I have a terrible sense of direction. Without a GPS, a roadmap, if I’m driving outside of familiar territory, I quickly get lost. Even with GPS, I sometimes get lost, as happened when, after my interview with Living Water’s call committee five years ago, speaking with Ann on the phone, I traveled twenty-five miles west on I-70 before realizing I was going the wrong way.
Truth is, good sense of direction or not, we all need maps, pathways, to take us where we intend to be. The Magi, the wise men from the East in today’s gospel lesson, didn’t have a roadmap or GPS, but their pathway was marked out for them by both a star set in the sky by God and by God’s Word, which told them there would be a Savior of the world born among God’s people, the Jews.
Over the past four years, we’ve been seeking to respond to God’s call here at Living Water to be a disciple-making congregation, to being and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In that time, we’ve laid out a vision: to make disciples, just as Jesus commissions us to do.
We’ve identified our mission: to
- (1) reach up to worship, praise, and know the God revealed in Jesus Christ;
- (2) reach in to grow together, pray together, and learn together and to serve and love each other as Jesus’ people; and
- (3) reach out to share the good news of new and everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
We’ve identified our portrait of a disciple. A disciple, we’ve said, daily:
- (1) loves Jesus above all;
- (2) lives in the light of God’s Word;
- (3) denies the dark side;
- (4) embraces God’s will, obeying Jesus;
- (5) loves other believers as Christ loves us;
- (6) joins in Christ’s mission of reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out.
As a result of our commitment to being and making disciples, the only job Christ gave to His Church, we’ve instituted small groups in which we can read and reflect on God’s Word together, grow in faith together, pray together, encourage one another, and be accountable to each other. There will be new small groups this year.
We’re also committed to making disciples through every ministry in this congregation: from the Knitwits to the Haiti mission; from Upward Sports to Chevy Chase tutoring, among our adults and among our children and youth.
Taking Faith Home is also part of our discipleship initiative.
We want every member of Living Water to be a confident and faithful believer in Jesus, disciples who live in hope and can share that hope with others!
So, we have our vision, mission, and portrait of a disciple, all rooted in biblical truth and many hours spent in prayer for God’s guidance.
Today and over the next three Sundays, we unveil the pathway, the roadmap, our congregational GPS, by which disciples are made.
This is what we’re aiming to have happen in the life of every person we touch, both within Living Water and out in a world as much in need of Jesus Christ as the wise men were two-thousand years ago: To create opportunities for people to follow the roadmap to a deep and intimate walk with the God revealed in Jesus Christ. In the video, we have a postcard summarizing the roadmap, the pathway.
Truly, none of us can make disciples of other people. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us, “...no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Knowing this, Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism [show these words onscreen, please]:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified [that is, made holy] and preserved me in true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and preserves it in unity with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church, He daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers; and at the last day, He will raise me and all the dead and will grant everlasting life to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true!Only God can make disciples of Jesus. But He uses His Church--you and me--to do it.
We can be used by God to make disciples in our own homes, at work, at school, at play.
We can help people along the pathway of knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and then, showing Christ to the world. That, in fact, is what we’re here for as Living Water Lutheran Church!
We become disciples when we get to know Christ. The wise men, familiar with the Old Testament prophecies of a saving King, saw a star and believed it to be a sign of that King’s birth. God invited them to know God the Son, Jesus, and to worship Him.
When they arrive in Jerusalem, believing that Herod must know of and be rejoicing over the birth of the Messiah (they only learned later how evil and paranoid Herod was): “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
You see, God created a thirst and an appetite within the wise men to know and to worship Jesus.
By our faithful discipleship and unashamed witness for Christ--telling others what He has done for us on the cross and from the empty tomb, talking about how He is giving us life with God, joy in the midst of sorrow, hope that trumps death--we can be used to create an appetite for Christ in others too.
Saint Paul asks the Church about our unbelieving neighbors: “How...can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’" (Romans 10:14-15)
Now, when Paul talks here about preaching, he doesn't have in mind the people who speak to us on Sunday mornings, but every Christian disciple, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to tell others about Christ. Today, disciples are made when Christians take Jesus’ lordship and His great commission seriously and, sharing Christ and His Word with others, become the lights who in a dark world, like the star of Bethlehem, lead others to know Jesus.
If we’re going to follow the discipleship roadmap, it starts with knowing Christ.
And if we’re going to help others to know Him, we must make knowing Him through His Word our daily pursuit.
After all, we can’t give away a Savior we don’t know ourselves! When, after their long journey, the wise men finally came in contact with the Christ, we’re told in today’s gospel lesson: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
The wise men had been willing to do anything to know Jesus. Can the same be said of us?
Although it’s the first step on the pathway of discipleship, our need to know Christ and be rooted in Him never stops. You may have learned the alphabet when you were small, but you will never outgrow your need of the alphabet every day of your life.
The apostle Paul wrote years after he had come to know Christ as his God and Savior: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Paul wanted his life to go in the right direction. I think that we all do too.
Our call at Living Water Lutheran Church is to drink deeply of God’s Word and all the means of grace He creates to give us that Word--to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, in daily Bible reading and quiet time and small groups, in worship and Bible study, in prayer and service in Jesus’ name--so that we know Jesus Christ and we can help others know Him too.
More next Sunday. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]