Reluctant apostles. (that’s YOU)

Disciples or apostles – which best describes us?  They are very different descriptions, sometimes used interchangeably, but the difference should be noted.  Disciple means follower; learner; student.  A disciple could be anyone who chose to fashion their life according to the principles of a certain teacher – Moses had disciples – Elijah – many of the prophets.  We still think of people who have influenced our thought in more recent times as having disciples; Gandhi, MLK Jr, Karl Marx, etc…

An apostle is sent as a messenger “to convey the substance of things taught…” 

Luke (and Mark) use the word translated “apostle” for those twelve commonly named men (they are always and only men) who share Jesus final meal, and later become the focus of his several sightings in Jerusalem after the tomb has been found empty – and Matthew tells us that Jesus the sent out these twelve to “proclaim the good news” (Mt 10:7) which helps widen the gap between “the followers” and “those who proclaim”

If we had our way, disciples would be our choice.  To follow is hard enough – to be expected to share – we’d rather not, thanks.  But something about the way of Christ – something in our system of faith – has the effect of turning every disciple into an apostle.

I began my life in the church as neither a disciple nor apostle.  I was eager and curious, but I wasn’t yet ready to pattern my life after the example of Jesus; I had too many questions.  So I got involved; I listened, I sang, I served in the kitchen and on the board of managers.  I threw myself into the community of faith hoping for some answers.  Along the way, I learned the importance of questions in the life of a disciple – the answers were not always forthcoming.

Eventually, I decided that I could call myself a disciple; I made a public profession of faith, and accepted that from that point on, my journey would be changed by my decision – I’m not sure I was ready for the extent of that change, nor could I have imagined that it would be a never-ending cycle of changes.

Somewhere on the way to becoming a disciple of Jesus, something happened to me.

I began reading Scripture more intentionally – I reacted to current events in different ways – my long established ideas about the world started to seem inadequate;

I was forced (by my newly developing world view) to change my mind about things that had once seemed iron-clad.  I could no longer keep silent in the face of injustice.  I felt a desperate need to tell others about the wonderful possibilities of a life of discipleship – my encounter with the Christian community helped make a disciple of me, but my exploration of the gospel (and all that I discover there) turned me into an apostle – a messenger.

This change is still happening in me.  For I came to the church thinking faith was a personal moral exercise – a way of defining right and wrong; but I learned that faith is not just about me; it offers a new way to see the world / and a new way to respond to the world.

The first disciples discovered this before Jesus was arrested – it was confirmed when he was raised.  This teacher of theirs asked them to reinterpret everything!  Relationships to God and their fellow citizens – their approach to justice – even their attitude toward their Roman conquerors.

This is “following” that is much more than getting the steps right; following Jesus opens us up to a new reality.  It is dangerous business, seeking light in darkness; questioning ‘the way things are’  It puts us in the minority, and it sets us against powerful opposition, but the community that draws us in, and the gospel that guides us – these things are no less powerful.  Scripture tells a story that invites questions and begs to be explored.  This particular account of God’s revelation to humanity has endured, not because we can confirm every detail, but because it demands a response once we have heard it.

You may think that you are able to hear, trust and obey, and carefully, anonymously follow in the way of peace described by Jesus.  But once you have encountered the news of his resurrection, it is nearly impossible to refrain from sharing the story / telling the tale.  We are all made messengers (apostles) by the magnificence of the story.

It is quite likely that, if you are here and listening, you already know this.  You have lived lives made full by your response to the gospel of Christ; well done, good and faithful servants, but the job is far from finished.  Our task as the church is to always find ways to turn “following” into “proclamation” – to make disciples, and help them become apostles.

You see, we are the ‘other’ secret to the endurance of the gospel.  The Christian church, with all its failings, for all its humanity, has made room for the creation of disciples, and their transformation into apostles;

by allowing people to seek God, and encouraging those who would follow, we proclaim the truth revealed in Jesus; of a world made better by the love of God embodied and shared and proclaimed…

Reluctant apostles, perhaps – but apostles you are.  Accept the challenge – bear the gift – praise God.  Amen

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