Christian Discipleship: An Incarnational Model (sermon)

Note: this was the sermon that I preached last Sunday, with some notes to parts I wished I had conveyed differently. I’m still not satisfied with it. It entirely a different thing when one writes and speaks on what was written.

Story:
Once there was a farmer who just recently turned to Christ. Being new, he had a lot of questions. He was asking “how does a disciple of Christ looked like or what are the marks of a disciple of Christ?”

So one day he met one of the Christians who went to the same church that he attended. And he asked him that question.

This brother answered after taking some time to think about the question.

“Well, a disciple of Jesus is someone who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t chase after women, doesn’t go to the pub and last but not least a disciple of Jesus is someone who attends church on a regular basis.”

The farmer, somewhat amused at the answer, replied, “well then if that’s the case then my pet goat is a Christian as well, because it doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t chase after women, doesn’t go to the pub and I take him regularly to church, well, if it’s not a problem with the ushers that is.”

End of story.

Now the irony of the story though it may be an exaggerated way of putting it is that sometimes our definition or how we understand discipleship is somewhat reductionistic or shallow.

And because of this we tend to live a life of being followers of Jesus not in the way Jesus would be pleased of. In fact this way of understanding discipleship is how the world would want us to practice our faith. The world has now taken over how we think of faith and following Jesus. And we somehow tend to subscribe to it one way or the other if we are not careful. And by way of subscribing to the world’s monopoly on our thinking we tend to be somewhat put in a box.

Now, how does this happen?

There are two running ideas that we can reflect on. The first being compartmentalizing our discipleship and the second being confining our discipleship. Let me explain.

Compartmentalization:

When I was younger, although I still consider myself still being young, my mom had this rule for me and my brother. We were given a penalty of 20 cents if we did not abide by the rules of compartmentalization. In terms of how she kept our clothes that is. So that the shirts would not mix with the pants and so on and so forth. But mom soon loosened up when my brother who always seemed to mess things up could not pay the fine. After all we were still young and we didn’t work anyway to be able to pay any amount of fine.

Compartmentalization is where we divide areas of our lives into neat categories. Religion is one of the facets of life jumbled up with the other categories we have in our life, there is personal life, family life, hobby life, work life and so on and so forth. So these spheres where we divide our lives into neat categories, we try our best not to mess them up, or mix them up. For example We hear a lot of people saying that it is absurd to mix faith with business life for example.

Now what we do here is that we leave the faith life behind and we go through the avenues or spheres of life in a different manner. We take off and put on our different hats whenever we arrive at a different category. This is what we can understand as compartmentalizing our discipleship. (maybe show an example)

B. Confinement:
The tendency of this particular stance is that we tend to sometimes be quite particular with practices that show that we are Christians.

Most of the time people say that reading the bible, praying, going to prayer meeting, attending church, attending CG, and the list could go on are what we consider as Christian. And that’s true. But to confine that it is only these things that warrant defining a life of discipleship can be shallow.

Now all these practices are important to the faith life but if we only see these as the defining criteria we are boxing up our faith and Christian discipleship as well.

Escape view mentality:
Now these two tendencies tend to spell out a Christian discipleship that has an escape view mentality which other religions have as well. For followers of Buddha, enlightenment is attained by denying desire which it thinks as the source to all problems. Like the box Christianity we escape life to be really Christian.

Another expression that can be plumbed together with all this is the tendency of being disengaged. When we escape life we tend to be disengaged with life. There is no connection of our faith with how we then live as Christians.

Now, the God of this world would be pretty happy when we subscribe to this way of doing discipleship. There would be no way for us to create an impact in the world which we live in. Now do we really want to subscribe to this?

Reflections on John 1:1-18:
This brings us now to our scripture reading which is John 1:1-18.

The Word in which we read in the passage tells us that
– he was with god in the beginning, and was God.
– the one responsible for creation and one that sustained life because he was the source of life.
– life giver
– and in that the source of light for humanity.

John gives a vivid picture for our mind and his readers minds to grasp concerning the Word.

In v6 John talks about someone who was sent from God as a witness to testify concerning this light, so that through his testimony people might come to believe. John the apostle will share why a witness is sent as we move along with his message in chapter 1 of his gospel account.

