disciples “ex nihilo”

Mark tells Jesus’ story with urgency.

There are not too many frills; no smooth transitions from one moment to the next,

and there is danger in that for us.

There is danger whenever the hard work – the background story – is assumed.

Sure, Mark’s audience knew some of the background,

and the purpose of the gospel is to get us to the main event,

but let’s consider how that urgency affects us, all these years later.

We read; “Jesus called…” and the response is instant. “

At once (Immediately) they left their nets…”

They seem to us “Instant Disciples”,

and our terror increases when it seems as though we too are called to disciple-making

This sense of urgency messes with our theology,

and we lose sight of the nature of discipleship.

For if they are to be disciples of Jesus, mindful of the kingdom of God,

then the making of disciples is properly an act of God.

So what does it take to make a disciple?

It seems like fundamental question,

since we are called to be disciples.

There is no more fooling ourselves about imagined perfection –

Jesus’ original choices were hardly perfect specimens.

And this is true of any of God’s choices that Scripture reveal to us…

our understanding of what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus

or to live as a people touched by God’s redeeming grace

is shaded by the way Scripture describes the transactions between God and humanity.

Yes, there are missed opportunities,

and countless re-starts where obedience (and ‘righteousness’) is concerned,

but the stories that we hold up as formative are instant, dramatic,

and somehow magical in the telling,

and that has become problematic.

Mark’s urgent gospel aside (for the moment)

let us consider the tale of transformation that is the book of Jonah.

The cast includes one who considers himself a child of God

(or at least, one of God’s chosen children)

and an entire city that are not worthy of God’s consideration –

(at least, that is Jonah’s assumption)

There could be no disciples in Nineveh, only enemies – the “unworthy” –

They are not worthy of Jonah’s time, nor of God’s merciful warning

(so goes the understanding of God’s people, at least),

which makes their eventual transformation and God’s merciful tendency all the more troubling.

In Jonah’s theology, what makes a disciple is first and foremost the proper kind of people –

and Jonah believes that the burden is his to see that the wrong people are somehow made right.

What we don’t see – in Jonah, (or in the gospels for that matter)

is the work that prepares the people of Nineveh (or Galillee, or Ephesus…)

to become disciples…

Disciple making is the work of the Spirit –

always going on behind the scenes, under the cover of darkness.

Disciple making – in Jonah’s time, or in our time –

takes place as people face realities that make no sense,

and wrestle with powers that work against God’s goodness

that goodness, so (Genesis/Scripture) tells us, is part of every created thing.

God makes disciples in Nineveh the hard way – out of absolutely nothing;

no faith – no experience – no knowledge of God – nor even the desire to know.

Yet Jonah’s visit – grudging as it was –

finds in the city a people ready to believe that they are made for something better.

Our lesson in this is clear – though the call of the gospels to “make disciples”

puts us in an uncomfortable position.

This call has led the church to make members – to make congregations –

and to make tradition and statistics the measure of success –

it is an accident of the Spirit that the church still manages to make disciples of Jesus.

That is the good news – that God is still in the disciple making business,

and it is God’s work we are called to participate in – as the church and as individuals.

Our job (as disciples) is to offer our witness – willing or not –

to the power of God in the world and in us

and to let that witness waken the power of God in others.

That’s what it takes.

No programs – no catechism – no test –

nothing we can invent or imagine will make better disciples.

We cannot compel people to discipleship –

we can only offer our own hesitant attempts to live according to Jesus pattern –

confident in the power of God’s love, believing God is capable of anything.

That is the trick that (eventually) captured Jonah –

his realization that God was capable of anything,

let him grudgingly accept the miracle of transformation that overcame the citizens of Nineveh.

That is the trick that Mark’s gospel recognizes with such urgency –

that the invitation of Jesus – and Jesus complete confidence in the power of God –

is able to evoke what seems like an instant response of faith from such unlikely people.

Such discipleship on our part allows God to do the background work –

admits that the burden does not fall on us –

and allows that such sudden transformations are sudden only when seen from a distance.

Disciples we are, if we are able to allow God’s Spirit

to do the hard work – the heavy lifting of transformation and reconciliation.

True disciples of Christ are we who recognize that “sudden transformation”

is really just sudden evidence of the gradual, grinding power of God at work.

Blessed are we who have trusted in God’s disciple-making power

and chosen to leave our nets and follow the call of Christ –

to live as though we believed nothing was impossible with God

Whatever that looks like for you – for us –

may be all the evidence one person needs to turn and trust in God. 

Thorburn- Sutherland’s River – Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012

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