Christ Church, Springfield–John 1:29–42
In church circles, including Episcopal church circles, there has been a definite uptick over the last decade or so in the use of the word “discipleship.” I can remember when it was almost never mentioned—well, among Episcopalians, at any rate—but that’s changed. We hear it quite a bit now. In general, that’s a good thing, in my opinion. It’s certainly a big improvement from only a few years ago, when there was a reluctance to even mention the name of Jesus, let alone talk too seriously about following him.
Discipleship, though, is not a simple thing. It looks different to different people. For some, following Jesus looks like taking on all the social evils of the world. This certainly includes the standard “leftwing” evils of sex and gender discrimination, threats to reproductive choice, income inequality, climate change, prison reform, and the like. But there are also “rightwing” “Social Justice Warriors” for whom Christian discipleship involves opposing evils like abortion, crime, the cataclysmic re-definition of marriage, the collapse of personal morality, erosion of civil liberties, government overreach, and the list could go on. And, I would suggest, there are evils that are pretty much non-political, things that everyone can get enthusiastic about opposing, regardless of their political views: addiction, terrorism, human trafficking, and child abuse—because, you know … this is what Jesus would do, right?
Then there are those, in my experience, for whom Christian discipleship is about trying one’s best to become a “good person”—following Jesus’ example, behaving toward others the way we would have them behave toward us, cultivating virtues like humility and generosity, striving for spiritual fruits like patience, gentleness, and self-control.
(Of course, there are many people—an increasing number, it appears—who think Jesus was, at best, an irrelevant fool who may not ever have even existed, but they’re not likely to even claim to be Christian, much less be interested in discipleship.)
Today we see Andrew and Peter—or Simon, as he is named initially—and, presumably, John, though he is never named—we see these three “inquirers,” I think we can call them, two of whom were disciples of John the Baptist—we see them drawn to follow Jesus. This takes place right after his baptism by John the Baptist, which, you may recall, we celebrated liturgically a week ago. It’s not hard to wonder … why? We are understandably curious about what motivated them to go to such lengths to seek Jesus out, to find him, to end up staying with him—staying with him not only that night, but all the way to the cross and the resurrection.
The answer, of course, is both simple and profound. Andrew and Peter and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the One for whom their people had been expectantly waiting for centuries, the One who was, as John the Baptist named him, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And, as readers of John’s gospel, we have the added advantage of having seen Jesus revealed as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and as the very Son of God.
How did this affect the lives of these three neophyte disciples? Well, it upended them! They left their homes and livelihoods and followed Jesus all the way to the cross—some backing away for a bit then, but coming back together in the Upper Room—all the way to the cross and on to the empty tomb. And then they became heralds of the Christ to the point of their own martyrdom, John bearing his final “witness” in exile rather than in death. In the process, these disciples, along with the ones who were called after them, built the Church. We should not fail to note the prominence of Peter in this narrative, the first among the disciples to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the one to whom Jesus would promise the keys of the kingdom. We who bear on our brows the mark of the cross of Christ are the heirs of these first disciples.
Would the way most of the world—including ourselves—would the way we recognize Jesus lead to such a witness? Could it? Does your understanding of who Jesus is upend your life? What, exactly, is different about you because you are a disciple of Jesus? Does being a disciple of Jesus affect the decisions you make about your career? About your education? The kind of house you live in? Does it affect how you spend your money? Does it influence what you do with your discretionary time? Does it affect how you vote?
Here’s the thing: The way we follow Jesus—that is, the character and quality of our discipleship—the way we follow Jesus is determined by who we think he is. If Jesus is, for us, a political activist or a community organizer, that’s where discipleship will take us. If Jesus is, for us, an uncommonly good person, a shining moral example, an exceptionally wise philosopher and teacher, then that’s where our discipleship will take us.
But if we believe Jesus to be the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, then we will give our lives to him wholly. We will be unreservedly at his disposal in the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, and the way we spend our emotional energy.
Here this prayer from John Wesley, a priest of the Church of England in the late 18th century, although he’s most well-known as the founder of the Methodist movement:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Who is Jesus? The way we answer that question determines what we think it looks like to be his disciple. We can think he’s a social reformer, of either a leftwing or a rightwing variety. We can think he’s a shining moral example or an inspired teacher. Or we can agree with Peter, and acknowledge him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, and then join John Wesley in giving ourselves over to him wholly. Who is Jesus? As Andrew said to his brother Simon, so I say to you, “Come and see.” Amen.