Guided in part by a book called The Meanings of Discipleship, edited by Andrew Hayes and Stephen Cherry, I've been preaching this summer on the middle chapters of Luke, called the Travel Narrative, asking the question, "What can this narrative teach us about being disciples?" This has been a very helpful way to organize my thoughts about the scriptures each week. I set out without a detailed plan, and sure enough, each week had something interesting and different to add to help answer the question. I've written sermons focused on the scripture but looking through the lens of this question. Because of that arrangement, the answers we've found are spread out, so I thought I'd turn it inside out, and talk, all in one place, about all discipleship, and bring in scripture as needed.
The basic definition of a disciple is that a disciple is a learner. The disciple learns form one master. Christian disciples learn from Jesus. In July, I pointed out this learning is intentional. Christian disciples are people who intentionally try to learn from Jesus. There is nothing surprising here. Greek philosophers learned from their masters; Christian disciples learned from their master; today. We are Christian disciples because we choose to make Jesus our master and we learn from him.
One of the next things we learned was that discipleship is relational. Christian disciples learn not just by studying, but by living in relationship with Jesus. The learning that Christian disciples do is relational learning. Also, the thing we learn from our master is to be in relationship with others. The Greatest Commandment (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and should and strength and mind) and the Golden Rule (love your neighbor as yourself) instantly come to mind. Love is relationship perfected, so these two verse capture relationship with our master (Love Jesus) and relationship with others (love neighbor). When we first heard this concept in a sermon, we were reading the parable of the Samaritan neighbor.
We also learned another kind of relational discipleship. In my book, The Meanings of Discipleship, Stephen Cherry called for us to think about the virtue of kindness. Kindness can be the cardinal virtue of relationships, but more than that, it has the word kind, in it. Kindness in discipleship is about being of the same kind as Jesus is. Jesus is the kind of human who loves others perfectly; we should be that kind of person. Jesus is the Son of God; we should be children of God. This would make us adopted siblings of Christ. We'd be kin to Christ, related by being the same kind. The more we think of ourselves as being kin to all God's children, the more we will think of ourselves as being in relationship with them because they are our relations. Learning to love each other because we are kin to each other and therefor in relationship with each other is the essence of the Golden Rule, and also the Great Commandment. In this way, discipleship is not only about relationship, discipleship is about kin-ship.
Missional discipleship is the next type we learned about. It is mentioned in the book, and one of our Sundays was about the passage of Jesus sending the 70 disciples into Samaria. After learning from Jesus because of our relationship with Jesus, after learning that we are supposed to have loving relationship with our neighbors, then Jesus sends us to go do it. We learned from the story of the 70 that we are to both extend hospitality and expect hospitality. We learned that we are to wish peace for the other, and to do the work of doing real good for them. The 70 were sent to cure and heal and exorcise demons. Only after wishing peace, receiving hospitality, and doing tangible good do we mention the Kingdom of heaven. "The kingdom of heaven has come near," say the disciples, and then Jesus comes to the villages.
In the book, there is a type of discipleship called "Eucharistic discipleship." What I took this to mean is that through the mystery of the sacraments, especially through communion, we become the body of Christ. In the book, Matthew Bullimore says that Jesus was a living prayer, that prayer in particular was the Lord's prayer. He says that we can go beyond just reciting or even praying the Lord's Prayer, we can enter into the Lord's Prayer. Further, when we do that, we enter into Christ himself and become one with him and one with all the people that Christ loves. This mystical union is the essence of Eucharistic Discipleship.
Some will say that they can worship God in the woods or at the lake or on the golf course. Worship God in appreciation of God's good creation is important, so I don't want to take away the truth of this sentiment. Some will say they can serve God by serving neighbors apart from the church. I definitely don't want to take away from those good motivations. BUT: part of the point of Eucharistic discipleship is that we worship and serve God AS the body of Christ. The demons have faith . . . and tremble. Pagans can worship nature. Secular humanists can do good works. We are the covenant community and the body of Christ; we are made one through the sacraments. We can't do this alone. Discipleship demands that we do it together.
The travel narrative continues, in the lectionary, to Christ the King Sunday--almost Thanksgiving. Jesus keeps walking toward Jerusalem and the cross. In the book of Hebrews we learn that Jesus is the sacrifice that ends the need for more sacrifice, and that Jesus is the high priest who makes the sacrifice on our behalf. Think about the Pharisees arguing about their place at the table. Jesus gives up his place of honor and takes the place of disgrace. He gives up his seat for us. We are also called to sacrifice, but doing good and sharing what you have are sacrifices pleasing to God. I want to call this sacrificial discipleship. It's not that different from missional discipleship. We're also to offer a sacrifice of praise. Perhaps this should be called joyfully sacrificial discipleship.
Finally, we learned about Jesus, all alone at the end. Jesus is love and love abides. In the same story about places at the table, I argued that it is Jesus who takes the lowest place when he succumbs to the disgrace of the cross. The Greek word for lowest is the same as for last. The end of time is called the Eschaton, and at the end of time, there will be Jesus, love incarnate. I didn't think of it in time for the sermon, but I'm going to call this eschatological discipleship. It is the idea that in all of these definitions of discipleship, from learning to relationship to loving to kinship to mission to sacrament to union--all of this isn't about us. It's all about Jesus. "Beloved let us love one another, because everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. . . . for God is love." Jesus is Love incarnate, and we are the body of Christ when we are also love incarnate. This has to do with eschatology because we lose ourselves in love so that on the last day we are part of Christ, part of love incarnate, made one in him through love.
I'll be preaching the travel narrative until Christ the King Sunday. We may learn more about discipleship along the way. I'm not going to promise to emphasize discipleship in my sermons, but I hope it becomes the air we breathe, that we continue intending, learning, imitating Christ, relating to Jesus and to each other, loving, being sent, doing good, proclaiming, being one, sacrificing, praising, and losing ourselves in Christ in the hope of the love that will abide to the last day.
Hayes, Andrew, and Stephen Cherry, eds. 2021. The Meanings of Discipleship: Being Disciples Then and Now.