Luke 6: 12-19 A Tool For Disciples
Jesus’s big plan to renew the earth revolved around disciples. It’s not a term we seem to use much these days, but you and I are disciples. We are followers of Jesus. We are people who are trying to live the Jesus way in 2018. Dallas Willard defined discipleship this way: “Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus.” This is exactly what we see the twelve disciples doing in the gospels. By being with Jesus, they learned from Jesus how to think, act, and live like he did. That’s what communion is all about – we take Jesus into our beings that he might transform our lives and draw the best out of our lives. The twelve disciples watched Jesus, imitated Jesus, and invited others to imitate Jesus by imitating them. That started a movement that spread around the world
There may be many different pictures of what discipleship might look like but one helpful tool is what I call the discipleship triangle. This helps us remember there are three key dimensions to the Jesus life style.
Dimension 1: Up – Jesus connected with God. For Jesus there was a presence that was bigger than him in the world and through practices like prayer, worship, meditation and stillness he connected with this presence. In the synagogue, in the quiet of the hills, in the traditions of his faith, in allowing the stories of scripture to speak, in conversations with others Jesus connected, listened deeply, intentionally allowed his life to be shaped by this presence we call God. Disciples all through the ages have followed suit and found practices that enhanced this connecting with god we call the UP dimension in their lives. Model always have limitations and one here is that the UP may be looking deeply within!
Dimension 2: In— Jesus spent time very intentionally with a small group. He gathered others around him. They knew one another, served one another, and loved one another. They engaged together like family. They helped one another to an amazing degree that we struggle to understand in our individualized western world but this community aspect of discipleship has always been important. There’s a little quote I think is really important. Jesus left no written documents behind rather he left a community of ‘nobody’ human beings. This community of nobodies was to be salt to flavor the whole and yeast in the bread. They were to be an example, a light on a hill in the way they cared, learned, encouraged, and made a difference. Paul talked often of the community being like a body where different parts have different skills but working together we are to give witness to a new way of living.
Dimension 3: Out- Jesus was a man with a mission. That mission was to bring a new earth into being. He healed the sick, touched the lepers and engaged with outsiders, he fed the hungry, and opened blind eyes and deaf ears. He talked of a love that accepted and valued all of life. He said he was here to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, inviting people to engage with the living God and join the new movement to transform life on this planet. The revolution and transformation goes on as we modern disciples engage with Jesus in our own time and context and seek to bring true life into being.
Up-In–and-Out was the way Jesus lived with his disciples. As present day followers we are called to have those same dimensions in our lives. If you are like me you’ll probably notice that one or two of these dimensions is stronger. That’s normal because hopefully we are balanced out as part of a community. Serious imbalances though need to be looked at.
And that is also where some people suggest and I agree that actually there is another dimension that is really important, and that is OF. We are actually part of a bigger whole than just our little congregation. We are part of the Alpine Presbytery, and part of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and part of the reformed group of churches worldwide, and part of all the churches. This OF is actually really important because it anchors us in a tradition and a stream that isn’t just us. Without the OF there would be no scriptures, no songs to sing, no patterns of worship passed on, and no bullets to fire at the terrible Presbytery! On a personal level the OF also encapsulates the reality that our faith has often been passed on and nurtured by others and of course it also encapsulates the call to pass on the faith to others. So our simple triangle might be better pictured as an arrow.
UP (through participating in the life of God)
(as part of the whole body) OF —————————– OUT (bringing life to the world)
IN (through fellowship in the congregation)
The Of-Up-In-Out arrow helps us be intentional about our call to be a disciple of Jesus. We can use it to evaluate our own walk with Jesus. Do we have all four dimensions in our walk? That’s something for you to ponder.
But this little picture of our life as a disciple isn’t just helpful for individuals. It can also helps us evaluate groups, ministries, and even our congregation. Do our groups and ministries exhibit characteristics of all four dimensions? Healthy church groups are about all four…of/up/in/out…. A balance of all four dimensions will help our groups function as groups that honour God and radiate the presence of Jesus in our context and in our time.
Our Mission Discernment Group has spent some time looking at that and you’ll see in the Annual Report some of our discussion. I need to say we did this as a challenge to ourselves and not as a group telling others what to do. In the end our challenge to ourselves was so what can we do about it, and how can we help groups in our congregation develop a more balanced approach to our activities. One thing we noticed was that many of our groups and activities are not strong in the UP department. They are clearly motivated by a desire to share the gift of love, but Jesus and God are often not acknowledged in any way, and the participation of God in the activity is not openly expressed. We function often as atheists – as if God is absent. We could be just another service club that does good things.
So for example when we looked at our great little foot clinic which is a magnificent outreach activity for seniors who have difficulty cutting their toenails we noted there was some tremendous connecting within the group and with those who come. Compassion flows in abundance and people leave foot clinic not only with toenails clipped but feeling good about life and feeling loved. Wonderful. There is lots of IN and OUT. We also noted there was a collection of foot clinics in Christchurch in all sorts of churches and some linking for purposes of training and support. Some OF. We wondered if we could enhance the UP by maybe offering a short prayer of blessing for each client, or possibly giving them a card with a blessing for them on it.
Our website has IN, UP, and OUT aspects. The UP has recently been strengthened with the addition of sermons. IN could be strengthened by promoting the website as a place for information about what’s on in the congregations life, and both IN/OUT/UP could be strengthened with some small video interviews of members talking about life and faith – maybe some of our members talking about their faith and journey as a disciple of Jesus. You all have amazing stories to share. More OF linkages could be made highlighting the work of the wider church.
I hope you get the picture, and see how this little model might work. The real value is that together we might ask the questions and maybe get our creative juices running. That we might experiment with some ideas to help balance and strengthen the OF/UP/OF/OUT dimensions of what we do together..
In groups we spend time looking at the question: What do you see as the strengths using the UP/IN/OF/OUT model of the groups in our congregation with which you are familiar? Can you suggest ways we might strengthen the dimensions that are weakest? (or even the stronger ones…)