Readings for All Saints: Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6: 20-31On –
On All Saints day, we remember that we are all the saints of the church. We remember the saints who have special days, like our SS Simon and Jude and St Mark, who serve as an example and inspiration to us.
And we remember those saints known personally to us who have inherited Christ’s glory and helped us become disciples of Jesus, helped us to join the band of saints. We have heard some of their names and we honour them and give thanks to God for their lives. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the Ephesian church and us that Christ has called us all into the richness of his glorious inheritance among the saints
We, the saints, are all disciples of Christ, the latest in a line stretching back for 2000 years.
Over the last few weeks we have been hearing a lot about being disciples and making disciples.
John and I went to clergy conference for 3 days, and with most of the clergy of the diocese learned about Jesus’ command to make disciples, and had some good teaching about how to do it.
Then last weekend many of us (360!) went to the diocesan training day in Hobart. The theme of the day was Confident Disciple Making and how to do it. It seems that the Christian churches have been forgetting that disciple making was a command of Jesus.
One of the speakers pointed out that he had had 10 years of ministry training and was training others to go out as missionaries, but had never been taught how to make disciples of Jesus. Lots of bible study, theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, but no practical ideas on how to bring someone to being a disciple, a follower and learner, of Christ. Yet making disciples who make more disciples who make more disciples is how the church has grown. Without disciples making disciples we would not be here today, there would be no church and no-one would know about God’s kingdom and Jesus’ love for us.
With all the attention of on making disciples, we’d have to be a bit thick if we didn’t realise this is number 1 priority for our new bishop. Why is it so??
First you might ask, what do we mean by disciples? Weren’t there just 12 including one bad one?? Actually no. The word disciple means follower, learner. All who follow Jesus and seek to learn more about him and his teachings are disciples. We are disciples. There’s a couple of them sitting around you right now!
Next you might ask, why should we make disciples, why do each of us need to make disciples for Jesus? Why not just those trained to do it, clergy and team for example? Well, first because Jesus told all of his disciples to do it, not just their leaders and secondly because he knew that it’s the only way the church of God God’s kingdom, can grow sustainably.
Jesus was very explicit. In his last words on earth reported on the book of Matthew he commissioned his disciples, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them, teaching them to obey my teachings’. The disciples were to make disciples who were to make disciples and so on. All the way down to us. Notice what he didn’t tell his disciples and us to do: build church buildings, do fundraising, develop liturgies…all those things are useful ways of reaching more people to make disciples of them, but they are just means, and not our Lord’s first priority: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations..teach them to obey my commands, my commandments..’
If we think about it, we may find our church is spending very little time on Jesus’ first priority of making disciples, and most of our time on the peripherals.
This command of the risen Christ, was backed by the highest authority :he told his disciples and us ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. He was saying all power and authority is mine and I am empowering you and authorising you to do this work. Wow! With that amount of power and authority behind us we can’t fail, and the first disciples did not fail. They did go and make disciples and changed the known world. But now we it seems we are not continuing to make disciples, for the church of God in Australia is shrinking, according to the census and the National Church Life surveys.
We are commanded and empowered and authorised to carry on the work of the first disciples: which sounds challenging, to say the least. So Jesus finished his commissioning by providing the most wonderful reassurance to the eleven and to us:
‘remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ What more could we want or need to support us?? The Buddha and the prophet Mohammed made no such promises to be with their followers forever!
Jesus has the authority and has commanded us and has guaranteed backup and support. Making disciples is a command, not a suggestion and it is not optional: go! Make disciples! It means us, we are the ones today who carry the burden and the joy of making those disciples. It has been handed down to us over 2000 years.
And from the first, this disciples making disciples process was spectacularly successful. It grew from the original 11, mentored and discipled by Jesus himself and Paul, who became a disciple after a 1: 1 encounter with the Lord. The band of disciples grew, the church grew, until 300 years later, half of the known world was Christian. And this after a century of persecutions, when being a Christian was illegal and dangerous. Today half of the 8 Billion inhabitants of the earth are Christians, at least nominal Christians. And nothing has changed-it is still not easy, and in some places highly dangerous to be a Christian.
Paul was a great disciple maker after he was confronted and commissioned by the risen Jesus. Listen to his commissioning of Timothy, who he had mentored, and developed as a disciple of Jesus. Paul was writing from Rome where he was prisoner awaiting execution. These were his last words to Timothy commissioning him just as Jesus had commissioned his disciples and Paul himself a few years earlier:
2 Timothy 4: 1-2, Paul wrote:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus..I solemnly urge you : proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.
Paul’s commissioning Timothy, to proclaim the gospel of love and salvation he learned from Christ, live the gospel, teach, encourage, correct the people who the Lord has given you when they go wrong. Make more disciples for Christ among the gentiles.
