discipleship sermon

The read­ings for this were from Jon­ah and from the first chap­ter of Mark.

I want to talk about dis­ci­ple­ship and fol­low­ing God today. We get three views of what it means to respond to God’s call in these lessons. We’ll start with the eas­i­est one first. In the Gospel, Jesus calls Andrew and Simon (lat­er Peter), and he calls James and John. The men leave their careers and fam­i­lies and towns will­ing­ly, even joy­ful­ly, and quite lit­er­al­ly fol­low Jesus up and down Judea for the next three years. This may be the most com­mon view of dis­ci­ple­ship, that of giv­ing up every­thing to fol­low God. And it’s a pow­er­ful mes­sage and takes an awful lot of nerve. But thank­ful­ly for us, that’s not the end of dis­ci­ple­ship. You can still fol­low God even if you aren’t a fish­er­man.

In our first read­ing, Jon­ah tells the peo­ple of Ninevah they will be destroyed. Now you may remem­ber the sto­ry of Jon­ah. God tells him to go to Ninevah and tell the Ninevites that Ninevah will be destroyed in forty days. Jon­ah, under­stand­ably, would rather not do that, so he runs, gets thrown into the sea and swal­lowed by a fish, and God, again, tells him to go to Ninevah. He deliv­ers the mes­sage, the Ninevites repent, and God doesn’t destroy them. Jon­ah thinks it’s unfair, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry.

We have two exam­ples of fol­low­ing God in this sto­ry. Jon­ah fol­lows God’s instruc­tions even­tu­al­ly, though he was kick­ing and scream­ing and only gave in once he real­ized he couldn’t escape. This may be what dis­ci­ple­ship feels like for many of us. But there’s anoth­er exam­ple, that of the Ninevites. When they heard Jonah’s mes­sage, they repent­ed, they turned towards God, and God saved them from destruc­tion. They led their lives but prayed and repent­ed and did few­er bad things, and God spared them.

This par­tic­u­lar exam­ple of dis­ci­ple­ship is a lit­tle dif­fi­cult for me. As a Luther­an, we put a large empha­sis on grace and faith. Our sal­va­tion comes from God, and there is noth­ing we can do to earn it. Works are a response to God’s love, rather than a way to earn sal­va­tion. Oth­er denom­i­na­tions believe that faith and works are equal, that we must do works to receive God’s mer­cy. This sto­ry from Jon­ah, that of the Ninevites being spared because they repent, does not make me want to not be Luther­an, but it does raise an inter­est­ing ques­tion of how we are called to fol­low God.

God desires a clos­er rela­tion­ship with us. He hears our prayers, he walks with us, and he desires good things for us. He wants us to repent from what keeps us dis­tant from him. But I believe that his grace is not con­di­tion­al upon this. His grace was sealed with the death of his son. And our response to that grace is to lead prayer­ful lives. I hope you will think of your whole life as a response to God’s grace in the com­ing month. Amen.