“Living Our Vision: Learn & Grow”

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 2:7-16; Matthew 2:1-12

INTRODUCTION TO VISION SERIES

Back in September, we began talking about our vision of who God is calling us to be as a congregation, and what God is calling us to do.  The first thing we did was look at the mission statement of the United Methodist Church, which is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  I asked you to think about what that means for us as a church – what does it mean for Bay View United Methodist Church to make disciples?  What do “disciples” look like here in our church and our community?  What sort of transformation do we hope to see?

They’re hard questions.  Questions that we started to answer that week and over the next 5 weeks.  Questions that we have began to live out the answers to in the way that we live out our ministry at Bay View United Methodist Church.  We came up with our own list of qualities that we believe are important for disciples of Jesus Christ to reflect – and they are on this board: 

1) Learn & grow in their knowledge of and relationship with God
2) Teach and lead others
3) Serve others
4) Engage in the life of the church

EPIPHANY

This morning, we talk about the first of the four characteristics or actions of disciples that we identified during our visioning process – “learn and grow.”  I’m excited that this first sermon in the series falls on this particular Sunday, because it’s a special day in the life of the Church.  Who knows what feast day we celebrate today – even though it doesn’t actually happen until tomorrow?  [Epiphany]

The Feast of the Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the coming of the magi to visit and worship Jesus.  The word epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation,” and it refers to the first manifestation of Jesus to the gentiles.  The definition of epiphany that is most common to us is, “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.”  When you experience one of those “ah-ha!” moments, you could say that you are having an epiphany.

When the magi came to the house and saw Jesus for the first time, they had an “ah-ha” moment.  They realized that the child before them was the Christ, a rising King, who came to usher in the Kingdom of God.  I won’t go so far as to say the magi were Jesus’ first disciples, but I think that they were among the first – along with the shepherds – to realize that they could learn something about God through seeing and interacting with Jesus. 

DISCIPLESHIP IN HELLENISTIC JUDAISM

At its most basic level, that is essentially what a disciple was in first century Judaism.  A disciple was a person who wanted to study the written Torah and the oral traditions of Judaism from a rabbi.  The Greek word that is translated as disciple is mathētēs simply means “one who learns” or “a pupil.” 

It was relatively common for religious teachers to attract groups of disciples who wanted to learn from them.  Each teacher would have their own interpretations of the Torah and their own understanding of how to live those interpretations out in their everyday lives.  Prospective disciples would seek out a rabbi who they respected and who they believed had a sound grasp on the Torah.  Disciples seeking to study under a rabbi were somewhat of a religious equivalent to an intern who applies to work with a reputable company, or an apprentice who wants to learn from a highly skilled craftsman.  They were looking for somebody to model their own life, knowledge, and career after, thinking, “I will be the best that I can be if I can become like this person.”

Once a rabbi and a disciple entered into that relationship, the disciple spent much of his time with the rabbi.  The disciple wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible from the rabbi so that he could become an expert in the law and take on the role of teacher of the law, or rabbi. 

DISCIPLES OF JESUS

So, when Jesus began his public ministry, he did things a little differently from what was normal.  Rather than the prospective disciples coming to Jesus and imploring him to let them study under him, Jesus called his own disciples and invited them to follow him as their teacher.

And as their rabbi, Jesus taught.  Jesus shared his interpretations of the scriptures, but he also taught them that it wasn’t enough to simply know or interpret the scriptures, but how to live them out in daily life.  So he also taught his disciples how to pray, how to heal, how to serve.  He taught them how to love.  He taught his disciples how to ask good questions, how to live with an unknown future, and how to live together in community.

For the disciples’ part, we find them, throughout the gospels, hanging on every word and action of Jesus.  They take their calling very seriously, asking questions, seeking answers, and pushing themselves constantly to learn all that Jesus taught.  They committed to spending their lives following, learning, listening, observing, and experiencing life directly with Jesus.

That’s not to say that they were always the best students.  That’s one of the things I find most reassuring about the first twelve disciples – even though they spent so much time with Jesus, they still sometimes just didn’t “get it.”

The Gospel of Mark gives a number of these situations where the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ point when he was teaching or performing a miracle.  One of my favorite examples comes after the second time that Jesus feeds a ridiculously large crowd with an absurdly small amount of food.  These two stories were not subtle – it would be very difficult for the disciples to forget about them.  Yet, shortly after the second time this happens, Jesus and his disciples are in a boat together and the disciples notice that they had forgotten to bring bread along for the trip – they had just one loaf between them. 

Then Jesus realizes that the disciples are still concerned about not having enough bread.  So he turns to them and says, “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes, and fail to see?  Do you have ears, and fail to hear?  And do you not remember? […]  Do you not yet understand?

I think that other rabbis probably would have dismissed their disciples at that point.  But Jesus sticks with them, continuing to teach them and work with them and give them more opportunities to understand.

Jesus’ ministry and mission was different from the other rabbis of his day.  Unlike the disciple-rabbi relationship in broader Hellenistic Judaism, to be a disciple of Jesus didn’t have the end goal of the disciple becoming a rabbi in their own right.  A disciple of Jesus was called to be a life-long learner, always seeking knowledge and growth in their relationship with God.  Jesus’ disciples were on a path toward transformation rather than a path toward specific answers.

CALL TO BE ‘LEARNERS’

The Good News for all of us today is that Jesus still calls disciples.  Jesus calls each of us to be “ones who learn.”  Just as Jesus called the twelve and then sent them out to make more disciples, Jesus calls and sends us out, as well.

Our discipleship looks a little bit different from those original twelve.  We no longer have the luxury – or, more accurately, the blessed burden – of following Christ in a literal sense as he teaches throughout the Galilean countryside.  Instead, we encounter Christ’s teachings through scripture, sermons, and bible studies.  We struggle together through conversations around the coffee pots in the fellowship hall.  We ask hard questions and strive, together with the community of faith, to find answers to those questions.

Discipleship isn’t easy.  It’s not a coincidence that the word discipline comes from the same Latin root as disciple.  The words are related – disciples are called to be disciplined in the way that they approach their faith and relationship with God.  It takes work, focus, and commitment to continue to learn and grow throughout our lives.

CONCLUSION

A life of discipleship is a life full of little epiphanies – those “ah-ha” moments that let us know that we are moving in the right direction.  May we never lose our sense of wonder and amazement of all that God puts before us and all that Christ has to teach us.  We go forth as disciples, called to be “ones who learn.”

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