Living as Disciples

Revd Sarah
Sunday, September 3, 2017 - 8:00am

Sermon – Proper 17. Discipleship. Matthew 16: 21-end. Romans 12: 9-end 

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt 16).

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Love one another with mutual affection (Romans 12). 

I don’t often start a sermon with a joke....for very good reason you’ll no doubt be thinking in a moment!.

This is the story of a holy Rabbi who went to the barbers to get a haircut.  All trimmed and happy, when he went to pay the barber wouldn’t accept his money. ‘No rabbi’ said the barber, ‘I never accept money from the clergy’.  The following morning as the barber arrived to open his shop, there on the step was a huge bag of delicious bagels.  A few days later a catholic priest came along for a haircut; at end the barber wouldn’t accept his money...’no Father’ he said ‘I never accept money from the clergy’.  The following morning, there on the step of his shop, the barber found ....a large bottle whisky.  A few days later, an Anglican vicar came and had his haircut, and coming to pay was told by the barber ‘oh no Revd, I never take money from the clergy’.  The very next morning, the barber arrived at his shop, to find enormous queue of Anglican vicars.

Now, I have no wish to attempt to defend Anglican clergy of course, but one point in the Anglican priest’s favour is that he clearly shared his joyful story, and his rough haired fellows were clearly eager to follow, and to rejoice with him in his rejoicing!

St Paul encourages his friends in Rome: ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’. And I wonder, which do you find easier in your discipleship alongside others.

 So much of being alongside people in the very last days of their lives is about listening to peoples’ stories.  I know some of you volunteer or donate to St Michael’s hospice in Basingstoke. I continue to help out with some chaplaincy support there, sitting at the bedside of people struggling with their utterly exhausted physical body yet so keen to share the stories of their lives.  You would think stories told from your hospice bed might be bathed in weeping....but so often I listen to life stories brimming with joy.

 I was moved this week when listening to a couple who bubbled with excitement as they recounted, no doubt for the 100th time, stories of their lives lived in fullness together since falling in love during the Second World War; life-giving stories of joy all told through the visible physical pain of the husband lying in his bed.

 Many of us have a longing, a need, to speak of our lives when we fear they may be ending. Perhaps it’s a yearning that our lives are not lost or wasted, but perhaps it’s also a sign of our rejoicing, through the tears, in the joy of life lived. Of looking to the past in gratitude, and also sensing our future joy in eternal life enfolded in the glory of God’s love. 

How closely weeping and joy juxtapose in our lives. There was such joy in that hospice room of life shared with each other, and with me in that moment, yet such weeping as I left with the wife releasing all her sadness outside his door at the imminent loss of the love of her life, her deepest joy. We weep with those who weep, we rejoice with those who rejoice, we share in each others’ lives in mutual love in our discipleship. 

This morning in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is looking to Jerusalem, the place of his cross, his suffering, and his rising in glory. And he directs his disciples’ gaze towards that place as he calls them, and us, to take up our cross, bear all things, let go all things, and be lifted to rejoice in the fullness of life. It’s a calling to follow him, to be learners or students, to be disciples of Christ.

But discipleship is costly. Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans a challenging, yet uplifting, charter for Christian living, a kind of blueprint for discipleship. The virtues Paul speaks of are those we have to work at, those we’re called to live out every ordinary and extraordinary day of our lives - love, patience, perseverance. And the better we are at exercising these Christian virtues, says Paul, the more we’ll differ from the society around us, and the more we’ll probably be disliked and ridiculed and persecuted.

Discipleship isn’t easy and it takes courage, as we know from our own failings and struggles in our discipleship already. And look at Peter. In last Sunday’s reading we were at Caesarea Philippi with Peter where he finally got something right, he finally recognized Jesus as the Messiah.  But today he gets over-excited and tries to help Jesus to be the kind of messiah Peter thinks he should be. In one breath Peter moves from rock to sand...the stumbling block, Satan even in Jesus’ harsh rebuke as he too struggles, perhaps, with the cost of holding fast in his relationship with God. 

We know that God’s way is to bring life but it can only be done by Jesus’s use of his power to love and to endure – and by us following, imitating Jesus’ pattern in our own lives.

Take up your cross, says Jesus to us his disciples.  Not his cross, not our neighbour’s cross, but our cross, our unique burdens, fears, and separations from God. Take up your cross and follow me - in the way of discipleship to Jerusalem, to the place where we give our up our sufferings, fears and hopes, our very selves, into the hands of God. 

Discipleship requires letting go to God. Letting God deal with all we find difficult - that painful situation or destructive relationship - offering all up to God, trusting God to be God. The life of faith is an open-ended adventure with a God who loves us and desires our transformation into the holy people he calls us to be.  In carrying our cross, letting go our weeping to God, we continue to transform, rejoicing in the fullness of life, accepting God’s love for us and in turn living in the freedom to love one another as Christ loves us.

‘Ultimately what the disciple learns is how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive’* Rowan Williams says, in this wonderful little book which I can’t recommend enough to you this morning as an encouragement in discipleship and life.

 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. The world sees God’s grace in the compassion we display in God’s name in our discipleship, in our worship together, in our weeping and our rejoicing.... in our mutual love.

Our stories are unfinished....even as we approach our last days here on earth, we look forward to eternal life in hope and faith. The great, ‘unending adventure of discipleship is lived through that profound desire that makes the whole of my life draw towards something beyond myself which gives meaning – the other person that I love, the God I seek to love’* ever more deeply, as a disciple of Christ.

* quotes taken from the book ‘Being Disciples: Essentials of a Christian Life’ by Rowan Williams (SPCK publishers)