Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
When I was young, we lived just about four blocks from my grandmother. Even now, I can close my eyes and describe uneven places in the cement sidewalk and the smell of the flowers along the path between my house and hers, I travelled it so often.
In addition to all the gifts of grandmotherly love and spoiling, she gave me the gift of faith. She discipled me. She brought me along into her ordinary retired life, and let me be a part of the way she lived out her faith.
She’d take me with her to church. Even though I remember more clearly the pattern of the pressed metal ceiling tiles she’d tell me to count than I remember any sermon, and can describe the feeling of the metal posts in the church basement as I’d join other kids in wildly spinning around them, my being there is what has matters. I experienced the church as a place where people love each other, work together for service, and worship.
She sent cards to those in her church with birthdays or anniversaries. I can smell the food as we packed up her car to deliver meals on wheels, and feel my shy nervousness as we entered strange homes and provided companionship to add to the nourishment. I can see her in her young 80s, pushing nursing home residents in their wheelchairs around the domes. I hear her singing Amazing Grace as she put me to sleep and can see the Children’s Bible from which she’d read to me.
Grams was one of the first people who brought me into her life, especially her faith life, taught me the story about Jesus, and let me toddle along after her as she went about living the way God called her to do.
From infancy to old age, who have been your spiritual mentors? Who has discipled you? When have you discipled others?
We open the Gospel and find two disciples on the first Easter evening. They are walking and trying to make sense of all they have seen and heard: Jesus’ arrest and trial, his crucifixion and burial, and now this strange news that his tomb is empty and some of their fellow disciples have met Jesus, alive and freed from death.
As they walk, a man joins them, and prompts them to tell their story of what has happened. Then he uses the story of God’s work in the holy scripture to help make sense of their story and to help them see how God has been at work in the events of their lives. At the disciples’ invitation, he sits at their table, to share a meal. As they begin that meal, suddenly the disciples discover that their companion is the risen Jesus, and when he leaves, they return to Jerusalem to tell others of their experience.
Jesus gives these disciples and us a model of mentoring or discipling. We might think of it as companioning. This pattern of forming people in the faith includes these steps: walk alongside, listen to the other’s story, valuing their own experience, share God’s story and help others to discover how God’s story is continuing in their present lives, continue in relationship on their terms, share life and table together, and send them out to do this discipling work themselves.
Walk alongside, matching paces
Hear the other’s story
Witness to God’s work in Jesus and in the other’s life
Continue in relationship
Empower the other to disciple new people
This is a model for us to use as we follow Jesus’ call to be disciples and share the faith. Jesus models a discipleship process as he meets these travelers, and in the space of an evening, they travel through this process and end up empowered to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with others. It’s helpful for us to remember that this was sort of a refresher course for disciples who had already spent long years with Jesus and just needed a little energy shot to get them going. It’s also helpful to realize that we don’t have to be Jesus to others. We get to be the body of Christ together.
We do this discipling work as a community. We each have different gifts in relationship, and might focus on one part of the discipling process more than another as we support someone in their faith journey. We trust that another person will bring into that emerging disciple’s life something they need that we are not gifted at providing. Together, as the body of Christ, we continue Jesus’ work to nurture a life of faith in others.
We’re only able to share the faith because God has given faith to us. The disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they are at the dinner table together. Jesus blessing and breaking bread mirrors their last supper together, before his death. Whenever we gather here and celebrate the Lord’s supper, Jesus is present with us. We remember that Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. When we break and share the bread, Jesus is in this gift and promise. A taste of broken bread and shared wine is enough to carry the gift of faith into you. They are the means of grace, the real way in which Jesus becomes present in you, creating and nourishing faith in you.
We’re never too young to take part in discipling others and we’re never too old to not need anyone else to disciple us. We baptize infants and charge them with the promise to “share the good news of Christ in word and deed.” At their youngest, their presence among us witnesses to God’s gift of life, God’s creative power, and can give us a glimpse at the unconditional love of God as we feel love for a little one well before she can show her love or do something to deserve ours. At our most mature, we still need someone outside of ourselves to speak God’s love for us.
Here at Cross, we are the body of Christ carrying out Jesus’ work of creating disciples. We walk alongside each other as we join voices to sing our worship or as we enjoy preparing and hosting the Pork Chop Dinner.
We listen for the other’s story through special visits from partners in Tanzania and from ELCA Malaria Campaign, and as we study scripture side by side at Reformation, our urban partner congregation.
We witness to God’s work in Jesus and in the other’s life when we gather over a cup of coffee to reconnect after a busy week, or every time council gathers to celebrate and vision the direction of the church.
We continue in relationship as we pray for and check in as prayer partners.
Empower the other to disciple new people as we teach Sunday school students to share their faith and encourage confirmands to engage their whole family in weekly devotions.
These are examples of ways in which God is using this community to nurture faith in each other, and in those we know outside of this place.
Today, you have an opportunity to share a meal together. It’s going to be a great meal, we’re starting to smell that— and after looking at the dessert room, I can assure you, it’s going to close well! A truly great meal includes good food, but it also is made with gratitude, good people, and conversation. Make this a faith-nourishing meal by listening and sharing the story of God’s love for all creation and discovering how God has loved both you and your tablemates recently.
The disciples didn’t expect to meet Jesus on the road, or to realize he was present at their table. Today, we move from Jesus’ table, where he meets us, to the dinner table, where Jesus will also meet us. We meet Jesus in our neighbors, and see reflected in their lives Jesus’ love for them. God has put you in each other’s lives, so that you might both hear and share the good news that the Jesus who loves and claims you is the one who conquers death and brings life. God is forming you into a disciple through this good news.
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