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Disciples, Students, Apprentices, Practitioners: Sunday, January 21 2024

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany:
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

“Jesus said to [Simon Peter and Andrew], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw [James and John], who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” Two well-known stories of being called by Jesus (and responding to that call). They respond so quickly and so fully, that we might even find it hard to grasp. I mean, back then they weren’t able to say ‘hold on a second’ and ‘google’ Jesus, or look up ratings and reviews.

There are lots of stories call and response and following Jesus in the New Testament, and the Bible:

[From John:] “John [the Baptist] again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi…where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

Or last week we heard one from right after: Jesus finds one person. This person knows a couple other people, who’ll come along later. The first person finds a fourth, and says ‘come and see.’ And everything just seems to click.

From Sunday School we might recall a story: “[The loathed tax collector Zacchaeus] was trying to see who Jesus was… So [Zacchaeus] ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him…. [Jesus says] “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So [the tax collector] hurried down and was happy to welcome [Jesus]. All who saw it began to grumble.”

Or elsewhere: “[Jesus] went on through one town and village after another, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to them out of their own resources.” Which is to say that they were important participants in, and sponsors or animators of the mission of Jesus.

The Church (that has changed, grown, shrunk, expanded and travelled, organized and evolved over thousands of years) grew out of encounters like these. Or people like these, who spread the word later on — without the help of the earthly Jesus, but with the conviction and experience of resurrection faith.

Right now we sit in the middle of a yearly event called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Where we’re — as is clear from the name — called to pray for the unity of the Church. And we do so with thanksgiving for how churches and even differing church traditions have been a part of our formation as Christians. But also with the more sombre and sober recognition that we’re praying for Christian unity because it’s not a full reality. Unity can be difficult to realize amongst Christians because we often bring strong feelings and strong convictions — and that’s generally a good thing, if apathy is the opposite. When one cares deeply about something, then there’s a weight to how we approach it. Conflict is a sign of, among maybe other things, people caring; people invested in something.

People have been involved and invested in the mission of Jesus, which is to say, the mission of the coming of the kingdom of God, since Jesus started calling people to follow him as disciples. In his little but very deep book Being Disciples, Archbishop Rowan Williams says that “what makes you a disciple is not turning up from time to time…. It’s not an intermittent state; it’s a relationship that continues.” The word “disciple,” in that original ancient Greek language and context basically means most simply, “student” or “apprentice.” And another thing Williams says is that in that day, being an apprentice was a big thing: it was “to hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street…”* That’s what Jesus invited people to: to follow him, to be with him. And their biggest failures come, at the end, when they find themselves unable to be with him (in his suffering).

Here at St. Andrew’s, as officially commissioned last week, we have a student, or an apprentice: Allan, from Huron University College. Part of his growth and learning as a student will come from text books, lectures, and conversations and teachings from me and from others. But probably way more learning is going to be picked up just by virtue of ‘being with’ us. By developing relationships, watching, reflecting, and just being invested in the life and ministry of this community.

One of the lessons from our short second reading, from just a few years after Jesus’s time, is that somehow, because of Jesus, everything is different. Everything is transformed, or transfigured in light of the resurrection of Jesus. “The present form of this world is passing away,” Paul writes. It’s probably wisest to read the passage in the context of the chapter, but for our purposes, we might simply think about how we, as disciples, desire to hang on Jesus’s every word, and follow him into every place; and in doing so, we hold firmly to him, and hold everything else up to the light that he radiates and sheds, and look at our lives through that lens.

So let today’s stories shed light on your life as a disciple of Jesus. Someone who, in some way, has heard Jesus calling them. Our field education student is just with us, in that capacity, for a few months. But as apprentices of Jesus, our calling is a lifelong one. And there will be many dynamics: ups and downs, relationships that come easily or with some difficulty, different tools in our toolbox, and different people intersecting with us at various times. But underneath all that is the one who has called us (and for whatever reason, it’s ended up that we’ve been called here, together).

In the gospel story Jesus called people who were part of the fishing industry, and he said ‘now you’ll fish for people.’ I imagine if he’d come across a brick-layer, he would have said, ‘come build up the people of God.’ If he met a cook, he would have said ‘come by the leaven that makes the dough rise.’ (And actually, in a parable he does say that.) And on and on. So spend some time thinking about who you are, what you bring, how you’ve been called, and how everything can be used — though also lovingly transformed — as you live out your calling as a lifelong apprentice, or disciple. And of course related to the word ‘disciple’ is the word ‘discipline,’ or related to ‘practitioner’ is ‘practice.’ We do things. We respond to the call. And in under a month we’ll find ourselves in the season of Lent: a time to look with fresh and serious eyes at the practices or disciplines of our faith. Be attentive to where you are feeling led and guided as that season approaches. See Lent as a new start, and something that we experience in our own particular way, but also, together. Amen.

© 2024 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* Both references from Rowan Williams’ Being Disciples (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2016), 2.