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Dusty Discipleship (Audio and Text)

Matthew 4:12-23 – Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 23, 2011

Also available for download & streaming audio at http://www.pattersonavenuebaptist.com

Listen right now when you click here: dustydisciples  You can also read a rough-draft manuscript located blow.

Dusty Discipleship

The maintenance company that takes care of our heating and air-conditioning unit just gave our system a clean bill of health.  There was one issue, however, that needs to be addressed to prevent future problems.  He said we need to change our air filter more often because there is an over-abundance of dust in our house.  Instead of changing the filter once every six months, he suggested we change it once every three months.   Evidently the Nieporte’s are particularly dusty people. 

We’ve been aware of this problem for some time, now.  Now we are not particularly neat people.  There is a fair amount of clutter in our house.  But we try to keep the clutter clean.    We mop floors, vacuum the carpet, and clean the tub and the sinks, clean off the kitchen counters, that sort of thing.  Beyond all that, we do give some focused attention to cleanliness each spring.  During our annual “spring cleaning” everything in the house gets the once over.  Furniture is moved around so we can reach those otherwise impossible to reach areas.  Closets and cabinets are cleaned out and rearranged.  Frames are removed from the walls and wiped clean. 

The target of this crusade is the dust fragment.  Evidently even this “spring cleaning” routine doesn’t do the trick.  We are still, evidently, a particularly dusty family.

Not too long ago I heard my wife Jeana say:  “Where does all of this dust come from?”  

That left me with a choice.  I could help her clean, or I could do some internet research to help answer this most perplexing question.  

Where does dust come from? 

One site said it came from the dust bunny.  Another said the Dirt Devil.  Still another said that dust falls out of our navels.  Now at that point I was having fun, but I knew better than bring these answers to my wife.  So I kept exploring.

Much of the dust in our homes comes from the outside.  Outside there are pollutants – dirt, pollen and dozens of other things – all which contribute to dust in the air. When the outside air comes into our homes, these dust particles comes with it. 

But not all dust comes from the outside.  Sometimes dust is home-grown.  It can consist of animal dander and fibers from clothing, carpet, and virtually everything else in the home.  Still, these are not the primary sources of home-grown dust.  As it turns out, that grey dust that we battle each spring comes largely dead home skin cells that we have shed and which tend to gather on home surfaces.  It is estimated that humans lose 30,000 – 40,000 dead skin cells each and every minute. These tiny flakes of skin account for more than seventy percent of the dust in our home.

Maybe this is what the writers of the Burial Rites in the Book of Common Prayer had in mind.  You’ve seen it, haven’t you?  A Priest or a Minister stands near a casket, holding a fist full of dirt and dust in her hands, and as she drops it to the ground she recites these words:

… we commend to Almighty God our brother (or sister) and we commit the body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The more I thought about the dust that covered the nooks and corners of my home, the less I wanted to clean it.  This dust is the stuff of my life and that of my family.  It’s sacred material.  At least that’s what I tried to tell Jeana.   It didn’t work.  “Clean up your dead skin!” she said. 

Dust!

I heard some words from Rob Bell not too long ago that got me thinking about DUST and how it relates to the call of Jesus upon the lives of his followers.  Rob says that Jewish education in the time of Jesus was made up primarily of three sections. 

Bet Safar  – Usually from the ages five to ten, it is a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  They memorized it all by the age of ten!

Bet Talmud – At age ten or so, young boys would begin plying the trade of their father, working in the family business.  The best of the best, however, were invited to progress on pass Bet Safar into Bet Talmud.  This would continue on from the age of ten to about fourteen.   During this time, the student would continue his memorization of the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). It wasn’t uncommon in that day for a good Jewish boy to have the Old Testament memorized by the age of fourteen.

Bet Midrash – At age 14 or so, student would have a choice.  They could return home to the family business, or they could apply to become disciples of a Rabbi and enter into a process called Bet Midrash.  Now, not everyone was accepted.  This was for the best of the best of the best.  This was training in the interpretation of the Torah, answering the question: “How does one live out the law of God in today’s world?”  The Rabbi’s teaching or rules for interpretation were called the Rabbi’s “yoke.” 

When a student made application to be a disciple of a Rabbi, he would be grilled by that Rabbi to see if the boy really had what was necessary to take the Rabbi’s yoke upon him and learn from him.  If the Rabbi thought that an applicant was unqualified, he would send the student home to enter the family business.  But if the Rabbi thought this young student had real potential – if the Rabbi that this young man was really the best of the best of the best, the Rabbi would accept him as a student.

Right away we see how this sheds some light on the ministry of Rabbi Jesus.  Remember the words of Jesus when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light and you will find REST…”

The yoke of Rabbi Jesus wasn’t one of endless rules, requirements, and regulations.  His yoke was different than all of that.  It was a yoke of grace – of love – of finding rest in the presence of God.   

Notice that disciples did not make application to follow Rabbi Jesus.  Rather he took the initiative to find them!  He went in search of disciples.  And he didn’t to Jerusalem to find them.  Nor did he stop by the Temple, the Synagogue, or some other seat of religious influence or political power.  He went to regions in Galilee – regions where traditional Judaism believe that true faith had lost it purity.   He went to places where even the prophet Isaiah said that people lived in great darkness. 

Then Jesus goes to the center of everyday life.    He enters the hustle and bustle of commerce and business, interrupting people and work and play.  Peter and Andrew were tending to their nets.  James and John were business in their father Zebedee’s business.  Matthew was living the life of a traitor, collecting taxes for the Roman Empire.  These were not the best of the best of the best.   These were the broken down and locked out.  These were the messy and messed up.  These were everyday kind of people just trying to survive by doing every day kinds of things.  These were the kinds of people Jesus sought out still seeks out.

So what was this discipleship lifestyle that Jesus called these folks to engage in?  Some say a disciple was a student – once who learned learn a set of facts and figures, if you will, as though they had enrolled at the community college to engage in an academic pursuit.  Certainly there is study to be done, but discipleship is more than sitting in a classroom setting taking notes as somebody offers a religious information briefing. 

Some say that a disciple is like being an apprentice who learns how to complete a task via “on-the-job training.”  This past year our hot-water heater died and a plumber was called, with his apprentice in tow, to fix the problem.  The master-plumber quizzed his student each step in the process as the two of them worked together to get the job done.  Certainly there are some practical aspects to the lifestyle of discipleship, but it we boil it all down to simply learning how to get “the job” done; something vital is going to be lost.

Some say that discipleship is about following a certain set of rules, commandments, instructions, guidelines, or expectations.  “We have a duty!” some might say.  “We have an obligation!”  There are things not to do: like drinking or dancing.  There are things we are supposed to do:  like go to worship, say your prayers, and give a tithe to the church.  In this view discipleship means that we follow all the rules, rituals, requirements, and regulations.  Certainly these are all good things to do – things that are honorable and commendable.  But if we lives by a code of conduct, rather than out of a love relationship with Jesus Christ, we make Christianity legalistic rather than liberating.  We place ourselves under slavery to the law, rather than the freedom of grace.  Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

So, if discipleship is not merely being a student, or an apprentice, or somebody who lives by a certain code of conduct, then what is it?  What is this life of discipleship that Rabbi Jesus called his followers to engage in? 

How about this:  Rabbi Jesus called followers who would live in such proximity of relationship – in such love and passion with Him– that His lifestyle will become OUR lifestyle.  It was an invitation to live in such intimacy with the Rabbi that the follower begins to know what the Rabbi knows, do what the Rabbi does, and live as the Rabbi lives – not motivated by expectation or obligation, but by passionate love. 

Whenever a Rabbi would come to town, he would be surrounded by a pack of disciples who were devoted to being like their Rabbi in every way.  Wherever the Rabbi went, they went.  Whatever the Rabbi ate, they ate.  Whatever the Rabbi stepped in would also be caked on their sandals at the end of the day.  Rabbis were passionate and animated. As they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust and whatever the Rabbi kicked up during the day would be all over his disciples by the end of the day. 

This prompted one of the Sages from the Mishna to offer this blessing to those who had taken on a life of discipleship: 

“May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!” 

Jesus was, in essence, calling disciples who were willing to be in such proximity of relationship with Him that his dust (the very substance of His life) was covering them and changing them.

When you read the Gospels with this thought in mind, it helps us understand a bit differently what’s happening with Jesus and his disciples.

Do you remember that story when Jesus was seen walking on the water?  What did Peter want to do?  He wanted to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.  He wanted to be like his Rabbi.  He wanted Jesus dust to be all over him. 

Do you remember that day when James and John came to Jesus and asked to sit at his right and his left?   They wanted to be close to Jesus, to be like him in his future glory.  They wanted to have the dust of their Rabbi all over them.

“May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!” 
 
That’s what they wanted.  The disciples wanted to be as close to Jesus as possible.  They wanted to have his dust all over them.

When Jesus fed the multitudes and baskets were left over after the meal, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When Jesus gave sight to the blind, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When Jesus cleansed the lepers, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When he gave mobility to the crippled, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When he healed the sick, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When he cast out demons, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

When he raised the dead, they wanted to be close to him.  They wanted to have their Rabbis dust to be all over them. 

They wanted to be close to Rabbi Jesus.  They wanted to have the dust of Rabbi Jesus all over them, and that is exactly the lifestyle to which Jesus was inviting them; and to which he is inviting us.

What if we could recapture this biblical understanding of “dusty discipleship”?  How might our lives, our ministry, and our church be transformed by such an understanding of discipleship? 

I mean, we can have an information based understanding of discipleship.  We can attend classes, seminars, workshops, and retreats.  We can listen to sermons, read classic Christian books, watch or listen to religious programming on the radio and television, and read blogs that teach the great content of the Christian faith.  We can do all of this kind of stuff – without ever allowing ourselves to encounter the Living Word of God, the Lord Jesus.

Some of the most mean-spirited, arrogant, prejudicial, judgmental people I have ever met have been people who read the Bible and have the ability to engage in all sorts of scholarly nuances of biblical interpretation.  Know the Bible is not enough.  Neither is following a code of conduct or doing good deeds and giving to philanthropic causes.  I’ve know lots of people who do and give and share and care – but these still miss out on the joy, the love, and the passion of being IN LOVE WITH JESUS. 

Here me clearly.  I am not saying that there is not content to be learned, there is.  I am not saying that there is not Kingdom work to be engaged, there is.  I am not saying that there are not proper ways to behave, there are.  But all of these things are the product of a lifestyle lived in passionate love for the God who has loved us, approached us, accepted us,  included us, and called us into an intimate love relationship.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of two brothers and their father.  The younger brother demands his share of the inheritance.  He runs away from home and wastes all the money.  In time, he finds himself broken down and worn out.  But he remembers his father’s goodness.  “My father’s servants have it better than this.  I will go and beg his mercy and ask to be one of his servants.”

He does exactly that – but the father has a better thought.  You see even in the far country, the father has never stopped loving his son.  His heart has never been turned against his son.  Upon seeing the boy from the distance, he runs to meet him.  He embraces his son and welcomes him home by throwing a party. 

Jesus is teaching that this is the kind of passion the Father has for us all.

Next, enter the older brother.  He’s been a good son.  He’s worked hard and lived a good life.  He’s done his best to earn the father’s love because he has believed a lie.  He has believed that he must behave  in a certain manner to obtain the Father’s love and acceptance. 

That’s the same lie many of us often find ourselves believing about the life of discipleship.  “A disciple is one who learns, does, and behaves.  A disciple is one who attends Sunday school, does good deeds, and gives their tithes and offerings.”

No!  It’s bigger and better than that.  A disciple is one who is loved.  A disciple is one who allows herself the joy of receiving that love.  A disciple is one who enters into the relationship that God has initiated, and responds with a lifestyle of passion love.  A disciple is one who knows and lives their life aware that they are intimately connected and passionately loved by Rabbi Jesus.
Here is the missing ingredient in so much of what we call Christianity:  Passionate Love.

When we realize that we are passionately love – when we realize that God comes to us and embracing us by grace, everything begins to be seen from a different perspective.  When you and I know allows ourselves to believe and accept God’s passionate love for us, discipleship will cease to be a burden, obligation, or duty.  Instead, it will become a joyous delight.

Christianity is the gift of God allowing us to enjoy an intimate and loving connection with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Christianity is God’s gift of inclusion, acceptance, and connection.  If we could discover that as a church – if we could learn to “accept God’s acceptance of us,” it would be the most revolutionary thing that could ever happen in our lives.

It would make worship something that overflows from our lives, not simply an event to attend. 

It will transform the offering plate from an object of obligation and guilt, into a thing that reminds of the joy of being able to share God’s goodness with others. 

It will make prayer a joyous reminded of our connection with the Divine, rather than a dried up ritual to be simply performed at church, before a meal, at bedtime, or when life’s challenges bring us down.

It will make evangelism an act of sharing God’s love with the world, rather than a formula for recruiting others into membership. 

It will change everything.  An awareness of God love and a loving response to it will transform everything about our lives – everything about this congregation. 

The text tells us about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples.  But before that happens, Jesus begins preaching.  “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of God has come near.”

Repent means to change course or direction.  Toward what do we change our direction?  Jesus answers that.  “It time to change course toward the Kingdom of God!”  The Kingdom of God is the work of God – the love and grace of God – revealed in the person of Jesus, God’s Son.” 

Today is a day for repentance – for turning toward the love of God revealed in Jesus and allowing his grace to flow over you.  Now is the time to let that take place.

New Testament Greek also had two words for time – chronos and kairos. Chronos, which give us our word chronology, is tick-tock time. Each second is exactly like the one that preceded and the one that follows it. It is boring time, humdrum time, drudgery time, meaningless time, empty time.
 
Thank God, there is another kind of time. It’s called kairos. Kairos time is full time, vital time, crucial time, decisive time – God’s time. Kairos moments are those powerful, extra-special moments that are packed with meaning. While chronos is tick-tock time, kairos is when time stands still.
 
Kairos is when God breaks into the routine and speaks loud and clear and you are touched so powerfully deep that you can never be the same again.  This can be a Kairos moment for each of us today. 

Right now this is a kairos moment is pack full with God’s passionate love for you.  Right now this is a kairos moment is pack full with God’s acceptance of you and your inclusion in the Divine family.  Right now this is a kairos moment when things stand still and you and I are being made aware that we can accept God’s passionate love and share in the joy of a intimate love relationship with God.  Right now this is a kairos moment is an occasion when we can allow God’s dust to get all over us. 

But kairos isn’t just for this chronos – for this moment in our day.  God loves us now and always.  Kairos is always a part of our lives – whenever and wherever we might be.  Today, tomorrow, and throughout your days, you and I can live in the kairos of God’s love, acceptance and grace.

Our Savior, our Lord, our Love, our Passion, our Joy, our Life, our Rabbi is Jesus.

“May we be covered in the dust of our Rabbi!”

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