14th Sunday after Trinity 9th September 2012 Vision Sunday

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14th Sunday after Trinity 9th September 2012

Vision Sunday

In the summer and early autumn of 2001 I was having a bit of a crisis of faith. Fi and I had been heavily involved in our church, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated at what I saw as the disconnect between my everyday life and church on Sunday. I had just accepted a new role at school as Head of Chemistry – it was an exciting time. But I felt that what was going on in my life seemed to have no relevance to what we were doing at church. Our pastor would speak really well of the loving heart of the Father and the music was excellent, but still it felt like going to church was like stepping into a bubble which felt totally alien to my everyday experiences. After much prayer and soul-searching Fi and I were to leave that church, and despite our initial reservations we settled in a local village CofE church with a very different outlook.

That autumn my faith was rekindled in a remarkable way. The church had altered its programme after 9/11 to focus on the issues the crisis had brought into focus and a Christian response to the tragedy. It was so refreshing to find myself being equipped in this way, with teaching that spoke directly into the issues of that time. I was in a season of disorientation adjusting to my new job, and grappling like so many people with how and why such a huge tragedy in New York could have happened. But now I was being helped at church to be able to face the questions that I had and that were coming my way. And then to cap it all a Polish man called Jan started to come to church. Jan was a sculptor who made extraordinary things called pods. On paper this very artistic man, and me the scientist, should have had nothing in common, but he arrived at church seeking spiritual enlightenment at a time when he was going through a difficult patch. And God encouraged me to draw alongside him. To watch Jan come to faith in Christ and then in time bring his children and wife to church, and have his children baptised was amazing. And through it all as I saw God use me, I became fully alive in Christ in a way I had never been before. Suddenly my faith was no longer reined in and because of this I found it was now influencing all aspects of my life including sharing my faith in a way I had never done before.
After my first few years of being a Christian, I had been guilty of developing a leisure-time Christianity. I had slowly excluded my faith from my work and family, as I had focused on getting on in this world, until the point where I had become disillusioned. But since rediscovering the call Christ had on all my life and experiencing the reality of being a whole-life disciple I have never turned back.
Last week we considered how in the Great Commission Jesus charged his followers with making disciples, and I asked the question is St. Mark’s making disciples? People often get confused about what discipleship is or isn’t – isn’t discipleship just being a follower? William Barclay the famous Bible scholar once wrote this about this question:

It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said “so and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few disciples.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ”

So what is discipleship? Well I see discipleship as anything that causes what is believed in the heart to have demonstrable consequences in our daily lives. In other words we are so affected by what we hear and experience that it causes us to change as individuals.

Now I’m sure that most of us have experienced the changes discipleship brings, but has that change impacted all areas of your life. Last week I quoted Bishop Graham Cray who wrote:

Making whole-life missionary disciples is the core vocation of the church...there is no way to reevangelise this nation apart from the impact of the daily lives of ordinary, everyday Christians.

