Several of us went to diocesan
convention in Palm Desert for the past two days. It was our new bishop’s first convention with us, and I have to say it was a real treat to see her in action.
I’m sure most of you have
heard the narrative of church decline; maybe even seen the graphs highlighting plunging attendance. Our bishop challenged this narrative of death. She pointed over and over again to the angry world around us. The world needs the church, she said, because
the world needs love. It is what we are here to do: share the good news of the love of Jesus Christ. She shared her story of her experience of that love. Because she has experienced it, she is confident that others facing the toils of this world will benefit
from hearing of the love of God as well.
How have you experienced
the love of God? What does it mean for you to have a relationship with God? How do you nurture that relationship, and move deeper into it? How do you endeavor to follow the risen Christ more closely?
At the convention, we looked
at some data that showed that Episcopalians have a difficult time answering these kinds of questions. But we also heard that Episcopalians want to answer them. That is one of the reasons that the bishop has called for next year to be a year of discipleship,
of formation in our faith of how to follow Christ more deeply.
We spent some time in groups
talking about how to be disciples through a series of questions. My groups started by talking about service projects— things like Showers of Blessings, or Food Pantries. But after a little conversation we realized that in order to go deeper into discipleship
we really needed to have some conversation about what a disciple is. It became clear that for some of us, discipleship was seen as an obligation, a burden— something to be done begrudgingly as a duty.
I think that definition is
a definition of the dying church.
Because if we believe in
the God of love, the God of the living, then following the God of the living must be life-giving. We must reclaim discipleship as a life-giving, nurturing way of life and reject definitions of discipleship that are weighted down as a kind of work towards
some distant reward or some duty owed for some distant favor in the past.
What if instead discipleship
were a part of an active and present relationship in the here-and-now with the God of the living? Healthy discipleship sure is that. Discipleship as a life-giving thing need not be always easy— worthwhile things rarely are— but that need not make it a guilt-ridden
obligation nor a duty-bound payment towards a debt. No, discipleship is the very thing that gives us new life! The act of following Jesus itself that renews us and transforms us, time and time again— taking us deeper and deeper into the heart of God.
At one workshop presentation
at the convention, a priest from St. James in New York shared that congregation’s journey into a deeper level of discipleship. They did many things together as they agreed to embark on a journey of formation as disciples. One of the simplest things they did
that stayed with me was to be very clear with new members what they hoped for in their disciples. It was so simple I wanted to share it with you.
Just three words: pray.
Pray regularly, every day,
maybe more. Study the scriptures. Get to know the Jesus we follow, not only in the scriptures but in prayer. Be changed by prayer.
Work. Serve your community.
I like to say being baptized is not a spectator sport. You have to jump in. By being a part of a ministry, we participate in the larger work of the church to share the love of God. And we are changed.
Give. Be generous. Giving
in gratitude and generosity are the keys to a larger heart. It changes us, loosening our attachments and helping us grow towards the world around us.
And so discipleship is transformative.
The more we love God and our neighbor, the better we get at it because the more we are changed by the God we follow.
What does discipleship mean
to you? How do you commit to go deeper in your journey with God? I pray that it brings you new life— so much that you can’t wait to share it with a world that needs to hear it.
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 27C, November 10, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
on the Word, Year C, Vol.4.
Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.