Friday, 21 September 2012

What does it mean to be a disciple?

Mark 9: 30-37

As we’ve been plodding through Mark’s gospel in the last month or so this question has kept coming up one way or another: What does it mean to be a disciple?

Marks’ gospel is 16 chapters long, so more than once you might have heard me say in a sermon on chapters 8, 9 or 10 ‘we’re about half way through Mark’s gospel’. You might have heard me talk about tipping points, or see saws, or points of no return. Mark’s gospel spend the first half talking about what Jesus said & did & where he went, and then from chapter 11 it’s the entry into Jerusalem & down hill all the way. Chapters 8 & 9 & 10 have a special, in-betweeny feel about them, and some things just keep coming up.

Who is Jesus?
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Who are his disciples?
How do we walk God’s way, not our way?
And today’s passage covers a lot of this ground.

Jesus talks about his suffering and death
The disciples don’t understand
They argue amongst themselves about who is the greatest?
Jesus shows them a child.

This is not the first time Jesus has spoken about his death: in fact it’s the second. The first time, thanks to the lectionary, was just last week in our timescale – just back a chapter in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus asks the disciples ‘who do you say that I am?’
Then he talks about his suffering and death
The disciples don’t understand – Peter tells him not to talk like that
Jesus tells Peter to think about God’s way not the human way
Jesus tells the crowd to pick up their cross and follow.
I don’t think the similarities are just coincidence – Mark is trying to make a point, as he puts his gospel together.
Jesus is walking the road that leads to Jerusalem and death. But this is not the way of defeat – it is God’s way, and Jesus wants us to follow him in God’s way. This is very difficult to understand – so the disciples get cast in the role of the people who find it hard to understand, so that we can see how they arrive at an understanding of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Jesus keeps telling them what will happen (he will do it again – for the third time in ch 10 v 33) & they do not get it at first. But finally – just before the entry into Jerusalem – it’s third time lucky and they will start to see – just as blind Bartimaeus will be enabled to see. And when Bartimaeus sees, Mark tells us.  “he immediately followed Jesus on the way”.

Mark wants us to see. He wants us to understand where Jesus is heading – to suffering and death & finally resurrection. When we see, we will then need to follow in that way.

So what does it mean to be a disciple?
It means asking ‘where is Jesus going?’ concluding that he is walking God’s way, and deciding to walk with him, so that we dedicate ourselves to walking God’s way, too.

In the snippet we had of Marks’ gospel today, the disciples, still clueless about the whole suffering and death of Jesus, are arguing about who is greatest. There can be no better demonstration of the fact that they haven’t grasped what following Jesus is really all about. They still hope that this is the way to glory and power and privilege, and that they had better manoeuvre themselves into pole position for this coming kingdom of God.
Jesus wants them to know that, again, just like Peter last week, they are thinking on human lines, making human plans, wanting human power, not walking God’s way. God’s power is shown in weakness, God’s kingdom will come through self-offering, God’s way is the way of service. God’s greatness does not look the same as human greatness.

And to prove the point Jesus takes a child – a little child, because Jesus scoops the child up in his arms – and says ‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcome me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me’.

In Matthew’s version of this teaching, Jesus talks about receiving the kingdom like a child – but here he talks about serving the kingdom in a child. There is no place in the kingdom for human status – the smallest child must be served, because in serving the littlest we serve Jesus, and in serving Jesus we serve God himself.
What does it mean to be a disciple? It means learning from Jesus how to walk God’s way & learning that walking God’s way means serving even the least person – even a small child – because in every child of God we serve God.

Over the next 5 weeks in the lectionary we will get more instalments of Jesus teaching to the disciples about what it means to be a disciple – as Jesus teaches them about serving others, living with others, keeping the law, being servants of all, and finally we’ll arrive at the healing of blind Bartimaeus, when we all get to see what’s going on!

But for today, we need to continue to ask ‘what does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?’ It means accepting God’s way, not our way, for our lives. It means looking for those who might be least and littlest in our world, but whom we should serve because through them we serve God.
As we worship as three churches together today, three groups of people all trying to be disciples of Jesus, perhaps we should be asking ‘how can we serve each other?’ ‘ how can we walk together in God’s way?’ and ‘who are the little ones beyond our walls whom we are called to serve?’.

May the God who in Christ opened the eyes of Bartimaeus open our eyes to see God’s world in God’s way and to seek to follow Christ in serving the world.
In Christ’s name. Amen.

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