To be a whole-life disciple is to give Jesus ownership of all aspects of your life, and so allow him to use all areas of your life for his glory.
Our Ephesians passage today speaks of this Lordship of Jesus. In verse 22 we read that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” Paul is adamant that Jesus is Lord over every area of life, and there is more. In verses 17-18 Paul says that he is praying that the Holy Spirit brings us wisdom and real revelation of who Christ is, so that we might know the hope to which we have been called, the riches of his glorious inheritance and his incomparably great power. Effectively he is telling his readers that as we cooperate with the workings of the Holy Spirit within, and grasp a clearer picture of the Lord we serve, our lives will be transformed such that all we do will be for the glory of Jesus.
So let’s be practical and consider further what this means. There are 168hrs in a week, and let’s say we spend 48hrs sleeping. So that leaves 120hrs. Now consider how much of your time is given over to activities connected to St. Mark’s – services, home groups, events. Let’s exaggerate a little and say that comes to 5hrs every week. That leaves 115hrs per week spent at work, with family and at leisure. This 115hrs is the primary arena for mission and discipleship, and so the 5hrs or so we spend in activities at St. Mark’s needs to be the primary context where we need to worship, pray, equip and inspire each other for our ongoing discipleship. At church, in our small groups and individually we need to be grappling with our understanding of the scriptures and our faith, so that we know what God has called us to be. Through the ways in which we serve each other at St. Mark’s, and engage in serving our community through events like the Diamond Jubilee celebration and other activities, we learn what it is to be Christ to others. This is discipleship. At St. Mark’s this discipleship needs to be taught and modelled. It is through relationships with others that we discover who we are in Christ, and how to live and act accountably. The 5hrs we spend as a gathered church meeting together, must be put to the best use to equip one another to live really well for the other 115hrs a week when we are the scattered church, apart from each other.
Let me give an illustration. I believe the gathered church is a bit like a petrol-filling station and a garage rolled into one, and we are cars. A car is designed to run on the road, to be driven to all sorts of destinations, on all different types of roads, it is not designed for the petrol station or the garage. But if a car isn’t topped up with petrol, it will run out of fuel and stop. If a car isn’t regularly serviced, it will break down through wear and tear. We are like the car, in that the majority of our time is spent out and about, with family, at work and at leisure. Like the car spends the majority of its time on the road so we spend the majority of our time away from gathered church activities like services, home group and events. For it is away from the church where we are most frequently used in mission, where we spend time with non-Christians. But like a car needs to regularly visit the refuelling station, so we need to be regularly spiritually fed, or else our spiritual tanks run dry. We need to regularly meet together in church or home groups to encourage one another and equip us for the weekly journeys. And what’s more when we are hurting and need God’s healing touch, like the car needing to go into the garage, so we too need the love, support and prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is at the garage that the car is enabled to run, and so too for us, it is at church and in our groups that we are released for living effectively in the world as Jesus’ disciples. One final thought – if we are like cars, then who are we going to allow to be the driver? If Jesus is Lord over every area of life, and wants to use us for his glory, should He not be the driver?
I believe that disciple-making has to be at the core of what we do at St. Mark’s, for the reality is, that we will ultimately see God’s Kingdom grow here, when we fully utilise the mission potential of everyone. The vision I believe God has placed on my heart is for us to fully invest in whole-life discipleship. If you’ve ever experienced that disconnect between real life experiences and your Christian life, if you’ve ever deep down thought “there really must be more than this”, then I believe our journey together will prove deeply rewarding.
Building on the teaching at the Church Weekend away at Ashburnham, we will be exploring how being a disciple of Christ sets us apart for mission in the contexts in which we live. After the weekend away we will share together all we have learnt, and in particular our sense of where God wants to use us in his service. Then through our ongoing study of Ephesians in our morning services, we shall explore Paul’s vision of Christ and the Christian life. All the time we shall be looking at how to be Christ in the places where he has placed us. In our Cafe Praise services which start this evening we will be looking at spiritual disciplines which will enable us to live effective lives as Christians in the world. And our home groups will be undertaking a six week course for equipping whole-life disciples entitled “Life on the Frontline”. It is still not too late to sign up for a group.
We are not embarking here at St. Mark’s on a programme for a season, but rather a long term shift in emphasis which I believe will lead to a much more profound change. It is a journey which I hope will totally transform both our lives as gathered and scattered church. In discerning God’s vision for us I have been enormously inspired and challenged by the work of the LICC, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, which was founded by that wonderful bible scholar and preacher John Stott. And I would encourage anyone who would like to further explore the theme of whole-life discipleship to read either “Imagine Church” by Neil Hudson or “The Great Divide” a pamphlet by Mark Greene. Both are easy to read and deeply challenging.
Our mission statement here at St. Mark’s is “knowing Christ and making Him known.” And it will be through deepening our relationships with both our Saviour and each other that we will truly become Jesus’ agents for transformation in the world, revealing the love of God to the people around us.

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