Disciples, apostles, and prophets
July 5, Proper 9:
Other texts: below is a link to Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry’s sermon at the closing Eucharist of General Convention.
Draft text of Richard’s homily. Please do not cite without permission.
Did you catch what happened?
There’s something fairly momentous that happens in the midst of this story of Jesus returning home only to face the skepticism of the local crowds.
Woven through this tale of prophets and power is something much more significant than Jesus’ inability to do any deed of power (except a few)…
A really significant change occurs in the life of this newly forming Jesus movement.
The scripture says: “Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.”
He goes among the villages teaching, and then he calls the twelve and “begins to send them out, two by two.”
And he gives them authority, and all of these instructions about what they’re supposed to take and what they’re supposed to do…
And they go out, proclaiming.
For the first time.
This is big.
It’s sort of hard to see here, but in two weeks we’ll get the punchline.
In two weeks the text begins: “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.”
They enter this story this week as disciples, they leave as apostles.
A disciple is a “follower.” It comes from a word that means, essentially “a learner,” “a student” “a pupil.”
“Apostle” refers to someone who is sent, someone who is commissioned to represent a person—a delegate, an ambassador.
On either side of this story about prophets, the disciples (at least twelve of them) become apostles.
Those who follow have become those who are sent out ahead.
This is huge!
In Mark the apostles remain a much smaller subset of the larger group of disciples.
In Matthew, and especially in Luke/Acts all the disciples eventually become apostles.It’s not called the Acts of the disciples. It’s called the Acts of the Apostles.
Eventually all those who follow are sent out to proclaim.
Which means you and me…
And I can feel you all tensing up already.
Me? An apostle? No way! It’s hard enough being a follower.
And you’re right.
It is. It’s hard enough being a follower.
Being sent out to proclaim is…well…terrifying.
So here’s a bit of good news…those who are sent out, never stop following.
The very next passage, after they return from their sojourn, is the feeding of the 5,000, and when it grows late, it says, “the disciples came to him and said: this is a deserted place, send them away.”
So they’re back to being followers again, but Jesus again turns them into apostles by saying: “you give them something to eat.” And he has them sit the people down and he sends them out into the crowd with the loaves and fish to feed them.
From this point on disciple and apostle—those who follow and those who are sent are not discrete categories. They interweave. Or maybe they become a new third category.
Followers who are also leaders. Learners are also sent out to proclaim and perform the Good News.
In contemporary lingo this is called “reflective or experiential learning”…it’s what good teachers and students do innately all the time…hear about something, they learn something, they try it out, and then they reflect on what happened and modify it the next time.
I think another word for it is prophetic. I think they are learning how to become prophets.
Prophet is another key term that is woven through this set of stories.
Today we hear about prophets not being without honor except in their hometown, and immediately after this is the interspersed narrative we’ll here next week about John the Baptist and whether Herod thinks John or Jesus is a prophet or not.
Disciples who become apostles eventually turn into prophets.
I bet not many of us consider ourselves to be prophets.
Disciples? maybe. Apostles? probably not. Prophets? No way.
But prophets are followers…they follow God closely…they’re also apostles in that they are often sent by God to deliver a specific message “like ‘peace be unto you,” or “the kingdom of God has come near,” or sent to perform a specific action…(like, staying in a place until you leave, or shaking the dust off your feet if they refuse to hear you), and they very often come back and reflect on that experience with God.
They are often very reluctant, often not terribly successful initially.
Mostly what prophets do is notice.
They look for God’s actions in the world and point that out.
They look for the helpers, they look for the grace, and they name it.
They share what they see, report what they hear…they try to make clear to themselves and others what the world looks like through God’s eyes. What God cares about.
The poor, the hungry, the meek, those who mourn, those who suffer…
Disciples and apostles and prophets come from all walks of life.
Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr. were disciples, and apostles, and prophets.
The composers of our hymns were as well: John Newton who wrote our communion hymn, Amazing Grace, was a follower of Jesus, and prophet proclaiming the sin of slavery.
Think of all the people in your life who have tried, the best they knew how, to follow Jesus…who may have been uncomfortable talking about what they believed, but who showed with their lives and the commitments and their very being what they believed.
Those salt of the earth people.
Those stand up for what’s right people.
That is what we’re called to, to be disciples…to follow as best we can…to be apostles…to be sent out from here to share the Good News, and to be prophets…to speak out for those who have no voice, to act on behalf of the least, the lost, and the last. To raise them up so they can be heard, and so they have a place.
Beginning on Nov. 1st of this year—All Saints Day—we’ll have a new Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Reverend Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina.
As many of you know he was elected in an unprecedented landslide on the first ballot (the first time that’s ever happened), which says to me that the Holy Spirit has been moving powerfully through the House of Bishops recently.
I’ve been listening to a number of his interviews and sermons over the past week, he’s an electrifying preacher, (I encourage all of you to google some of his sermons on YouTube) and I’m excited about the future with him as our spiritual leader.
He has been described as a prophet.
But he describes himself simply as a follower of Jesus…a disciple.
And he talks a lot about being part of the Jesus Movement.
That’s the way he describes what we’re about—and what we are to be about—in the world…to be part of the Jesus Movement.
And he sees the way forward for all of us as being focused on three things: Evangelism—telling the good news, sharing what we have, giving our treasure away,
in his words: “The church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it. We must go out into the community where the congregation is.”
Formation: forming people to be disciples of Jesus, teaching and nurturing people in the ways of Christ’s all-inclusive love,
And prophesy. Or in his words, “Making witness through personal service and public prophesy.”
Formation, evangelism, and prophesy.
Or: disciples, apostles, and prophets.
Making disciples, and sending apostles into the world to witness to God’s love—God’s dream—through personal service and public prophesy.
It an exciting and challenging vision for us. It’s a biblically based vision. It’s what we see happening in the scripture today.
Disciples following, apostles being sent out, and prophets being formed in the crucible of interaction both inside and outside their own communities.
Welcome to the Jesus Movement.
And remember that tension you felt when I said that all who follow are eventually sent out to proclaim and to perform service and public prophesy? That anxiety?
Michael Curry has a response to that as well—Jesus does too, his is “don’t be afraid” Michael Curry likes to flesh that out. He likes to quote Bishop Desmond Tutu and often reminds us that in terms of transforming this world from a world of our nightmares to the world of God’s dream…that transformation…God by himself won’t do it. We, by ourselves can’t do it. But together we can.
Because with God all things are possible.