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.

belonging sermon

So a few months ago, I took over a service at a nursing home once a month. I had been playing piano for the services for a while before I was asked to lead the service as well. Sometimes it’s a little awkward to hop back and forth from the piano to the altar, but it’s been working pretty well, and I have a great team of volunteers who come out and shepherd people.

My sermons are short, five minutes or less. Today’s was the shortest yet, just over two minutes. The text was John 14:15-21, “I will not leave you orphaned,” that kind of thing. And I thought maybe other people would be interested in reading what I had to say. So here’s my sermon for today:

 

I met someone who grew up in a family where, instead of saying “bye” or “see you later” when one of them left the house, they would say, “remember whose you are.” It was a reminder to be strong in identity and values, to remember where you came from and to whom you belong. It was a reminder to live faithfully and in glory to God. Because of that story, I have a card in my wallet that has a sunset with those words printed on it – Remember whose you are.

We remember whose we are, that we are God’s children. God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. During Easter we especially celebrate his resurrection, but that’s not the end. Jesus ascends to heaven, where he still lives, and sends the Spirit to be with us. God loves us so much that He will not leave us orphaned or alone.

At the beginning of this Gospel reading, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The commandment we are instructed to keep is the one given just before this in John, to love one another as God has loved us.

Our response to God’s love to is to love one another. This can be easy to do when people are nice and we have the ability to help. But what about when we have no help to give or when people are mean or lash out? God’s commandment is clear. We are to love one another, not just when it’s convenient or when they look like us or have our same values or the same beliefs, not just when they’re nice to us or have something to offer us. We are to love one another as God has loved us. Period.

But we’re not alone in this. God sends us the Spirit to guide us and be with us as we figure out the world. He does not leave us orphaned. The Spirit is God’s presence on earth. And this Spirit lives in us. That might sound like some modern hippie stuff, but God’s work is done through us, and the Spirit guides that. We remember whose we are, that we are God’s children. We should do our best to show whose we are by how we love each other. We talk about scripture being God-breathed, God’s word filtered through human hands. Our lives and works should also be God-breathed, the Spirit working through us with our personalities and passions and mistakes imprinted on them. Our love for one another is God-breathed, Spirit-inspired, with our own expression on it.

Remember whose you are.

 

I have three other sermons that I haven’t posted, though I will if people are interested.