Go Mentor DisciplesPosted: June 15, 2014
Go Mentor Disciples
SLIDE 3: APPEARED FOR THE LAST TIME
Two weeks ago we read the story of the ascension according to Luke. Jesus asked the disciples to assemble on the Mt. of Olives near Jerusalem, gave them last minute instructions and then vanished from out of their sight. Today our scripture is the story of the ascension according to Matthew. In both Matthew and Mark the angel at the empty tomb told the women that the resurrected Christ was going before them and would meet then in Galilee. So in the last post-resurrection appearance in the Gospel of Matthew the disciples gathered on Mt. Tabor which incidentally was the Mount of Transfiguration, and there the Risen Christ appeared to them for the last time.
SLIDE 4: IT WASN’T AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE
Three points stand out in this end to the Gospel of Matthew. First, after hiking all the way to Galilee and climbing a Monte Sano sized mountain, when the gathered followers of Jesus saw the Risen Christ, the narrative says, “They worshipped him; but some doubted.” If seeing is believing, then why were some doubting? Maybe what they “saw” wasn’t as plain as the nose on your face. Is God ever as plain as the noses on our faces? I think not. No matter what proofs or experiences we are offered, when we encounter spiritual realities there is always room for doubt. When doubt takes over our lives, however, we can even doubt our own existence. You ever have the feeling maybe you are living in someone else’s dream?
SLIDE 5: DOUBT IS HEALTHY
Doubt, healthy skepticism, questioning, can protect us from fraud. If we are too gullible, other people will take advantage of us. Buying the Brooklyn Bridge is not a good investment.
SLIDE 6: DOUBT IS NOT THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH
Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is faith that must confront the reality that we cannot know everything and the universe is a mystery. The best most of us can do is like the Father of the epileptic boy in Mark chapter 9 we can confess our mixture of doubt and faith: “I believe, but help my unbelief.” When William Sloane Coffin was the chaplain at Yale University he taught a course entitled: “A Seminar for Friendly Disbelievers.” Doubt he claimed is the handmaiden of faith. Doubts move you forward, not backward, as long as you doubt out of love for the truth. Just as we abhor blind faith, we should also avoid blind unbelief. Followers of Jesus who live with doubt are reflective Christians. Never satisfied with pat answers we live our questions.
SLIDE 7: THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS OF WHICH THE MIND KNOWS NOTHING
St. Augustine addressed the skeptic’s argument, that we must doubt everything, when he pointed out that we cannot doubt that we are doubting. If we do that then we have no basis trusting our own thinking. At some point we have to be willing to have faith in our own existence and believe in our own experience. Pascal taught: “the heart has its reasons, of which the mind knows nothing.” At the heart of life is love. I love therefore I am.
SLIDE 8: ONLY BY LOVING DO WE FIND THE TRUTH
No one can offer us proof that love is the heart of the universe, we have to make a leap of faith. But if love is not at the center of our lives, then what makes life worth living? Why not just throw it all away? We can only live our way into our faith in love. Only by choosing to love can we find the truth. If we hold back and demand proof of the efficacy of love before we commit to love, then our lives will become cynical and bitter. So yes, many will doubt, and doubting is O.K. and Jesus invites us to take the leap of faith confessing our belief and our unbelief trusting the way of love.
SLIDE 9: MENTOR DISCIPLES
The second point that stands out in the Risen Christ’s final appearance in Matthew is his admonition to go mentor disciples. People don’t wake up one morning and out of the clear blue say, “I think I will become a follower of the way of Jesus.” Being kind and loving other people is so easy and so obviously the best way to live, I think I will seek out a group of likeminded people and begin sharing with other people who are poor and hungry. And once we have formed this group of kind and loving people God will advertise our group to attract other people and make regular deposits into a checking account so we can help other people. If you will believe that, remember what I said about buying the Brooklyn Bridge?
SLIDE 10: ONLY ONE PLAN – EACH ONE MENTOR ONE
There is a Christian Midrash that claims that when Jesus ascended to heaven that several of the angels gathered together and questioned his judgment. “Do we understand correctly,” began one of the angels, “that you have entrust the mission entirely to your disciples?”
