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Sunday October 31, 2021
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ANATOMY OF A DISCIPLE: Feet
Sermon at PYUMC – October 24, 2021 – Rev. Kristen Roth Allen
Luke 9:23-26 NIV
When I was starting out in ministry, the church I was serving paid for me to be a member of a local service club, as a good way for their pastors to get involved in the community and to get to know people. It was one I hadn’t heard of before, and so I went in eager to learn what this group was all about. I attended the monthly meetings and found there was always a good meal; I discovered I needed to bring quarters with me because there were questions you were supposed to answer with a quarter or two; I found out I also needed to bring dollar bills for something called “happy dollars”; there were inside jokes I didn’t get and fundraisers and committees. We did good projects in the community here and there, but I really didn’t feel like I understood what the goal was, until I came across something that said one of the club’s main purposes was prevent child abuse. How exciting! I was eager to do that! But although I was a member for 8 years, I only remember one activity that related to preventing child abuse. We had a lot of fun and did some good things, but did we ever get around to fulfilling our purpose?
I’ve been haunted by that experience ever since, because I kind of suspect that the same is true for churches: we enjoy each other, we do some good things, but are we living out our purpose?
What is our purpose? Here at PYUMC we have a good purpose statement: Making Disciples – Making a Difference! That’s meaningful! And we’re focusing this fall on what that means, and how we can live that out, in our sermon series called ANATOMY OF A DISCIPLE. We noted last 2 weeks that a disciple is someone who knows, loves, and follows Jesus, and helps others do the same. Head, heart, feet, hands.
The reason this is an important focus is because making disciples is the true purpose of the church. Jesus says, “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have told you” (Matt 28). When we live as disciples, all the other things the church is supposed to be and do fall into place. When we make disciples, we make a difference!
And so, we’ve learned that a disciple knows Jesus. We come to know Jesus through reading our Bibles, listening to good teaching, listening to him in prayer, and living life alongside Jesus. We want to be people who know information about him – what he taught, how he lived, etc. And we also want to be people who know Jesus personally. For some of us, being disciples with our heads comes naturally to us; we’re people who like to learn all we can and to understand as much as we can about who Jesus is and what he has done for us!
We’ve also learned that a disciple loves Jesus. We want to be people who really devote ourselves to the one who has given his life to save and heal and transform us, and to worship him in the beauty of holiness. For some of us, being disciples with our hearts comes naturally to us. We relate to the woman who was so grateful to Jesus that she washed his feet with her tears and anointed them with perfume, or to Thomas who said, “My Lord and my God!” Some of us naturally just lean into the worship and adoration of Jesus and obedience to God in Jesus Christ.
Today we’re using our FEET: a disciple follows Jesus. Our goal is to imitate him, to apprentice with him, to be trained to do what Jesus does. This the natural mode for some of you – you love to serve, to get busy making the world a better place, to do things as a disciple.
The goal is for us to be balanced disciples – not to be all head, all heart, or all feet (or next week’s topic, hands). If you had a body that was all head, or heart, or feet, you wouldn’t be a functional person – not to mention that you’d look scary! We also want to have lives that are balanced as disciples: head, heart, feet, and hands.
A disciple follows Jesus. Ancient disciples would follow their rabbi or teacher by literally following him around all day. They would listen carefully to his teaching. They would eat together, they would travel together, they would imitate his life choices: fasting, praying, teaching, acts of service, interpretations of the scripture, even mannerisms, style, speech, etc.
Let’s look how Jesus trained his disciples in the gospels. In Matthew 4 when Jesus calls first disciples, he does so with the words, “follow me.” Then in the next sections of Matthew, chapters 5-7 and 8-9, we see Jesus establishing this pattern of “tell and do.” Jesus tells people the Good News: there is forgiveness, there is eternal life! God really has not left us alone – he has come to us! Life has meaning! Jesus also does the work of welcoming the reign or kingdom of God: healing, feeding, bringing justice. The disciples follow him as he shows them this pattern of “tell and do,” and then in Matthew 10 he gathers his disciples, has them “buddy up” into pairs, and sends them out two by two to do what he has been doing: tell and do. We see throughout the gospels the disciples learning to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. In John 21, after the resurrection, Jesus has a conversation with Peter and circles it all back around with these words: “As for you, follow me.” Peter later writes to a group of Christians in 1 Peter 2:21, “To this you were called . . . that you should follow in his steps.”
