Sunday, January 25, 2015

Discipleship & Apostleship

Discipleship to Apostleship

Not long after we were engaged to be married, after the initial rejoicing, there were those “reservations” shall we say particularly around the fact that Cindy came from a large Roman Catholic family; the eldest of seven children.

One day Cindy’s dad and I went for a long walk and eventually we got around to the subject at hand; “I don’t like my daughter getting married outside the church,” he said as a simple matter of fact.

Equally as a simple matter of fact I said to him; “The day that you start going to church is the day that I will give credence to what you say. In the meantime, thank you for your thoughts, I hope you too come back to the church”. 

Not long afterward, Cindy’s mom came to my office and after a few initial pleasantries she said; “Just what is it you people believe anyway?” 

One always prays for the grace to have an answer to such a question, and this time thankfully, God gave it to me; “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” 

She said; “You do!”
I said; “Indeed we do!” and then I showed her the page in the Book of Common Prayer where we recite the Nicene Creed every single Sunday.

Not that they were completely satisfied with the answer at the time, but in the succeeding years we indeed have grown very close to one another. Just last year when Cindy’s mom was so sick, she listed me as her “priest” in the hospital intake records.

And so yes, I do believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This is at the core of our faith as a matter of fact.

We are disciples of Jesus. We are his followers.
We are apostles of Jesus. He are his ambassadors in and for the sake of the world.

We are told in today’s first lesson that God called Jonah to be his disciple and to go to Ninevah, far to the east in modern day Syria. So where did he go? In the other direction as far as he could. He went to Tarshish, in modern day Spain, as nearly as we can tell, near Gibraltar. When God calls us to do God’s bidding do we always do exactly what we are told either with regard to our own care or with regard to the care of others? Or, do we sometimes do exactly the opposite, in fact will we go to great lengths to go as far was we can to escape our responsibility to God. 

This is exactly the case with Jonah. As it turns out, he boards a ship and a storm arose such as has seldom been seen before. It was one of those hundred year storms that we’ve been seeing lately every few years on our shores. And the sailors knew that someone aboard had offended the Fates or God or one of the many Deities that that sailors often believe in. They cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah. In the Hebrew Bible, the lot is cast once, in the Koran the lot is cast three times to be certain the lot spoke the truth…after all Jonah’s father was Amittai, meaning he was “the son of the Truth”. When the lot fell to Jonah, he confessed that he was the cause of the pending calamity. The sailors tried to cast the cargo overseas in hopes that doing so would satisfy the raging storm. Alas, it came then to Jonah, and he was cast away into the depths and immediately a peace fell upon the sea. The parallels between this story and some of the stories of Jesus are fascinating. After all, didn’t Jesus tell the tossing tempest, “Peace, be still”.

We all know what happens then. God appointed a huge fish and he swallowed Jonah and there he remained for three days. But Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the whale.

In Judaism, the story is told at Yom Kippur every year so that we might know that God seeks to forgive a repentant sinner.
In Islam, the story is also very important. In much of the 37the Chapter of the Koran, and Allah forgave Jonah our of his mercy and kindness. By the way every chapter of the Koran begins with the phrase “Alla, the all merciful”. 
One wonders as with extreme fundamentalists of all faith traditions if in fact they have ever read the Book at all.
And in our own faith tradition Jonah prefigures Jesus’ death and resurrection, since Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale. 

Literal fact?

We have a minds to think with. Use them. I know that as I read the holy writings I appreciate the full meaning of their literature, as I do great poetry itself. There are so many layers of meaning in all that we read in these sacred stories.

We see in the second reading that Paul is becoming anxious about the fact that the appointed time is drawing near. His understanding of eschatology or “the end times” is often misunderstood to mean that the end of the world itself is immanent. In fact he may have thought so. The language of this brief passage seems to indicate that. And many have thought for the two thousand years since that the end is at hand. 

Frankly, I have my doubts. Yes, I believe in a new world order that is growing in every heart that honestly comes to God and who becomes a follower of Jesus. That’s the point. You and I have been called to follow and that’s what changes the world. That’s what brings the new world order into focus. As Paul more correctly says; “The present form of this world is passing away.” That indeed makes more sense to me. And it seems to be abundantly clear as we look at current events that the world is indeed in an upheaval.

So then that begs the question. What will its future be? Obviously, that will be up to us as we seek in our own way to answer readily the call of Jesus to follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; into the life that brings life to others and continues to do so from one life to another and for ever. 

You will notice that Jesus called rather ordinary fisherfolk to follow him.  They were folks like Simon and Andrew; James and John. Folks who cast their nets into the Galilean Lake, folks who sat mending their nets as a million more had done centuries before and since.

But Jesus had folks to fish for. “I will make you fishers of men, women and children” Jesus was soon to say. The Kingdom of God has come near. It is at hand. As we mend our net so let us mend our hearts. for the old order is passing away. Therefore Jesus calls us to follow.

As disciples, there is a discipline to follow. There are responsibilities we have to one another to build God’s Church. The mending of our nets now includes extending God’s heart to the world in this place and from this place. The essence of discipleship is the extension of God’s Kingdom from one human heart to another as we extend God’s love, Christ’s forgiving power and The Holy Spirit’s reconciling grace.

Disciples are called together at least once a week to hear God’s word to receive the sacramental presence of Christ in our lives and then we are sent out to be God’s Apostles, Ambassador’s of Christ, if you will, in our work places, at school, among our friends and family and in the communities in which we are planted.

Notice then if you will the relationship between our Discipleship and our Apostleship. In our Discipleship, we follow. In our Apostleship we are sent. It is the life and breath of the church. As we breathe in, we gather, as we breathe out we go forth. Much like we do from our homes; we gather to share our meals, tell our stories, and take our rest. Then, strengthened, we go forth into our daily responsibilities and go about our daily rounds. Sometimes we come back bruised and battered. So it is in life. But then at home we tell our stories, our wounds are bandaged up, we take our sustenance and rest. Then we do it all over again. 

This is how it is as we seek to be God’s Disciples and God’s Apostles. Of course life bruises and batters us around a bit but we gather then to tell our stories, God speaks to us, and nourishes us in the sacrament and then we take our rest here in the arms of Jesus. Only to do it all over again.

As I said to Cindy’s mom so many years ago, so I say to you today, so we say to God week in and week out; “We believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Fr Paul

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