’s really the only commitment we need to worry about. And it’s true – we might never know where we’ll end up when we follow Jesus. But we’ll always know who we’re with. And Jesus knows where he’s going – we just have to follow. And in so doing, in losing our life to the way of Christ, we save it.
This Wednesday, the season of Lent begins. And we’ll be focusing in, studying deeply the journey to the cross. Jesus asks the disciples to go with him, to make a commitment, in the midst of turmoil and change. Maybe we can relate, just a little bit. But I hope we’ll commit anyway. Because if p, then q. If disciples, then the cross, then follow.
I want to leave you with a poem written by Pastor Michael Coffey, a reflection on this text. It’s called “Lose yourself along the way.”
this road you pave with your words
and your broken body and blood poured
it is not on the lustrous map I bought on Amazon
the Travel Channel has not done a feature on the highlights and hot spots
there is no restaurant tour with stops for every palate
and no kitschy giant dinosaurs to stop and take snapshots with the kids
this way that you speak of with mouth wide open
is every dark dream we ever feared might be true
and all that we wish we could fix about our lot
and the sum of all we reject and hide in the mind’s black box
hoping we will never lose control and crash into the jungle
and have its contents played for all to hear
but you say this path, this bumpy road, this crooked cross highway
is the way of life itself, the gift hidden inside the ugly truth
that we will indeed know suffering no matter our resistance
but oh, letting it befriend us we finally have something to live for
something bigger than ourselves, so trembling we submit
and sink into your eddy of mercy and welcome the news
we live only when we have something we are willing to die for
when we know that our lives in their short span were spent for love
Are you in? Amen.