Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Trinity, Jacksonville–I Corinthians 1:10-17,  Matthew 4:12-23


For as long as the Church has existed, disunity among Christians has been a major source of cynicism for non-Christians, one of the roadblocks that prevent people from receiving the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m certainly talking here about disunity among churches. Jesus certainly meant to found only one church. St Paul tells us that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”—indeed, we began our liturgy this morning with those very words. Yet the proliferation of Christian denominations—most of which—most, not all; and certainly not Anglicanism—most of which claim to be either the only, or at least the purest, form of authentic Christianity—the number of Christian denominations runs into five digits. There is disunity among churches, and this disunity is a major stumblingblock to faith for a great many people.

But I’m also talking about disunity within churches—within local parish congregations, that is. There is suspicion, pettiness, rivalry, jealousy, social prejudice, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness —in a word, Sin, in every Christian congregation. We fail to live up to our own ideals. We fall consistently short of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Now, I’m not suggesting that Trinity, or the Diocese of Springfield, is any better or any worse than other congregations in this regard. We’re probably better than some and worse than others. But we’re are certainly not immune.

St Paul’s language in his epistle to the Corinthians, which is also, in effect, his epistle to the Jacksonvillians—and since my field of view includes the whole diocese, the Springfieldians—St Paul’s language is so crystal clear that it puts us to shame:

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Yet, as much as these words convict us or our sin of disunity, the reason Paul had to write them is that the Corinthians had the same problem. They were divided into rival camps, each claiming loyalty to a particular spiritual mentor. As Paul expressed it,

…each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’

Now please note here…that Paul doesn’t even allow any of these factions to claim the spiritual high ground by saying, “I belong to Christ.” The people who make that statement would seem to be putting themselves above the fray of division, but Paul doesn’t buy it. There is no cheap and easy route to unity. I imagine Paul would have a similar response today to those who say, “I’m not a member of any denomination, I’m just a Christian.” Those who make such a statement are surely well-intentioned, but it didn’t work in the first century, and it doesn’t work in the twenty-first. There is no such thing as “generic” Christianity. Even to say that you are no particular kind of Christian makes you a particular kind of Christian! No, we cannot simply wish our way into unity. That would be a cheap solution. The real solution is a lot more costly.

So what do we do? Well, Jesus has the answer. It’s short. It’s simple. But it’s not easy. It’s just two words: “Follow me.” Follow me. Be my disciple. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. Come with me. Go where I go and do what I do. Leave everything behind. Make other plans. Change your priorities. Submit to my discipline. Follow me. This was Jesus’ message to Peter and Andrew and James and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it’s his message to us today. Follow me. Be my disciple. And in so doing, you will find unity. There is no other basis for Christian unity—unity among churches and unity within churches—there is no basis for concrete and visible Christian unity other than shared discipleship. There are other forms and other degrees of unity that we may experience along the way, and these are good. Most of us have experienced a degree of unity across denominational lines, and most of have experienced a degree of unity with those who worship with us in the same church and commune with us at the same altar. After all, Holy Communion is the ultimate bedrock of Christian unity. But such moments are fleeting, and we quickly fall back into old patterns of sinful behavior. Visible, manifest, concrete unity flows only from shared discipleship.

So what does it look like to follow Jesus? Volumes could be, and have been, written in response to those questions, so I will not pretend to exhaust the subject. But I do want to leave you with five mental hooks on which you can hang your own prayer and reflection about discipleship, about your discipleship. These five hooks are all one-syllable verbs that start with the same letter: Leave, Learn, Love, Live, and Lead.

First, Leave—leave behind any items on your personal agenda that are in conflict with following Jesus. Discipleship is a decision. There are no accidental Christians. Either you decided to get baptized, or someone else decided for you because you weren’t yet capable. If you have been baptized, or confirmed, or simply reaffirmed the vows of your baptism the way we’re going to right here in a few minutes, then you have announced an intention to be a disciple. That’s serious business. It’s not a part-time job, or a hobby. It’s got to be the central organizing principle of your life. Leave all else behind.

Second, Learn—learn from your Master, Jesus. There is no discipleship without a Master. A disciple sits at his or her master’s feet and hangs on his every word. This takes time, time that may feel like it’s being wasted, because there’s no graduation and no payday and lots of others are just blowing the whole thing off. Learn from your Master. Study the scriptures—and never alone, always in the company of the Church. Develop a hunger and thirst for the knowledge and love of the Lord.

Third, Love—love Jesus. Don’t be afraid to say so. Don’t be afraid to get sentimental about it from time to time. That’s what a disciple does. Discipleship is a relationship of love. A Sunday School teacher once asked a class, “Can anyone tell me God’s Name?” One of the students immediately answered, “I know, I know, God’s name is Andy!” “Andy?” the teacher exclaimed, “What makes you say that.” “You know, like the song says, ‘Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me.’” The kid didn’t get the words of the song quite right, but he sure got the basic idea. Walk with Jesus and talk with Jesus. That’s what a disciple does.

Fourth, Live—live a life of sacrificial obedience. Discipleship eventually gets very real, which is to say it gets very mundane, which is to say it may become boring, and often is quite demanding. The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his mortally ill daughter reminds us all of an important truth when he says, “I am a man under authority.” When you’re in the military, you may ask for a particular assignment, but when you get your orders, those are you orders, and that’s what you do. Being a disciple of Jesus is at least as rigorous a proposition as being in the military. Very often we have to—as the Marines say—“suck it up.” Discipleship is not a pleasure cruise, and it’s certainly not a democracy.

Finally, Lead—lead others into discipleship. A Christian disciple makes other disciples. We don’t see it in Matthew’s account that is our gospel reading today, but in St John’s account of the call the first disciples, it’s Andrew who leads Peter to Jesus, and Philip who finds Nathanael and brings him to the Lord. What a great model. With some masters, discipleship is an exclusive club. Not so with Jesus. Any number can follow him. The more, the better. A Christian disciple makes other disciples.

Leave, Learn, Love, Live, and Lead—this is the soil from which discipleship grows. And discipleship is the soil from which unity grows. Sowing seeds and raising crops is risky business. It’s not for the fainthearted. But the rewards are rich. Let us earnestly desire those rewards. As the Psalmist puts it: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity.” Amen.

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