V9-13. This light is explained by John was coming into the world and was in the world but those in the world did not recognize him. As the explanation goes, those who were his own, the Jews who were the chosen tribe, the people of God, even they did not recognize this light that was now in their midst.

And John makes a startling comment in v12 and 13. By believing in this light, those who do so are given the right to be called children of God. This is something interesting as it rewrites how one understood being the people of God. It was an open invitation that placed belief in and no more something of an ethnic placement because of birth.

Now we come to the pinnacle of v1-18 which is this divine Word, who was God, the source of creation and one that sustained life because in him was life itself, came into the world and became human. If that was not enough, John explained that this divine entity made his dwelling among humans. This testimony is not something that is explained by a distant observer but by one who has walked and experienced this Jesus.

But how is one supposed to see glory if the glory is something that is concealed in human skin of flesh and bone? The glory that John is in fact talking about is the glory that radiates the expression of God’s love in the coming, living, death and resurrection of Jesus. But ultimately in this case glory is something entailed in Jesus passionate journey to the cross and dying for humanity to which John depicts as full of grace and truth.

Now moving on to v18 we find John explaining further that in the person of Jesus, God had been made known.

Now there are tons of valuable reflection upon which we can derive from these verses which we have read, but our focus of course is on discipleship.

What insight does the glory of incarnation tell us about the nature of discipleship or the Christian life? As I’ve earlier mentioned before the world would very much like for us to be somewhat boxed in how we live our Christian life. But what we do find in these passage is something different. Jesus left the abode of heaven and lived among human beings. There is a strong picture or expression of engagement with the new surrounding that he was in.

So the nature of discipleship which follows Jesus model is an Incarnational life. Sent into the world to embody God.

Accepting the implication of us being sent. (this is one of the parts of the sermon that I wasn’t satisfied about. What I initially wanted to convey here was that the implication of being sent also meant the willingness of the one being sent to accept whatever may come to where one was sent. I still can’t explain it in a shorter and more straight forward form which is frustrating!)

Now Thor who was considered as a god (small letters) was hurled to earth by his father because of his pride and disobedience. He was stripped of his powers and his weapon, something that looked like a hammer. He was not used to the life on earth as he was in the kingdom that he came from was the son of a king and was to be king. But the reality of a life of mortality soon latched onto Thor as he soon knew what it means to be weak. That sense of reality instilled humility in Thor.

Now the story above although analogous is somewhat different to how Jesus experienced his mortal form.

Jesus embraced his creation. In the incarnation humanity and divinity dwelt together. Not in a sense that Jesus was half man and half divine but fully man and fully God.

Jesus identified with others, his creation. Hebrews 2:17-18.

And Jesus accepted his newly lived condition as a human being. Even when coming to earth he was not placed in conditions fit for a king. He did not live in mansions.

So a life of discipleship is one that is not confined to certain places or activities nor is it life that is nicely fitted into neat compartments. A life of discipleship is a life that encompasses these tendencies and makes us see that everything that consists of our life is to be lived in the perspective of discipleship. For Jesus was sent not to only a religious sphere but to the world. For the salvation of the world.

I’ll leave us to consider some stories that speak of this.

Kiran Martin, who had the opportunity to pursue a comfortable career as a doctor chose instead to give her service for the poor. She started an organization of what is known as ASHA which helped the living conditions of those in the slumps in Delhi. But what’s amazing about this story is that through this a church exists in a section which is known for it’s Hindu extremism. “Church planting that had proved impossible in the past was now possible because of the trust and respect built by Kiran Martin in Christ’s name.”

Another story is about William Carey. I think most of us have heard about him and know that he was a pioneer missionary and evangelist to India. But what we don’t know is that he was more than what we do know about him.

He was
– a botanist who published the first books on the natural history of India, introduced new systems of gardening and after whom a variety of eucalyptus is named.
– introduced the steam engine to India and began the first indigenous paper and printing industries.
– a social reformer who successfully campaigned for woman’s rights. Campaigner for humane treatment of lepers.
– introduced saving banks to combat usury. And the list goes on!