So, Jesus expected that people would have to listen, learn, imitate, try, fail, get up, try again, get coached, pray, go out, step back periodically to evaluate, keep following, keep following, keep following! That’s what we’re doing. It’s a long process, isn’t it? Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.”
And following Jesus is not just a long process, it’s costly. In fact, Jesus says, it will cost us everything. It will cost us our very lives. Luke 9:23 – If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.
Wait, what?! Jesus has just fed the 5,000! Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the chosen one of God! And Jesus is just about to experience the Transfiguration, where he is illuminated on a mountain top – standing with Moses and Elijah – being declared by a voice from heaven, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And in the middle of all that, Jesus gives this challenge: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” And later in Mark 10:43 he says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. Following Jesus, he says, requires sacrifice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Serving Christ will cost you everything.
If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. I’ve got to be honest and say, I don’t like to deny myself. Self-denial is no fun for any of us, is it? When I’ve got my day all planned out, but then something happens and I need to respond – I could just ignore the needs of others, or I could deny myself and help them out. I think for me, having kids was a crash course in self-denial. Parents with small children hardly ever get to do whatever they want – little kids take a lot of time and attention and self-denial. Self-denial means putting the needs of someone else before my own. Being a disciple means denying ourselves. It will cost us everything.
And I REALLY don’t like the sound of “take up your cross daily.” We think of the cross like something pretty we hang on a necklace, but the cross was an instrument of torture and death. It was as if Jesus said, “take up your electric chair and follow me. Take up your hanging gallows and follow me.”
What is Jesus saying? A disciple stops living for themselves and begins living to obey God.
A disciple recognizes that lets Jesus get in the driver’s seat, call the shots, make the agenda, create the plans, and command how the disciple is to live. Following Jesus will cost us everything.
And here’s the amazing thing: in this deep challenge is a deep promise. When we give up our lives to follow Jesus, we find true life. Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. It’s deadly for us to direct our own lives – we all mess it up. Choosing to follow Jesus is choosing LIFE! It’s only when we give up trying to be in control that we find freedom. It’s like trying to gather water with your hands. If you grab at water and try to hold it in your fist, you’ll get nothing. Receiving the water with open hands will allow you to have all you need.
This is so opposite of what the human heart naturally tells us. The kingdom of God is all upside down! When we lose our lives, we gain them. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
When our kids were little, I remember Katie and Will wanting so badly to have a sword fight…using the knives in our kitchen. We have a big knife block with big knives in it and they thought those would be perfect to play with. They were so sad and frustrated that we wouldn’t let them do that! They thought they knew how to live their little lives – and of course now they’re pretty happy they didn’t get what they wanted. Jesus is inviting us here to have the humility to see that we are like children in our understanding of what’s really good for us, compared to God. There are so many shiny things in life that we think will really make us happy. Can we trust him enough to put our lives in his hands instead of holding onto them ourselves? 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Let’s just be clear . . . you will always be following something or someone. That’s the way the human heart is made – you’re wired for it. You’re designed that way. The only question is, who are you following? None of us is autonomous; even if we think we’re in control, it’s just an illusion. We are being influenced and seduced by so many things. If you are calling your own shots, then you have already chosen to follow something – you’re following the philosophy that the world is telling you in every media outlet, every advertising campaign, every graduation speech, every inspirational sign . . . that you being in control of your own life is a good idea. How’s that working for the world?
Friends, I’d way rather be around people who are not insisting on their own way, but have surrendered their lives to a loving God and are serving others – letting Jesus guide them into the selfless life, and finding that God’s plans are always better than ours. Let’s be people who know deep in our bones that following Jesus is worth it all. There is such joy in living our lives the way Jesus did. We get to do that together!
Friends, let’s be disciples who use our feet and follow Jesus today! When we make disciples, we make a difference!
Loving Lord, we want to trust you, but we confess that sometimes we lose our nerve.
We say we care, yet we dodge the challenges of following you.
You put people in our path who don’t know you, but we can’t find the motivation to introduce them to you.
Our reasons and excuses come easily and sound so reasonable to us.
Forgive our closed minds, our fearfulness, our lack of spirit.
Help us to look squarely at the challenges, at the things that cause us to be fearful, afraid even to try lest we fail, afraid to talk about you to others, afraid really to trust you.
O God, forgive us, and change our hearts. Light us on fire with your love. Amen.
Penn Yan United Methodist Church
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