A Life of Opening to Jesus and a Life of Obeying Jesus (3/4)
Scriptures: Luke 5:1-11 and 1 Peter 2:21-25
Other sermons in this series
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study at the new men’s warming center here in Port Huron. I chose as our focus the story of Jesus turning water into wine from the Gospel of John. John concludes the story with this statement: “This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). For John, Jesus’ miracles are signs, or indicators, of his divinity, and the purpose of doing miracles is to lead people to faith in him. This is why John said, “He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”
Toward the end of the study, we talked about how the story might apply to ourselves. I asked the question, “For you, what was the ‘sign’ that pointed you to Jesus, that led you to the place of putting your faith in him?” Some responded that they had come to recognize that something was missing in their life, something that others had and they wanted for themselves. Eventually, they realized that the “it” they were missing was Jesus Christ. Even though at the time they didn’t have the words to name what was missing, they nevertheless had a conscious awareness of something amiss in their own lives by seeing someone else experiencing fulfillment.
Has that every been your experience, that someone else had something that was missing in your own life? I have. Early in my faith development, there were people whose own faith was something I desired for myself. In my case, it wasn’t that I was spiritually malnourished; just that I could see that the water was deeper where were standing, and I needed to move out into deeper waters for that kind of experience of God. In many ways, I wanted to be like them. I wanted my life to look like theirs. And in the years that followed, one person in particular became a model for me, someone whose lifestyle and life choices I wanted to emulate.
I think that modeling a Christlike life is a key aspect of discipleship. We all know that who we are today was shaped by who we were around during those highly influential early years of life. Many of our core values in life were “handed down” to us by our parents or parental figures. Likewise, the faith we each have today was in large part shaped by persons of faith who modeled what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And like I just said, I think that this is a key aspect of discipleship.
Here’s the problem, and I think you’ll agree with me. For as important as it is to have persons in our lives who model for us faithful living, and as important as it is to be that model of faithful living for others, we also have to recognize that we’re dealing with broken vessels. At our best, we’re still broken vessels of God’s grace. The good news is that God uses our brokenness to achieve his purposes every day. Henry Nouwen calls us “wounded healers.” So, the fact that we’re wounded doesn’t exclude us from having a positive impact on the lives of others. But it does serve as a reminder that our true model of a Christlike life is none other than Jesus Christ himself!
This brings us to the second overarching theme of what a disciple is. But first, let’s quickly recap what we’ve covered so far. We’re working with this definition of a disciple: In response to God’s loving invitation, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to:
- being a part of the body of Christ
- becoming more like Jesus
- joining Jesus in ministry
These three themes (or commitments) give us an overall picture of what followers of Jesus are committed to. It begins with a commitment to being an active part of the church, and last week I suggested that the two main ways we live out this responsibility is by making worship and hospitality priorities in our everyday lives, both here at church and on a personal level. Corporate worship is vital to our faith, and so is personal worship. Actively welcoming new people into our midst on any given Sunday and doing what we can to prioritize their experience over and above our own preferences is a key component of our worship life, as well as inviting people to experience the joy of Christian friendship through the various events that take place here. So, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being a part of the body of Christ through a life of worship and a life of hospitality.
Today, we move on to the second theme – becoming more like Jesus. How is this commitment most effectively put into practice? Through a life of opening to Jesus and a life of obeying Jesus. Integrating of these two practices into one’s walk of faith naturally results in a life that more deeply reflects, and maybe even resembles, the life of Jesus Christ.
Let’s briefly talk about the first one, a life of opening to Jesus. Admittedly, the wording of this statement sounds a bit off. Perhaps it would sound a little cleaner if it was, “a life of being open to Jesus.” While that falls on the ear a little better than “a life of opening,” it doesn’t convey a key concept in our definition, which is that discipleship is a life-long process. “Being open to Jesus” can be interpreted as something we do all at once – we open ourselves to Jesus, after which we remain open. But saying, “opening ourselves to Jesus” reflects the truth that we open ourselves up to Jesus a little bit at a time. As we grow to trust him more, we open up a bit more of ourselves to him. But there’s not a person here who’s totally laid him or herself open to God. But I bet a lot of you are in the process of showing him more of yourself to him with each passing year.
From a Wesleyan perspective, we open ourselves to Jesus and the Holy Spirit through reading, meditating and studying the Scriptures, prayer, fasting, regular worship, healthy living, sharing our faith with others, regularly sharing in the sacraments, spiritual accountability, doing good works and acts of love, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, giving generously to others, seeking justice, working to end oppression and discrimination, and addressing systems which keep persons oppressed.
With that said, a life of opening oneself to Jesus points us in the direction of spiritual practices, such as scriptural engagement and prayer, both of which help us develop and awareness of the presence of Christ. Think about it this way: if I’m constantly unaware of what God is doing and where’s he’s at work in the world around me, how will I know what to emulate in my life? I can say I want my life to reflect the life of Jesus, but if I’m oblivious to what Jesus wants me to do, how can I do it? The answer is I have to take the conscious and intentional steps of making myself aware of Jesus. And how does one do that? First and foremost, by engaging with him in the Scriptures. Reading God’s Word. The Bible is God’s chosen means of self-revelation to humankind. The more we engage with the Scriptures, the better we understand God’s heart and desires. The more we utilize the Scriptures as our springboard for prayer, the easier it becomes to hear the Lord’s voice when he quietly speaks into our hearts. The more we engage in conversation with Jesus, the more we know what he’s calling us to. That’s the starting place.
