October 21, 2007

Hebrews 10:19-25
Psalm 19
Luke 5:1-11

Today’s theme, as we continue through our month of Presbyterianism 101, is discipleship. Today we’re thinking about and singing about and reflecting on what it means for us Presbyterians to be followers of Jesus. Disciple is the word used in the Gospels to describe the followers of Jesus — those who travelled with him in his earthly ministry, those who learned his teachings, observed his way of life, and took part in sharing his message in the towns and villages of Galilee.

The word “disciple” comes from a Greek word that means both “learner” or “pupil” and “follower.” The first disciples not only learned Jesus’ teachings about God and how to live, but they literally followed him around the countryside to bring these teachings (along with a call to repentance) to everyone they met. Those who learn from and follow Jesus today are still called disciples. Though we don’t literally follow Jesus around from village to village, I think that a Presbyterian understanding of our faith is one that considers our Christian life as a journey with Jesus.

As we were talking about on Wednesday evening, there are some Christian traditions that put a lot of emphasis on the conversion experience. They talk about being “born again” – about that one particular moment when someone experiences the call of Christ and he/she invites Jesus “into their heart” or to be their “personal Lord and Saviour.” Some traditions take great notice of those moments in our Christian lives that are like Simon’s experience after the great catch of fish.

There’s an amazing new awareness of God’s love and a startling confrontation with our own sinfulness. There’s an invitation from Jesus to dramatically change the purpose of our lives, and then a 180 degree turn in which our lives are changed towards God’s ways. And it’s not that Presbyterians don’t have experiences like this, but I think there are many more Presbyterians who live as disciples of Jesus without having had one dramatic moment of conversion.

As I think about our Gospel story today, I can’t help but think that as we read the story of Simon’s initial call to follow Jesus, we must remember that it is one story within Simon-Peter’s lifelong journey of faith. Simon was shocked, awed, and humbled when he saw the amazing catch of fish that came in when he followed Jesus’ instructions. He must have seen within Jesus the awesome power of God at work on that day. He obviously felt pretty unworthy to be receiving such a miracle, to be in the presence of such a holy man. He was so moved, so changed by what happened that he could quickly agree to pick up and join Jesus on the ministry road. He was so amazed by what he saw that he could leave everything else in his life behind to become an itinerant preacher. He was so overjoyed by Jesus’ action, by Jesus’ love and grace for him, that he wanted to tell everybody about Jesus.

Although many of us may not have dramatically comparable moments in our journeys of faith. Still, as Presbyterians, our experience of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ leads us to make our lives about following the way of Jesus. As we have come to know his wonderful love for us in scripture, in prayer, and in the Christian community, we are inspired day by day, to make him the centre of our lives and to share what we know with others.

Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.
I’ll tell everybody about you wherever I go:
for our life and our peace and our love is yourself.
Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.

As you probably remember, Simon did follow through on his initial decision to follow Jesus. He quickly became one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Simon became one of those who both travelled with Jesus and learned his ways, and who got sent out by Jesus to tell everybody that Jesus was coming.

Perhaps you also remember that it was Simon to whom Jesus soon gave a nick-name. Jesus called Simon “Peter” – the name that means “Rock.” Simon was solid and dependable, a strong leader among the disciples whom Jesus could rely on. According to the Gospel accounts, Simon Peter was the first one to profess his faith in Jesus. Simon Peter’s initial experience with Jesus and the fish was enough to get him listening and learning and following Jesus’ way of life. And as he did so, he came to believe and was ready to profess that Jesus was “the Messiah” – the one sent to save God’s people. He was ready to stand up and say that Jesus was “the Christ” – the one anointed by God to be the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Presbyterians do believe that faith is a life-long journey. We baptize our children as a sign of their being grafted into the Body of Christ and welcomed into the family of God. But whether or not we have grown up in Christian households and been baptized as infants, adult Christians are invited to profess our faith in Jesus Christ, our Messiah, Lord, and King.

