What Do Disciples Do: They Take Faith Seriously
The prophet Jeremiah is sent to watch the potter work – a lump of clay, some water, tools to cut and shape, but mostly hands to form and guide. A side fails, the lump of clay is prepared to try again; a piece is cut off but not thrown away, placed in the “reclaim” pile to be used again. When the vessel is formed it will be fired – not to burn it, but to strengthen it.
Jesus is aware that the fire comes to all who are shaped by the potter. But the crowds following him don’t realize it. They are following him because he has healed their loved ones. They are following him because his sermons are relatable; he talks about stuff they know – seeds and plants, flour and dough, salt, coins, sheep. They are following him because he performs miracles – feeding thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. They are following him because he is so kind, so different, so good. They are following him because maybe this is the one – the one the prophets foretold, the one who will liberate Israel from Rome and establish her kingdom once more.
Jesus looks at the thousands following him, and he knows their hopes; he knows their motivations. And he knows the work of the potter, shaping and forming. “If you are going to be my disciples, consider the cost,” he says. His words sound harsh to us. “If any one comes to me and does not hate his family – his father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters – he cannot be my disciple.” It helps to know that love and hate in Jesus’ time were not labels for emotions but names for behaviors. To hate was not to feel something but to do something; to hate was to “turn away from, to detach oneself from”. In the 1st Century Jewish community, the culture dictated where you would live, how you would support your family, you would learn your father’s trade and add onto your father’s tents or household. To hate your family was to break from tradition and custom and expectation and to leave, to choose the call of God over the expectations of family.
“If you are going to be my disciples, consider the cost,” says Jesus. You plan ahead when you get ready to build your towers in your vineyards so that all summer a watchman can make sure that your fields are not invaded by would-be thieves. How much worse would it be to have a half-built tower advertising that no one is watching? In some ways, it is the story of what happened to mainline denominations in the second half of the 20th Century – from 1950 to 2000, churches in America lost members, the group of people who identified as having “no religious affiliation” grew dramatically, and the vessel the potter was working began to look like the clay was turning hard, it was less pliable.
The Senior Pastor of Brentwood Methodist tells about a young man whose response to his invitation was, “If all my religion is going to change is my Sunday schedule, then I’m not interested. I want something that is going to change my finances, [my choices], the way I work, the way I treat my family, the way I treat others, and the way I treat my time.” Jesus looks at the crowd and says, If all you think discipleship is is changing your Sunday schedule, don’t bother. Discipleship a journey, not a destination. It is a process, not a product. Discipleship is a life of following Jesus, ever being shaped and formed in his image.
Thomas Ã Kempis in his Imitation of Christ writes that “Many come following Jesus who love his heavenly kingdom but few come looking forward to suffering. Many admire His miracles but few follow Him in humiliation to the cross.” And that is the truth Jesus wanted to convey that day, and this day, to His followers. Discipleship is a demanding thing.
Potters are not gentle with their clay – they knead it and pound it and throw it on the wheel. Disciples allow God to be their potter. To shape their hands, their heads, and their hearts.
Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” What does it mean to carry your cross? It means to allow God to be the potter shaping the work of your hands. I saw it this summer as so many of you cooked and served and welcomed and cleaned up so that the community could come together to support the families affected by the floods here in Germantown. As families affected sat and enjoyed good food and conversation, as almost $11,000 was counted and taken to the bank, as donated school supplies multiplied, as you went into stores and asked for discounts, as families cried and hugged and emailed overflowing with thankfulness when they received their children’s school supplies and gift cards to complete the rest of their children’s back to school needs. In total, 33 children received school supplies and $6,000 in gift cards, and about $4,500 will be donated to Germantown HELPS for grants for rebuilding.
But those who are disciples don’t finish a project and sit back and enjoy what they have done. They consider the cost of the next project and offer their hands as it takes shape. The Service Committee has already created a scavenger hunt for items for our Fall Flood Bucket packing for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We have a sign-up genius with the items needed and those who like to bargain shop are encouraged to start searching for the best prices! If you are interested, let me know and I’ll send you the link. Preparations are underway for our next season with Room in the Inn, and we are in need of a second over-night coordinator and a second evening coordinator. Last season, I coordinated evenings, and Chris was the over-night coordinator. We would like to continue to coordinate once a month and have another team coordinate once a month. Let me or Chris know if you want to know more about it. Take a look at your hands and consider the cost of discipleship, says Jesus. How will you let God shape them to help the hurting and heal broken places?
The formation of disciples is about more than our actions. Disciples allow God to shape their heads. Disciples study. As school starts back, you have the opportunity to set your calendar. What will you be a part of? Will you make Sunday morning a priority? Will you gather with other disciples to worship and to learn? Consider the cost of joining a study group at church – Presbyterian Women or Presbyterian Men, Adult Sunday School, Wednesday night dinners…maybe there is a study or a group we don’t have that you would like to have – let Doug, our Director of Christian Education, know.
Finally, disciples allow God to shape their hearts. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, described the transformed heart as one that overflows with what he called the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And the way to develop this heart is to allow the potter to take the knife and cut out everything in the heart that is corrupt, everything dirty, everything poisoned, everything tainted, stained, or tarnished. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time naming my sins. I don’t generally, knowingly, overtly do things that are just plain wrong. My sins are more insidious. They are sins of the heart, of pride, of judgement, of prejudice. One tool that I use as a mirror to reveal my biases is the Implicit Association Test. It is an online assessment that requires you to sort as fast as you can to reveal biases on women in the workplace, weapons usage, race, sexuality, religion, disabilities, weight, politics…. First you sort pictures, then you sort adjectives. Then they put the adjectives together…do you associate a disabled person with a positive adjective slower than you do a typically abled person? It’s objective and as I’ve worked through the assessments, it has helped me see where as a disciples, I am called to let God carve some of the rotten parts of my heart.
Because only as our hearts are shaped will our hands take shape. Only as our heads are formed will our hearts be willing. Only as our hands are being worked will discipleship be any more than a change to our Sunday schedule. There is not one without the others. Discipleship is the formation of our heads, our hearts, and our hands. Jesus looks at the multitudes who are following him – that includes you and me – and offers an invitation that is also a warning, “If you are going to be my disciples, consider the cost.” Amen.