Paul had made many strong disciples for Jesus of Barnabas, Silas, Mark, Pricilla and Aquilla and more we read about in his letters, and sent them all to proclaim the gospel and form disciples for Christ.
If you are staring to cringe at the idea of making disciples, even worse, being asked to evangelise, never fear, there are ways we can all be involved and fulfil Jesus’ commission to us , relatively painlessly and even joyfully. We pray for God’s guidance and opportunities, we identify our gifts and passions and find ways to speak and act out God’s love into those he has given us.
At the training day, Andy Goodacre reflected on how amazing has been this growth in the church through the process that Jesus used, of making disciples who make disciples. He pointed out that if we had been there at the start with Jesus we might have questioned the way he set out to change the world. He started where he lived, in Nazareth and Galilee, small rural towns, why not the capital Jerusalem, the seat of power in the church and government to reach more people all at once? Why not Rome, the centre of the great empire?
Why choose such a motley crew of disciples to mentor and teach: fishermen, tax collectors, women of dubious reputations, and one who betrayed his friend and leader... no-one with any political influence, much education, public speaking experience or money to fund the campaign. Why only 12: surely a few more huge public events, such as feeding the 5000, properly publicised would have got his mission on the map fast??
Jesus chose the different way of concentrating on making disciples of a few chosen, ordinary people. Fishermen, woodworkers, tax collectors Then he sent them out to make more disciples. Ordinary people like us, in small villages and towns just a few people, and spent 3 years of his life with them, teaching, mentoring them, forming them as disciples then commissioning them to go out and make more disciples. As they did. And look at how it worked.
That’s so encouraging for us. Jesus entrusted the changing of the world to a bunch of ordinary people like us, from small villages and towns like us, trusting each to make more disciples. So we can do it too. We are a small band here in the small village of Woodbridge, about the size of the original 11 plus Paul. Who changed the world. We are about the size of Barney’s church six years ago, now over 60 regular attenders on Sunday and many more in small groups and groups serving the wider community. We too can start the process of winning Tasmania back for Jesus, one disciple at a time.
We invited Gabi and Emily here and to St Marks to speak to us about the way the disciple making process works at Barneys and I think we can adapt some of their ideas and use them here to reach out and make disciples for Jesus.
One suggestion is that we practice speaking to people about our own stories, our own journeys that have led us to church and to Christ. People like to hear stories. You don’t have to be a theologian or an expert on scripture or have all the answers, because you have your own, unique personal story. Sharing our stories, our lives with others is the way Jesus made disciples. He shared his everyday life, he modelled how a Christian looks and acts. He prayed for his disciples and with them.
We can do that too. We can be friends, proper friends with the people God has given us , family, friends, acquaintances, workmates. We can pray for them, pray for the opportunity and the words to speak to them about the Lord (That’s proclaiming!). We can offer to pray for them if they have a problem or are worried, suffering, sad, have difficult decisions to make-whatever we learn in conversations with the people we know.(Jesus taught his disciples to spend time in prayer and ask God for what they needed)
When you know in your heart that Jesus loves each person, whether they know it or not, it’s easy to want to pray for them, and to give them the good news that Jesus loves them. In many years, in hospitals, schools, meetings, homes, I have never, ever had someone say no when I’ve asked if I can pray for them. Even non-believers don’t seem to mind-perhaps they think it can’t hurt, and maybe, just maybe, there is a God who is listening! Then we can follow up sometime later helping them to understand how the prayer might have been answered-and so the conversation can continue, each a small step in moving that person into the kingdom of God.
This praying for people and taking about God in our lives needs some practice. The easy way we can start, suggested by Gabi and Emily, is by gathering in small groups here in church. They do it once a month. Each person shares with the group one thing that they are thankful for, then something they would like prayer for. Then others in the group pray for the person, and so on around the group. This way we get to know one other better and we get practice at saying what we thank God for and praying for one another.
Wendy will lead us to do this in 2 weeks’ time here in church.
It takes time and practice to pray for people, but it’s a wonderful blessing for both the person praying and the receiver of the prayers. And do remember to follow up, ask about God’s response to the prayers.
Once we are getting better at speaking about our thankfulness and offering prayers in our church circle it becomes natural to do this with people we know and care for outside our church. Casual mention of thankfulness in conversations can lead to God talk: ‘What a beautiful day! I thank God for days like this… can lead to questions about God … Something that a person tells us they are not thankful for can give us the opportunity to offer to pray for them. And so the first seed has planted and you’ve moved someone a little further along on their spiritual journey towards becoming a disciple of Christ.
Our team are committed to following through with this process of learning how to make disciples for Jesus. We’ll be attending more training days, finding mentors to help us and to help you as we do this together. Please pray for all of us as we head out on this journey to obey Christ’s commission and seek to grow his church by making disciples.
May the Lord bless us as we go together on this new adventure.