I remember my own experience of standing up in front of my home congregation in Ottawa to profess my faith in Jesus. It wasn’t that I had experienced a dramatic conversion from a life of sin and evil. I grew up in a Christian family, went to church every week, and learned about God and Jesus and the Spirit in church school and at the Presbyterian church camp. But when I was 15 years old, I knew that I was ready to stand up and say, “This is what I believe.” Now, I’m not saying that I had all the details worked out at that point. I’m not even sure that I have them all worked out even now, 18 years later. But then again, Peter didn’t have it all sorted out when he stood up to say what he believed about Jesus. Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter responded, “The Messiah of God.”

Discipleship, I guess, is not just about following and learning from Jesus. There is a point — or perhaps there are many points — when we are called to claim our faith as our own. We’re not just observers of an amazing man who made a difference in the world. He’s not just a person with wise advice and a good way of life. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We are called to profess our faith in him and then to live our lives in joyful praise and thanksgiving, and in response to God’s gracious love for us.

Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey.
May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you.
May the earth and the sea and the sky join my song.
Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey.

Though Peter had turned his life upside down to become a fisher of people with Jesus — though Peter had professed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah of God, you may remember that Peter wasn’t the perfect disciple of Jesus. When things started to go downhill for Jesus, Peter wasn’t quite the solid rock of faithfulness that Jesus had called him to be.

When Jesus was arrested, the vast majority of his closest followers got really scared, and scooted off to get out of the fray. Unfortunately, Peter was no exception. Just as Jesus predicted, on the night that Jesus was taken away by the guards, Peter (who had called Jesus the Messiah of God) denied having known Jesus at all. Three times before morning, Peter said that he didn’t know Jesus, that he wasn’t a follower, that Jesus wasn’t his Messiah or his Lord.

This part of Peter’s journey reminds me of two important realities in our discipleship lives. The first is that we all have periods of passionate faith and faithfulness, as well as times of fear, doubt, and failure. Last Sunday, we were reminded of the fact that as we are all human, we are all sinful. We all make mistakes. We all have moments of weakness and failure. And though Jesus was obviously disappointed by Peter, he didn’t give up on him. At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus invites him once again to follow, and he sends him out with an amazing mission of leadership and caring oversight for Jesus’ followers.

This part of Peter’s journey also points out the fact that being a disciple requires us to share not only in Jesus’ joy and peace, but also in his burdens and tears. Being a Christian is not all about being happy and content and enjoying God’s love for us. If it were, we probably wouldn’t have any trouble getting people to come to church and commit their lives to God. Discipleship means more than observing great catches of fish, healings, and other miracles. It means more than listening to sermons and telling people about God.

Peter failed at first, when he was called to follow Jesus on the way to the cross. Often that’s when we fail too — when our following requires too much of us, when we are asked to give too much, when we’re challenged to risk more than we bargained for, when we are truly called to sacrifice ourselves, our interests, our desires, for the sake of the Gospel.

Though Peter denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest, he later returned to profess his love for Jesus and his willingness to serve. And this time, he was able to give more of himself than ever before. He became the Rock of the Church — the main leader in Jerusalem. He gave his life to the ministry of Jesus — preaching, healing, baptizing, and spreading the Gospel of Christ. And eventually, he gave up his life as well, a martyr, killed for standing up for Jesus, ready to risk and to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel.

As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant,
to carry your cross and to share all your burdens and tears.
For you saved me by giving your body and blood.
As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant.

Like Peter, and others after who followed Jesus throughout the centuries, our discipleship lives are filled with ups and downs — times of faith and doubt, faithfulness and failure, celebration and sadness. Perhaps the most important thing to remember, whatever stage of the journey we are at, is the fact that we are not alone. We are invited not to set out on a solitary trek, but to embark on a journey with Jesus. As we speak to God in prayer, as we listen for God’s voice in scripture, as we experience God’s loving presence in the support and care of Christian community, we come to know that Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us on the journey — supporting, encouraging, helping, and challenging us on the discipleship way.

I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey;
but courage will come with the sound of your steps by my side.
And with all of the family you saved by your love,
we’ll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey.