Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sermon: What Is a Disciple

Luke 19:28-40 - 28And after he said these things, he went ahead, going up into Jerusalem.

29And it happened when he was near Bethphage and Bethany to the mountain which was called Olive, [Jesus] he sent two of the disciples 30and said, “Go into the opposite village. As you go in,
you will find a colt which has been tethered, upon which no person has yet sat, and after you untie it, bring [it]. 31And if anyone might say, ‘Why are you untying [it],’ you will say this, ‘The lord has need of it.’” 32And after they went, those who were sent found just what he said to them. 33And after they untied the colt, its lords said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34And they said, “The lord has need of it.” 35And they brought it to Jesus. And after they’d thrown their cloaks upon the colt, they sat Jesus upon it. 36And as he went, they spread their cloaks on the way.

37And when he was already near the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole company of the disciples who were rejoicing began to praise God in a great voice concerning all the acts of power which they’d seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the one who comes, the king, in the name of the lord; in the heavens peace and glory in the highest.”

39And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40And he answered and said, “I say to you, if they might be silent, then the stones will shout.”

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Before I say anything else, let me just tell you how happy I am to be here this morning. I’ve missed y’all. And I appreciate all the cards and the e-mails and the calls and the visits and especially the prayers. Although I can honestly say that I never doubted that God was with me through this whole mess, it meant an lot to me, knowing that the church is a family, with brothers and sisters who really care about one another. And so, thank you.

Of course, I’m saying all this because about three weeks ago I had some surgery over at the Medical Center. And as it turned out, it was a whole lot more than we expected. And that’s why I feel the need to thank my doctors and the hospital staff, my biological and church family, and definitely God for helping me. I’ll tell you, he gave me more peace and comfort than I can even express.

But you know, I believe he really gave me something else a little more concrete, something that I really think helped with my recovery and certainly my sanity. Simply put, he gave me March Madness. I mean, I had my surgery not in January or February, but on March 2, right in the middle of the conference basketball tournaments with nothing else to do but to lay there and watch them. And then, as I was healing at home, God blessed me with the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, something I could watch without guilt or fear. It was great. And I’ll tell you, in the last few weeks, I saw more college basketball than I bet I’d watched in the last twenty years. But you know, I was even able to watch more than just the games. I mean, I listened to guys analyzing the teams. And I saw all the highlights. Man, I even watched those post-game press conferences, where coaches and players talk about what happened.

And you know, there was something I found really interesting. Whenever the coaches talked about either their team or the guys they’d just played, they didn’t focus all their attention on the stars, you know, the players that everybody expects to do well. They also focused on the ones you could call the role players, you know, the guys who’ll probably never make a living playing ball but who, in this particular game, made a real difference; players who, on that one evening, could serve as an example to others. Now that’s what I saw over and over again.

Of course, there’s a reason I mention on this Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. You see, this year the story is from Luke, and it’s interesting, as I compare his account to how the same event was described by Matthew, Mark and John, Luke seemed to focus a lot more attention on the disciples. Now I’m not saying that, for him, Jesus wasn’t at the center, because he certainly was. Still, he seemed to be very intentionally in telling us who the disciples were and what they did. I guess you could say that for Luke, although Jesus was without doubt the star, a little bit of the spot light also shone on those who’d been following him, people I guess you could call role players.

And I’ll tell, I think that’s really good news for us, because when we read this passage, not only can we get a glimpse of who Jesus is and what he’s going to do, we also have an example, an example of discipleship that we can apply right now. You see, if look at these verses, I think we can get a much better idea about what a disciple actually is.

I mean, right now, look at the passage, and I want you to notice that word “disciple” is given three times. And each time, Luke gives us a different dimension of discipleship. For example, first, based on these verses, I think we can say that a disciple is obedient, can’t we? I mean, when Jesus, said “go,” the disciples went. And when he told them what to do, the disciples did it. And when he told them what to say, they said it. Now, you tell me, are these guys obedient or what.

And you know, their obedience can be a pretty good example for us all. In other words, as disciples, we can also go where Christ has called us to go and do what Christ has called us to do and say what Christ has called us to say. And although that’s pretty straight forward, to be truly obedient, it seems as though we need to do a couple of things those guys on the Mount of Olive did. I mean, we can’t very well obey if we’re not listening. I mean, when Jesus spoke, those guys didn’t say “huh.” Man, they listened. And that only makes sense. My goodness, how in heaven’s name can we go and say and do if we have no idea what Jesus said. It’s impossible.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, I think it’s important for us to read the Bible, that how we can listen. We can take the time to read a book I bet everybody here has some where around their house. And if you can’t find one, it’s as close as Walmart and the internet. But more than just reading it and interpreting it based on what we already believe, I think it’s important to study it, you know, getting together with other believers and talking about it or maybe even becoming involved in a study led by a teacher who might have some special training or background. I mean, that’s how we can listen.

And then, if we want to obey, some where down the line we better respond; man, we better go and say and do; because, all the listening in the world ain’t worth a bucket of spit if we don’t take action. For example, because Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” maybe it’s time we left the comfort of this sanctuary and went out into the world on the other side of the stained glass and maybe it’s time we learned how we can be God’s instruments in making disciples and maybe it’s time we shared the words of Jesus to others using language that they can understand. You see, I think that’s what we’ll do when we accept that a disciple obeys. And that’s the first thing we see in the passage.

And second, following the example of those disciples, I believe I’m pretty safe in saying that along with being obedient, a disciple is also enthused. Man, he’s exciting about what God has done and is doing and will do, and he’s just busting to tell others. And wasn’t that the case of those disciples in this passage. Luke wrote, “The whole company of the disciples who were rejoicing began to praise God in a great voice concerning all the acts of power which they’d seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the one who comes, the king, in the name of the lord; in the heavens peace and glory in the highest.’” Now in my book, that’s enthusiasm.

And I’ll tell you, it’s something we can also feel as we step out and get to serving and worshiping God. And all it takes is a little vision mixed with a little faith. I mean, do you realize that right now, we are in the presence of God, redeemed by his son Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And do you realize that when we leave this place, we take that presence, that redemption, that power with us. And do you realize that regardless of where we go and what we do, God is never going to stop loving us and Jesus is never going to stop saving us and the Spirit is never going to stop filling us.

Do y’all realize that, because I’ll tell you, If we do, not only will we feel a real energy, a spark, a fire when we gather to worship but we’ll also have the courage to step out and announce our faith to the world, which by the way, includes members of our families and the people who lives next door and the person who’s desk we pass each and every day. In other words, we’ll feel so much excitement that no one in their right mind will ever be able to accuse us of being what Presbyterian have often been called, with justification: “God’s frozen people.”

Man, we’re going to be so excited about sharing the good news that we’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to invite and to be as inviting and welcoming as we can be. Why, because as we see when Jesus entered Jerusalem, a disciple is enthused. And that’s two.

And finally, using what Christ said about his followers as a guide, I think a disciple is confident. I mean, think about those last two verses: “And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ And he answered and said, ‘I say to you, if they might be silent, then the stones will shout.’”

Now, that’s what Jesus said, and I’ve got to tell you, I don’t like it one bit, and I’ll tell you why. I’d like to think that I’m pretty important, certainly more important than a pile of rocks. And I don’t believe I’m alone. Let’s face it, we all like to feel that we’re important, that we’re in control. My goodness, just think about how most Christians describe their faith. They say that they found God, right, because obviously poor God got himself lost. And they gave their life to him, lucky God, because obviously their life belongs to them. And then they got saved, because obviously salvation is something they can possess, right, even brag about and use to judge others. Ain’t it great.

You see, when you get right down to it, we’re pretty important, at least in our own minds; therefore, if we weren’t doing it for God, it’s not going to get done. Man, God needs us, right? Well, not according to Jesus: “I say to you, if they might be silent, then the stones will shout.” Man, I don’t want to hear this. It means that we may not be as important as we think we are, and if we look at it that way, that’s quite a blow to our collective ego.

But you know, if we change our focus just a little bit, this same thing can actually fill us with all kinds of confidence. You see, if we take Jesus at his word, well, the pressure is off, isn’t it? My gosh, it means that even when we screw up, even when we allow our own negativity to cause us to complain and gossip and do other stupid things and even when, as a result, we damage our own spiritual lives and the ministry of this church, guess what, disciples are still going to made in Weirton and people are still going to be baptized and the words of Christ will still be shared whether we do it or not.

You see, right here Jesus reminds us that because God is in charge, his will is going to be done and his kingdom will come, period, close the book, Elvis has left the building. It’s going to happen with or without us. Praise the Lord, it’s doesn’t depend on me or you. It depends on him. You see, as disciples, we can be confident, the third quality that disciples have.

Now, even though I feel better every day, I’m still following the tournament. And after each game, I imagine coaches will continue to talk about both the stars and the role players, the same kind of thing I think Luke did in his version of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. You see, he drew attention to both Christ riding in on a colt and the disciples who went with him. And like I said, I think that’s good for us, because in these verses we can see three qualities that disciples have. And as we live our lives, doing the best we can with what we have and trying our hardest to follow Jesus, we can remember that a disciple is obedient and enthused and confident. That’s what discipleship is all about.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thank You

Without question, this has been a rough couple of months for me personally. As most of y'all know, I had most of my prostate removed Tuesday, March 2 and have been recovering for the last few weeks. But even though it's been tough, I recognize that I have a lot for which to be thankful. And although I know this will sound a little like an Academy Award's speech, I want to thank some of those to whom I'm grateful.

Of course, first, I want to thank God for helping me and those around me through the last month. Above everything else, his presence and love moved me through the surgery from beginning to end. Even my decision to give the doctor permission to go beyond what we'd originally planned, if necessary, was grounded in the peace I felt from God. And at it's core, this peace came not from me doing anything. For example, I knew that I didn't have to give the surgery over to him. Rather, I felt enormous comfort and confidence knowing that regardless of what I did or didn't do, God was still in control and that my life was in his hands. In the past, I've shared this in sermons and conversations; now I can say from personal experience: genuine peace comes from recognizing that we're not in control and then simply trusting God.

Second, I'm thankful for my family and in particular for Debbie and Maggie. This has not been easy for them, and yet they've both done what they were able to make me feel as comfortable and loved as possible. Debbie has been both active and patient in helping me, even though it meant spending her birthday in the hospital. And Maggie told the truth when she wrote this sentence in school: "I help my dad getting up and walking when he could not get up so we helped him." Both my wife and daughter have helped me so much more than that. And my parents have been a constant source of support.

Third, I was fortunate to have wonderful medical care during this time, and for that I'm thankful. Truly, God blessed Dr. Parihar and his staff with skill and patience. With this kind of problem, it's hard to maintain anything close to dignity. Still, they were kind and honest through the whole process. And I can say the same thing about the nurses and doctors at Weirton Medical Center. They were both skilled and gentle in the care they offered me. And believe me, I'll never complain about hospital food.

Fourth, the Upper Ohio Valley is a wonderful presbytery, something I came to recognize during the last month. I felt supported by the prayers of my colleagues. And I'm particularly grateful for the calls from Royce Browder, our General Presbyter, Tom Armstrong and Larry Kline. I also appreciate Bill Lawrence's visit while I was in the hospital.

And last but certainly not least, I want to thank y'all, my brothers and sisters here at Cove. Thank you for all your cards, calls and prayers. And to Frank, Roger, Karen, and everyone else who stepped up to the plate during the last few weeks, I'm truly in your debt. God was gracious when he led me into this Christian community.

Soon, I'll be back to work, and everything will return to normal. But before we move on, I want y'all to know how thankful I am for all those who helped me during this time. And I sincerely hope this thankful attitude will shape how I live my life and minister in the name of Christ.

Yours in Christ,
Ed Rudiger, Pastor