But it’s not the only means of opening ourselves to Jesus and becoming aware of his presence. John Wesley named multiple avenues through which we open ourselves to the presence and power of God, and he referred to these spiritual disciplines as “means of grace.” Other words for ‘means’ are channels or conduits or paths. Meaning, different ways that we receive and experience God’s grace. Without going into details, from a Wesleyan perspective, we open ourselves to Jesus and the Holy Spirit through reading, meditating and studying the Scriptures, prayer, fasting, regular worship, healthy living, sharing our faith with others, regularly sharing in the sacraments, spiritual accountability, doing good works and acts of love, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, giving generously to others, seeking justice, working to end oppression and discrimination, and addressing systems which keep persons oppressed. Some of these spiritual disciplines are worked into our life together, such as the sacraments, and occasional acts of service. But many of them are things that we have to make a conscious effort to do. The point is this: one of the most effective ways of becoming more like Jesus is to grow in our awareness of him. And the only way to do that is to engage with him on a regular, ongoing basis.
The other practice that helps us become more like Jesus is a life of obeying Jesus. Similar to a life of worship, a life of obeying Jesus is self-explanatory. What’s important to bear in mind is that living into this practice requires the first one, a life of opening to Jesus. If you’re not all that open to learning what Jesus wants you to do, it’s highly doubtful you’ll actually do it. So, it goes without saying that obedience to Jesus requires a relationship with Jesus. And the fact is, as we move in the direction spiritual maturity, we begin to apply the teachings of Scripture to our own lives. Additionally, we develop partnerships with others to help them grow as disciples – what is often called disciples who disciple. Anyway, spiritual maturity is manifest in a willingness and desire to actually live as Scripture and tradition and spiritual wisdom teach us to live.
A quick word on what a life of obeying Jesus is not. While Paul does provide us with a few lists of activities and endeavors we are called to eschew on account of being followers of Jesus, obedience to Jesus as we’re talking about it does not come down to following a list of dos and don’ts. Don’t drink… don’t smoke… don’t chew tobacco… don’t get tattoos… don’t play cards… don’t go the movies on the sabbath… don’t go to bars… don’t have sex before you’re married… don’t dress immodestly… etc. These are some of the things that Christians have often clung to as markers of spiritual maturity.
One of my churches had a euchre group which had enough people that they had to meet in two different homes. When they got together, they played euchre. There was no wagering going on. Probably the most offensive thing they did those nights was overeating. One time, they wanted to come together as a whole group, and since they were all active members of our church family, they wanted to use the church to play euchre. To my astonishment, it was brought to our church council for discussion and vote. And to my personal consternation, they actually voted to deny this church group the use of their own church building to play euchre and eat food. Why? Because one pillar of the church, who openly admitted that he saw nothing wrong with playing cards, and even enjoyed playing cards himself, couldn’t bring himself to approve them playing in the church building because, “it goes against what I was taught as a child.” Adhering to a list of rules of what’s OK and not OK does not constitute obedience to Jesus.
A life of obeying Jesus is at its heart about discovering the abundance of life, the eternal life, offered by Jesus and gleaned from reflecting on the Scriptures and the applicability of eternal scriptural truths to our daily lives. This morning we called ourselves to worship with parts of Psalm 1, which help point us in the right direction for experiencing the abundant life Jesus came to give us. The truly happy person loves the Lord’s Instruction, seeking to know and follow it every day! Blessed are those who come to love the Word of God, who desire to know it and follow it. And what is the result of following God’s Word? An abundant life. They’re like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade. Whatever they do succeeds….The LORD is intimately acquainted with the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:1-3, 6).
The Apostle Peter’s first letter—1 Peter—was intended to be read by first century Christians who’d been scattered throughout the Roman Empire and were experiencing tremendous persecution by the State because of their allegiance to Jesus. In chapter 2, Peter specifically addresses their suffering and does his best to encourage them to take the high road, as we would say today. In the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a non-violent response to the violence perpetrated against them, so Peter encouraged his fellow-believers to respond to their attackers the same way Jesus responded to his.
Today’s reading picked up in the middle of this encouragement, where Peter wrote, “You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. e He He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. He commHeHe committed not sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. WhenWWhen he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (2:21-23).
Do you hear what Peter’s telling them to do? Do what Jesus did. Respond to your adversaries with the same grace and love that Jesus showed to his executioners. What would be the reason to follow Peter’s admonition? How would it be of any benefit to them? Nothing, if they looked at it through a worldly lens. But looking upon their suffering through the lens of faith—faith in the one who himself suffered so that they might have the power to live in righteousness—ensured their future vindication. A day will come, Peter reminded them, when Christ will return, and God’s judgment will be upon them, and if we hold fast and live in love toward those who persecute us, we will receive our eternal reward.
Obedience to Jesus will at times mean taking the high road, the road less travelled because often it’s the difficult road. But living in obedience to Jesus always brings deep joy and a knowing that we’re not alone and without the necessary grace to keep going. And when we choose obedience—because it is a choice—we discover that we’re looking more and more like Jesus.
What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of Christ who is committed to becoming more like Jesus through a life of opening to Jesus and a life of obeying Jesus. Let’s pray…