Tuesday, February 13, 2018

To Be and To Make Disciples

This is a devotional shared at the Southwest Ohio Mission District Discipleship Conference this past Saturday. Pastor Dan Powell gave a great keynote message. Pastor Tom Brodbeck gave an informative presentation on the work of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) Life to Life Discipleship team. Four lay members of district congregations gave inspiring testimonies about their experiences with an intentional focus on growth as Christ's disciples over the past few years. And a mix of laity and clergy led breakout sessions. The feedback from the day was positive. I came away inspired!

As we begin, we’ll focus on two passages from the gospels.

First, Matthew 28:19-20, a passage so often cited that we risk not allowing it to wield its influence over us. The risen Jesus tells His Church: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

To be and to make disciples. This is the mission of Christ’s Church.

Not to pack our sanctuaries with a Sunday audience of dues-paying church members.

Not to be a fellowship that parties hardy while having no heart for the Lord or the lost.

Not to pay off the mortgage, though paying off mortgages is good.

Our call is to be and to make disciples.

Our congregations may not experience phenomenal numerical growth when we take this great commission from Jesus seriously. But we Lutherans in North America know full well these days that if we don’t take the great commission seriously we have no chance of growing, either spiritually or numerically.

Without that commitment, we have no chance of being who Jesus has called and set us free to be, people:

  • who joyously live in relationship with Him, 
  • who joyously live out that relationship in fellowship with the Church, 
  • who joyously share Christ and the gospel with the world.

We need to be more like the woman Jesus met by the well at Sychar in John 4. She’d had five husbands and was now shacking up with another man. She went to the well outside the village braving the blistering sun of midday in order to avoid the shunning and the hostility of the women who ordinarily went to fetch water in the mornings or at dusk when it was cooler.

Jesus was at the well when she arrived.

Jews like Jesus didn’t speak to Samaritans like this woman was.

Men didn’t speak in public with women to whom they weren’t related in either culture.

Yet Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman.

He took the time, not to know her because as God, Jesus already knew everything about her, but to let her know that He knew all about her, yet still deemed her worthy of His grace.

And then this, John 4:28-29, our second passage: “...leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’”

However tentatively she expressed it, this woman had become Jesus’ disciple.

And then she went back into the very village full of people she had just tried to avoid, in order to make disciples.

That may seem crazy.

But when you’ve come into the grip of the Savior Who knows all about you and still offers you eternal life with God, you do crazy things.

Freed from every lord but Jesus, your heart fills with compassion for those who need the encouragement of His gospel.

Today, you and I may talk about things like steps toward establishing a discipleship culture in our congregations. Or steps in our own discipleship. (At Living Water, we speak of reaching up to love God, reaching in to love others in the Church, and reaching out to love the world through service and proclamation.) It’s useful to speak of these steps.

But the fact of the matter is that you can’t really separate discipleship into steps. The moment the woman at Sychar became a disciple, she was making disciples! Being and making disciples are two elements of single, indivisible lifestyle of faithful dependence on Jesus Christ alone.

Had the Samaritan woman not set out immediately to make disciples, I wonder how long she would have remained a disciple?

You see, discipleship can only grow when it’s lived out and shared, within the Church, which the New Testament calls "the body of Christ," and beyond the body of Christ, in the everyday places in which you and I live.

Today, we will talk about being disciples of Jesus.

And we will talk about making disciples for Jesus.

To be and to make disciples.

May this day help in making the pursuit of Christ’s great commission with joy and commitment the absorbing passion of every one of us and of all the congregations of which we are each a part. Amen

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