“Yes,” replied Jesus. “I told them to go spread the word and make new disciples.”
“But,” protested another angels, “your followers are so unreliable.”
“I know they have been slow to understand,” replied Jesus, “but I really poured my life into Peter, James, John and the rest, and I left the Holy Spirit with them. I think they will get the job done.”
“That’s all well and good for now,” broke in another angel, “but what if years from now the followers of the followers of the followers of the disciples get tired, or lazy or discouraged and they stop sharing the story, and they stop inviting people to the Sharing Table. What then? Have you make other plans?”
SLIDE 11: LIVING THE QUESTIONS OF FAITH
“No,” replied Jesus, “that’s my only plan.” And friends it’s still the only plan. It’s up to us. The church is always only one generation away from extinction. What we decide to do matters whether or not the way of Jesus is handed on to a new generation. And the world is very much in need of the way of Jesus. So we are called to go mentor disciples – mentoring their doubts as well as their faith. We don’t need more fundamentalist Christians who have all the answers, we need reflective followers of Jesus who live the questions of faith.
SLIDE 12: UCC
Mentor their doubts as well as their faith. We are a community of faith where it is O.K. to ask questions to challenge traditional formulations of doctrine and, where we embrace and hold dear the right of each individual to define the terms of their own faith. To some people from the outside we may appear to be chaotic. Everyone doesn’t speak with one voice. One of Beth’s Lutheran friends, who also was a classmate of mine at Yale Divinity School claimed that U.C.C. stood for United Confused Christians. I’ve also heard others claim the U.C.C. stands for Unitarians Considering Christ. I have on several occasions mistyped U.C.C. as Untied Church of Christ. We need to allow those who need greater certainty to huddle together and reassure one another they possess the absolute truth.
SLIDE 13: CIRCUS PARADE
As for United Church we will continue to embrace a spirit of tolerance and liberality that allows us to walk together in faith each to the sound of his or her own drummer without having all the answers. Rather than functioning like a military formation marching together in lock step, I think at United Church we are more like a Circus Parade. At the head of the procession is a clown with a drum. Then come the acrobats and the lions and tigers. The circus band near the front of the procession plays a different tune from the calliope bringing up the rear. The clowns and the elephants move at their own pace, while the pretty girls on the circus horses wave to the crowds. Yes, we are more like the circus parade than a military formation but we are still moving on down the path of faith. We have plenty of opportunities for people to join in. And no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome in this parade. No one will tell you that you cannot walk with us.
SLIDE 14: WHATEVER HAPPENS I WILL BE WITH YOU
The third point that stands out in the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples on Mt. Tabor was: “Don’t worry. Whatever happens, I am with you.” United Church has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. There is the story of the time the treasurer had $300 worth of bills to pay and only $14.56 in the checking account. There was the time the Conference Minister came to town and told the Church Council they might as well close the doors. We had times when people were angry with each other, and the congregation was so discouraged they almost couldn’t call a pastor.
SLIDE 15: MARVELOUS MOMENTS
We have also enjoyed marvelous moments, like when United Church hosted the first ever Southeast Conference Meeting and it was an integrated meeting before the passage the Civil Rights Act. There was the work of Gene Keene to pay off the church’s mortgage and get the congregation started on planning for a new Sanctuary. And then there was everyone coming together to build this sanctuary that I believe is the prettiest contemporary sanctuary I’ve ever seen. And now we have put a new roof and we are putting new siding on our building. We have embraced our Open and Affirming Statement. Next week we will share Vacation Bible School with St. Stephen’s church next door and this fall we will build a Labyrinth with our sister congregation.
SLIDE 16: JESUS IS AT THE HEAD OF OUR CIRCUS PARADE
We have had our ups and downs. I believe United Church is still thriving because in addition to the dogged perseverance and love of our older members, Christ has kept the promise to be with us. Trust that promise Jesus is present and among us leading that circus parade that is the United Church of Huntsville.