A sermon preached at St. John's, Portsmouth, Kingston, Ontario on
Sunday January 16, 2000
Here we have the names of Jesus' first disciples : Andrew and his brother Peter, Philip and his friend Nathanael, and James and John are mentioned in Mark's Gospel. Another six disciples were called later. The word disciple means someone who is learning with a teacher, and most of these first disciples of Jesus had previously learned with John the Baptist. As more and more moved from learning with him to becoming disciples of Jesus, John graciously said "He must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30). In John 4:1 we are told the Pharisees complained "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John." That adds up to very large numbers of disciples who were being baptized to begin learning from Jesus. (NB for a discussion of baptism as a means of enrolling disciples see Go Make Learners: A New Model for Discipleship in the Church).
What were these disciples going to learn? I suggest that everything important for the Kingdom of Heaven is an aspect of prayer. Prayer is not just a child's bedtime ritual, "Now I lay me down to sleep, and I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . ." Prayer is a personal heart to heart communication that begins with God and reaches out to the whole world. Jesus taught his disciples to love God, and love is first a conversation. Love for others includes praying for them. Thanksgiving is a prayer to express one's gratitude in words. Joy is the expression of praise. And faith is a prayer response to God. Prayer is therefore the main activity of Christian disciples. How does it reach out to the whole world?
I keep meeting people who are way past my age learning to use e-mail. They tell me "I have a son in Australia, a daughter in Vancouver, and another daughter in Texas, but it's easy keeping in touch with them by e-mail." This is possible because they have become disciples of the Internet. It cost them $2,000 for a computer, a monthly fee for their access server, and many hours of trying to figure out the complicated instructions. But the computer you need for prayer comes ready installed in your brain. God's prayer server is ready for you to access any time anywhere, and it costs nothing,. It is so simple that Jesus says you have to become like a little child to learn. And as soon as you focus on a person anywhere in the world you can send them God's blessing, encouragement, renewal, wisdom, healing.
After learning to send e-mail, disciples of the Internet learn to access the web sites. On one site you can find the whole Encyclopedia Brittanica. You remember how the large volumes used to take up three feet of shelf space. Now you can access any word or topic almost instantly for nothing. Last year Mollie and I went to visit our relatives in England and Belgium. I was able to access a web site to book and pay for our air ticket from Toronto, another site gave us our Brit Rail passes, and a third booked our seats on the Chunnel train under the English channel to France. That took about twenty minutes.
But that is nothing compared with God's prayer Internet. We can have instant access to the Father's love web site. That will give you all you need to learn to love members of your family, children, enemies, and even the more tiresome members of your congregation.
There is also the Son's web site. Jesus said "I will build my church, and the gates hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). As Paul explained "All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:16-18) "from whom the whole body joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). That means that if you are upset, or discouraged about your church, or you wonder what is needed to make it attract new disciples, you can access all you can possible need from the Messiah's web site.
The Holy Spirit has an awesome site for you to receive wisdom and inspiration for every situation you might face. Try asking the Holy Spirit for a prayer according to the mind of God (Romans 8:26-27). You can also ask for love and joy and peace, and the other fruit of the Spirit, both for yourself and for others (Galatians 5:22-23). He has a wonderful variety of gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Ephesians 4:11-16) for building up your church community. There isn't time to give you details of all that is available on this web site; I am just pointing some items on the menu.
But now let's be practical. What can you begin learning to do today as a disciple here in St. John's church congregation ? When someone is sick, don't just rush out to buy a card. Begin with an e-mail prayer. Name the person, and imagine laying your hands on the person's head in the name of Jesus the Healer. The person could be half way across the world, and instantly he or she will sense a strange healing power changing what seemed an impossible situation. Why don't we take a minute to do that right now. (a pause for prayer) As you have prayed people have already been blessed. That's a wonderful lesson to learn.
What if you hear someone has failed ? There is a financial disaster or serious alcoholism. You hear about an affair on the side or a messy divorce. You could try gossiping, which will of course make the situation much worse. The right way is to say nothing to any other human, but lay the person's need gently in the arms of God.
Imagine as you arrive for this service you hear a motor bike roar up, and a couple walk in hand in hand. He has long hair, and a biker's leather jacket. She has green hair and rings in her nose and lips. What do you do? You could say "Excuse me you have come to the wrong place. This is an Anglican church." But even if you say nothing, your disapproval will be written all over you face. When you meet the couple at the door your body language will make clear that church people don't like them. The creative alternative is immediately to commit them to God, and ask for His love to surround them. Strangely your disapproval will turn into a welcoming smile, and they will sense it.
That is what the twelve male disciples of Jesus had to learn when Mary Magdalene came to join them. She began asking Jesus questions, but she had seven devils, which means she was as bad as they make them. Eventually the disciples must have learned to welcome her. What if they had told her to get lost ? Happily now two thousand years later in the Anglican prayer book there is a Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.
James and John were known as the sons of thunder, and when some Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and his disciples the two brothers wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up their village. Jesus had to teach them to love their traditional enemies and pray for those Samaritans. It can't have been easy, but eventually John became the beloved disciple who wrote John's Gospel which tells us most about the love of God.
Let's take one more example. All over the world Christians enjoy different kinds of music. When Mollie and I went out in the villages of India we would sit on the floor with the Christians, clap our hands, and sing their lively songs. Congregations in the cities despised that village music. They wanted to sit in Anglican pews, and sing sedate western hymns in English. In Africa they like to dance their hymns and stamp their feet to the sound of drums. Many of the hymns in our hymn book emerged from the hymns of the early Methodists. Charles Wesley wrote over 3,000 hymns, of which about 12 are still in current use. But Anglicans at that time didn't like hymns, so the Methodists were forced out to become another denomination. When people complained that the Salvation Army were using musical hall melodies, General Booth said "Why should the devil have the best tunes?"
We are not told what kind of music the disciples used for their worship. Perhaps some of them hated the dirges in the synagogue. I wonder if Jesus was inspired to compose new songs? We are told that the disciples sang a hymn after the last supper on the way to the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:26). For hundreds of years the monks used plainsong. But there is no fixed form of music for Christians. God is quite happy to accept our worship using whatever kind of music we enjoy. And that freedom includes the right of others to have their own kinds of very different music. So, rather than express our disapproval, it is good when disciples learn to say "Lord, I can't understand the sound they make, but please bless them and help me to love them as part of our family."
These were the kinds of prayer lesson those fishermen began learning
with their teacher. Jesus the Messiah also enrolled Mary Magdalene, and
Martha and Mary of Bethany, Matthew the Mafia tax collector, and many other
unnamed disciples. Any of you going to join them? It will be a tough, very