St Dunstan’s Camberwell
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday 24th January 2021
Being a Christian Disciple Today
I wonder if you can remember getting your last computer? One of the great joys is setting it up – telling yourself “this time I’m going to be more organized!” It’s great to personalize it, to have the icons in the right order, the files as you like them, putting up your own screen-saver photo.
Computers come basically the same from the factory – they have default settings and should we lose everything without back-up or saving, it will go back to the default setting. This is to be avoided at all costs – none of us likes to go back to square one with our computer – this is surely true also in life.
Today we hear about the call to discipleship of Andrew, Peter, James and John – who leave the security of their occupations as fishermen to follow Jesus. Perhaps they felt that if all went badly and that this excitement went haywire they could always default to being fishermen.
But there is, in human beings, another aspect to default settings. Jesus is calling these disciples and us away from our built-in reliance on self, on material things, on worldliness he will lift their sights and their vision to a new order – that he would talk about often – the kingdom of God.
This new order, populated by his disciples would put others before self, would be focussed on peace, justice, mercy, kindness and love. These things are not the natural default setting for human beings and so they must be learned and developed.
Recently we watched a movie called “Hacksaw Ridge”. It tells the story about Desmond Doss a US Soldier in WW2. The Oscar winning film tells his story as a conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honour (USA most prestigious military award) for his heroism and bravery first on the island of Guam and then at Okinawa Japan where he almost single handedly saved 75 wounded men – despite appalling conditions, under gunfire, Japanese soldiers patrolling the bodies strewn in the mud. Killing was happening all round him – his superiors thought him to be useless baggage because he refused, as a Christian, to bear arms – but as a medic he saw only a call to lay down his life for others.
The call to discipleship might sound very general but today’s Gospel and the story of Desmond Doss reminds us that it is personal – we are called constantly to open our eyes, to see the possibilities and to reflect on how we are travelling – are we moving toward kingdom values or slipping back to that default setting?
Bp Lindsay Urwin hosted a series, a bit like Alpha, called ‘Credo’ – it was certainly more sophisticated and more Anglican – and it was about 6 sessions on this subject of discipleship. The logo encapsulated the message – a simple drawing of a man walking with an ‘L’ plate around his neck. ‘Disciple’ means learner – we are all on a journey that is taking us spiritually to a better place.
Desmond Doss knew that war was wrong but, for him, to break a command of God was even worse. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ – nevertheless, he could still act with integrity in the midst of this horror. Often in life we have to make tough choices – the lesser of two evils is what the philosophers call it, but choose we must.
This was the great test Joshua put to his men before the battle of Jericho
“Choose ye this day who ye shall serve – whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
So, what might that look like in 2021. I sensed in President Biden’s Inaugural Address something of a call to the USA both as a nation and as individuals to change direction. To leave behind revenge and division and instead to strive to listen to one another, work for the common good and to build unity.
These are core Christian values – they are not easy to find or consistently uphold. They require commitment and hard work. The Christian life reflects in every possible way the life of Jesus (WWJD) – “What would Jesus Do?’
It must look after the weak, the powerless, the poor, outcasts, minority groups and people who are reviled or rejected. To be advocates for peace and justice and always willing to serve and love without condition.
This is not easy – but rarely do we have to respond like Desmond Doss – usually we are one of many, a group or parish making a difference in our local community.
As the first letter to the Corinthians reminds us there is an urgency in this response.
I sensed that also in the President’s address – he is keen to catch up – especially in matters relating to CoVid19 and Climate Change. All power to him and his administration. We live in demanding times, but also times filled with hope and potential.
Here at St Dunstan’s (I believe) you can make a big difference. The kingdom of God is among you – we need to hear that call of God, to have a plan and to enlist many others in discipleship and by example and energy – give leadership about these core values that mark what it is to be a Christian today.
It’s not that easy to think about the change of direction that Jesus asked of his disciples, “follow me” was a big turn in their lives.
This struck me when we visited Jerusalem a few years ago, to see old and young Jewish men praying on street corners. The Jewish code was and still is one of keeping out of trouble, living by the rules – the ten commandments, which had been extended to 613 rules or purity laws. The ways of the kingdom had become a straight jacket, you obey the rules you get the reward. But Jesus by word and example was leading his disciples in a new way, summed up by the great commandment to love God and your neighbour as you love yourself (to use a Biden word respect). Jesus way was a swing from the negativity rules and puritanical laws to positivity, being proactive based on love and forgiveness.
The best judge of our attitudes and actions comes back to us, yet none of us is perfect, we will all fall short of being Christ-like, not least because we are easily distracted and fall into temptation. No matter…. the Jesus package comes with love and forgiveness, think about all the parables and stories told, about his care for the lost, the bewildered and those on the margins. This love and forgiveness in action are what I believe make us more human. The disciples, like us, having heard this message were transformed by it and began to share it. The early Christians were known as the people of “the way”. The kingdom of God worldwide is testimony to these things. There would be no going back, no recourse to default settings for often despite huge personal hurdles(Desmond Doss just one example of perhaps millions) the kingdom of God and with it, you and I, goes forward, proclaiming Jesus’ new way.
Archdeacon Ray McInnes