Those two stories show to us how Christians are supposed to wear their faith…live a life of discipleship that encompasses all walks of life, and not just the religious sphere. (Exodus 35:30 shows there were spirit enabled people who were given skills to do normal jobs in this case as craftsmen. Note: I did not get to explain this one)

But last and not least, we must not forget, following a quote which I shall paraphrase from Eugene Peterson…where we spend most of our time is where we practice our spirituality. Your work place your home…if we cannot embody Christ in all our walks of life how then are we to be witnesses on behalf of those who do not know God?

Conclusion
As Jesus, who knows God, and was sent to be God’s representative to the world…we too have that same obligation, to incarnate the life of Christ for others in where we are placed in this world.

John 17:14-18

Jesus and Newbies

~day 157: the kingdom of God~
Image by theroamincatholic via Flickr

When I was handed my first stint as a church worker, I was all pumped up ready for the get go. There were many things to learn and unlearn. I was looking forward to be mentored and all that. I mean stuff fresh grads get in their first stint as a “full-time worker” in church.

As time progressed some of my enthusiasm faded with it. Well maybe you could blame me for being a newbie on that. Stress was constantly made on mentoring but with little emphasis on giving opportunities for their apprentice.

And so when there was a decision on handing me responsibilities on heading the youth group, I was exited and nervous at the same time. Well blame me still for being new here again. I can’t really explain how I feel but I had the feeling of both excitement and pressure at the same time. Of anticipation and running away from responsibilities.

Well, I can’t say that I was ready and all that but when is someone actually ready to take responsibilities, really?

Anyway I soon found out that although I was available the church board was looking for an experienced person to do the thing. I was disappointed as well as relieved at the same time. I mean it was good in a way that the pressure was off. But it soon dawned on me that no one was ready to risk it all on some newbie who does not know head or tails about starting a youth ministry.

In some ways I perceived that the leadership was not ready to mentor although there was stress on mentoring. Maybe we stress stuff we are not inclined to do. I guess we do that all the time.

But this made me think more about when Jesus called his band of disciples, the unlearned leaders of this kingdom of God movement that he was preaching about.

Truth be told, they were not leadership material. They were not perfect. They rebuked the master, they did not understand his teachings, they were cowards and all the bad stuff really. But well warts and all they were the chosen ones. One even failed Jesus, in a way that he committed suicide.

But a lesson that we can see here is that Jesus did not look for the experienced ones. Although experience is a good thing and to which there is wisdom in following that direction. The point here is Jesus was willing to train nobodies and make them into great leaders that would assume the role of progressing his mission.

We have to remember that in the years of their apprenticeship they did not progress much. They were at best great failures. But in the end they turned out to be people who were turned from timid sheep to roaring lions.

Discipleship “Methods” of the Organic Church

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
Image via Wikipedia

I read this over at Jesus Creed. Scot McKnight recently highlighted this article by Frank Viola who is a proponent of what is called the “Organic Church.” Viola is a critic of organized religion or for that matter the institutionalized church. For him a better fit of doing ministry and church is to model it after the biblical perspective, or should I say a more historically directed approach to doing church.

He says a lot of good things in his proposal. Most of which must be commended. But I think he is far to harsh in his criticism and proposal. Here is the comment that I posted regarding the article by Viola on the Jesus Creed blog (you can read other comments as well):

Although what Viola proposes is commendable and in some ways biblical, my only question is, “what authenticity are we seeking really? Is it simply being confined to the way things were back in the biblical days or are we to simply fill in the blanks where the bible seems silent, by that I mean in how we do discipleship?” I think we cannot restrict ourselves to the age old model but seek ways to enhance our understanding of changing times or context and seek biblical wisdom to ground how we do things. To me we have to be open. Although Viola proposes we conform just to the “biblical” pattern, how would we really know how they actually did discipleship? All we have are patterns not constriction. The bible is more open than the vision of the organic Church. In a way, the organic church is advocating their own brand of “institution.”

Eric Metaxas Interview by Christianity Today

I have yet to see this book but there has been a lot of buzz. I hope it hits that book stores in Malaysia soon because I’m just fascinated by this Bonhoeffer guy. The book is entitled “Bonheoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy .”

I found this interview quite interesting. Some of the questions asked were:

  • Was Bonhoeffer evangelical?
  • Is there anything controversial about him, from the description of him in the book?
  • How does he (Bonhoeffer) challenge us to the call of costly discipleship?

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