What sort of disciple am I? John 6:56-69 and Eph 6:10-20

Rev'd Rachel
Sunday, August 23, 2015 - 9:30am

John 6:56-69 and Eph 6:10-20 What sort of disciple am I?

For those of you that were here last week, can I first of all assure you that you are not having a bout of déjà vu. Yes, this week's Gospel really does start three verses before the last one left off! It really does continue to develop Jesus' teaching on his place as the living Word, the body and blood on which we are called to feed with longing and with enthusiasm. And yes, it's clear that Jesus is more than aware that what he is saying is challenging. It requires his disciples, now, as then, to work hard to understand and accept it, and then to choose to act accordingly, or not, as the case may be.

As the one in whom God has entered into the lives of his people, who will be as at home in heaven as he is on earth, what Jesus is talking about as physical eating and drinking, has to also be accepted in terms of the living spirit of God inspiring and dwelling in each of us, giving us a purpose in life. There is a both/and meaning here, not an either/or. 'The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life', says Jesus. God has sent Jesus with the purpose of physically and spiritually giving us purpose for living as his disciples, people who don't just follow blindly for a warm fuzzy feeling, but seek to live out the example and teaching of Jesus: to journey with him.

But for some of Jesus' followers, it has all become too much. Rather than being a Messiah that is going to topple the power of a dictatorship, he wants to see change in those that follow him, in what they think and do. That sounds rather too much like hard work. They no longer see what they thought he offered as an attractive proposition, and so they wimp out and leave.

Which leaves Jesus asking whether he's lost the twelve closest to him as well? Well no, not at this stage, though of course Judas will turn traitor later. Right now, they are fascinated by their friend, whom they are coming to believe in as the Holy One of God, God as man, living among them. Something about the close proximity of Jesus is protecting them from the doubts and confusion that have assailed those others who have returned to their normal lives; the disciples see this man of heaven as offering something more precious than family, friends and livelihoods. The Gospel of John is very much focused on what Jesus says and does as he reveals himself to the world, walking his disciples into some really awkward situations.  However, we know from other places like Mark 16 that the disciples were empowered by God to perform miracles in Jesus' name; thus God was working in people's lives through them, as well as him.

A clue as to what is holding them on this journey with Christ is offered to us in the reading from Ephesians this morning - their proximity to Christ is arming them against the spiritual powers of doubt, delusion and darkness that can stop people from remaining faithful to the journey that God calls them to. The way we obtain this proximity to Christ is clearly different to that which the Twelve had; for us it is in the body and blood of Jesus shared in the Eucharist, and in this interim period between his Resurrection and his Second Coming, we have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, a different form of Christ's living presence. We need to accept both and use them wisely, so that we are protected against the spiritual difficulties that can otherwise overwhelm us to the point of giving up on the Christian journey.

The Armour of God is designed for this journey that God calls us to. Tailor-made to fit what God has in store for us, it maximises functionality over comfort, and prioritises watchful perseverance toward the task ahead over complacency and laziness. If we have confidence in the truth of who Jesus Christ is, as he is revealed in scripture and sacrament, then we will have the courage to reveal that to others. Whilst we need to check that we've discerned the way Jesus wants us to do that, it is maintaining the channels of communication with God through Christ in worship and prayer, that is going to be our protection against the doubts that may suggest that our efforts will be in vain, and that God's love is irrelevant to the secularised world. We've been given a weapon too, the sword of the Spirit that empowers us both in the words of Scripture and in the sacrament of the living word, to resist the temptation to walk away, and to empower us with the means of remaining with Jesus and sharing our faith with others, in word and deed.

Just by being here this morning, we accept that at this moment we are on a journey with Christ, as a follower, a disciple. How much have we understood that what this discipleship is going to ask of us is that we do new things, consider new directions of travel, perhaps as individuals and certainly as members of St. Mary's? For more than two years now, as a Diocese we've been putting together plans as to how we can "live the mission of Jesus", that is walking with him in our modern context, helping him to share the love of God, just as The Twelve did before us.

In St. Mary's, we're finalising our plan as to what specifically God wants us to be doing in Old Basing and Lychpit to share the love and challenge of Jesus. Some of these things are simply being a loving presence in places where we think people will gather, like our Coffee Catch-Up venture that starts next month. Some things, like Pilgrim and the development of that into discipleship groups, are designed to make sure we grow closer and closer to God's love, and our understanding of our faith. Other things are a more overt sharing of Jesus with new generations, like the idea of some form of Messy Church (which does what it says on the label) that may well include unfamiliar forms of worship as well as being in a different venue within the parish.

The question we each have to ask ourselves is: what sort of disciple am I? Do I decide it's all too difficult to understand, too frightening to go into new places, too demanding of my time, and therefore I wander away from Jesus, hoping that my basic understanding of what he did in life and through his death and resurrection, is enough? Or do I stick by his side, don the armour of God, and whilst having little inkling of what it is that he wants me to do, step out in faith however difficult it turns out to be, so that I might share in Jesus' work of "making known the mystery of his Gospel"?

We will in a moment pray for others, but as we consider the challenges that Jesus places before us, I invite you to pray for yourself with me for St. Mary's and for our own discipleship, as we decide how closely we are willing to journey alongside Jesus:

I thank you Father for your Son, Jesus Christ,
who as your living Word,
meets me in scripture and the bread and wine of Eucharist.
You have met me where I am, but I know I am on a journey with you.
As I encounter the new challenges and opportunities
that will make your presence known to others where they are,
help me to accept the empowering gift and protection of your Holy Spirit,
so that I may stay close to you in Jesus Christ, our Lord.