Sunday May 15, 2005 | Sandra Unger
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Sandra Unger began this sermon with a visualization exercise. We were asked to picture in our minds the following people: a mailman, nun, rapper, basketball player, pilot, Christian and finally a disciple of Jesus. For many people, it was easy to conjure up a picture of the first five but the last two posed a problem. Following Jesus is actually remarkably simple. Submit your entire life to Christ and he will give you a new one. It’s not difficult to know what the right thing to do is. But it is often very difficult to jump into the unknown territory that comes along with doing the right thing.
Sandra Unger began this sermon with a visualization exercise. We were asked to picture in our minds the following people: a mailman, nun, rapper, basketball player, pilot, Christian and finally a disciple of Jesus. For many people, it was easy to conjure up a picture of the first five but the last two posed a problem. Our current use of language allows for an important distinction between “Christian” and “disciple of Jesus.” The Bible does not allow for this distinction. What does it mean that we, in our American culture, make it? Often, when the term “Christian” appears in public dialogue (media, news, politics, etc.) it represents a group of “judgmental, unhappy people” to the general public. Certainly the polls and surveys show that the typical response to the term is not positive.
Alternatively, “disciple of Jesus” conjures up an image of a “radical” person who strives to reflect the life of Christ in their own life. When people are asked what they think of Jesus, the response is generally very positive. (Loving, compassionate, peaceful, etc.) Why do we need a new term, “disciple of Jesus,” rather than “Christian” to identify a person who chooses to follow Christ? Sandra suggested an answer. Just as there is a language problem with the words “Christian” and “disciple of Jesus,” there is another language problem in how we describe what it takes to follow Jesus.
It used to be the case that to follow someone involved an apprenticeship. To be a professional required shadowing those who already are professionals. This is still true in some fields in some places, but generally, we have moved to a more “academic” model of learning. Returning to the visualization idea for a moment, Sandra asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could know how Jesus pictured his disciples?” She quickly pointed out that we have exactly that in Mark 8:34-35 and Luke 14:27. The mode of learning described here looks much more like apprenticeship than it does like academic learning.
Following Jesus is actually remarkably simple. Submit your entire life to Christ and he will give you a new one. It’s not difficult to know what the right thing to do is. But it is often very difficult to jump into the unknown territory that comes along with doing the right thing. So “Simple” does not mean “easy.” This is often the way it is in an apprenticeship, one learns what to do by simply watching the master, but the work (and perfecting the movements) can be quite rigorous. The opposite is often true of academic learning. Tons of information is thrown at us, and it is often complex and highly nuanced (more-so as one advances in the field). But we do almost nothing concrete with it. So in the physical sense, the work is quite easy, but the complexity can be overwhelming.
In the visualization exercise (and in life generally), we take for granted that the mailman delivers mail, the pilot is sober and flies planes, the nun is not married, and the Basketball player knows the game and has trained for the job. But some of us get defensive as soon as we lay similar expectations on the Christian—that this person should actually look and behave like Jesus. This changes as we consider the term “disciple of Jesus” because this term is more specific and sounds a bit more radical. Sandra’s challenge to us is that following Jesus self-sacrificially should not have it’s own term beyond “Christian”, but should be assumed the word “Christian” is used. This is the essence, the core of what it means to be a Christian in Scripture.