This is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for reflection. Lent is a time for renewed devotion. Lent is a time for study and prayer. We have talked about how we are participating in a national church program to “revitalize” churches—to learn more about ourselves, and listen and think about ways we can be the church in the 21st century. As part of that we are invited to do a 7 week study of some “marks,” some of the foundations of vital churches. I decided that we would have a broader discussion if we started the conversation in worship. So, this sermon is the start of that conversation.
The first “mark” has been labeled “Life-long Discipleship Formation.” What do you think it means?
(life-long, following Jesus, knowing that we can’t just rest on our laurels, formation—changes us?)
Although the Bible Study doesn’t use the reading for this week as a jumping off point for discussion, I think both readings, especially the Markan reading, are very appropriate. Do you see any connections?
(Did Jesus know he was the son of God before baptism? Was that a learning experience for him? Is that part of being human, to learn and change?)
(We know Jesus was tempted in the wilderness—and although the Mark doesn’t paint a full picture, in my mind I hear those temptations from Matthew and Luke. How did Jesus combat what the devil threw at him?—knew his Bible, not just the specific verses, but the overarching scope)
[(Covenant—give and take, have to “buy into”—both for God and for us—we can see that covenants have to be reworked, maybe even rewritten, ie, God’s love doesn’t change but the way that we understand it, maybe even participate in it, grows and adapts. See article called “Rainbow Covenant” from Seasons in back.)]
What kinds of things do you think we need to learn?
How could this church be a better place for that learning to happen?
What do you think is necessary for Lifelong Discipleship “formation” to take root? How do we make it “attractive?”
Call it a mark, Call it a foundation, Call it what you will. We know that following Jesus is not just something that you say you are going to do, and wipe your hands of it. We know that when Jesus called the disciples from their boats and lives (and when Jesus calls us)—it isn’t for a moment, or a week, or a year. It is for a life-time.
And that life-time will have joyous rainbow moments. That lifetime will have wilderness, temptation moments. But the covenant seen first in the bow in the clouds, but most especially seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, stretches over all those times in our lives. It is God’s promise to be with us—God’s love for us—God’s choice to be in relationship with us.
We know that we are called to follow Jesus (to be a disciple) while we still have breath. We know that we are called to find new ways to live out that discipleship—ways we may have no inkling of at this present time. And we know that our following, our lifelong learning, our relationship with God and God’s people, will form us, and shape us, and mold us, and make us into the people God envisions us to be.
So let us recommit ourselves to Lifelong, Discipleship, Formation. That is what God has called us to do.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.
“Lifelong Discipleship Formation” 1st Mark
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
Acts 2: 42-47 is Luke’s depiction of the primitive communal life together. It focuses on four key ideas: 1.) The apostolic teaching 2.) Fellowship “koinonia” – a group of companions who shared in a common life 3.) Breaking of bread in their homes – central pledge and symbol of common life and common faith; table fellowship. “In their homes” is differentiated from the “apostolic teaching” to not that discipleship formation happens inside and outside the “temple” life together. 4.) Devoted themselves to prayer – devotional life finds expression in family gatherings and daily community.
vv. 43 depicts the communal life together and the assurance of God’s presence through “many wonders and signs.” Notice the idea that “awe came upon everyone.” The notion of “awe” or “fear” is a testament to miracles within the O.T. It is characteristic of the reverence attributed to God’s power. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Psalm 111:10. This communal gathering, the revelation attributed in apostolic teaching, prayer, breaking bread together, and fellowship, are all attributed to the fact that God shows up in Spirit and in truth. God reveals God’s self in relationship to God and to one another. This communal life seeks wisdom and understanding, and God is present there. Thus, “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (vv. 44).
Luke emphasizes the daily routine of the community, whereby, daily needs were being met, people gathered in the temple, broke bread in homes, and praised God with glad and generous hearts. And daily God was there, adding to those whom God gathered.
“As one views modern congregations, many with their hectic round of activities – yoga, ceramics, daycare – one suspects that socialization is being substituted for the gospel, warm-hearted busyness is being offered in lieu of Spirit-empowered community. One wonders if the church needs to reflect again that when all is said and done ‘one thing is needful’, namely to embody, in the church’s unique way, the peculiarity of the call to devote ourselves ‘to the apostles’ teaching’ and fellowship, to breaking of the bread and the prayers.” William H. Willimon
- Take a few moments to respond to the questions below. Share with one another as partners or the whole group.
- What is necessary for Lifelong Discipleship Formation to take root?
- What leaves us skeptical, fearful, unwilling?
- What would need to change in our communal life? Our home life? Our daily life?
- Name how your church community helps to nurture and equip you for Lifelong Discipleship.
- Name a pivotal time when you grew or were challenged as a disciple in your church.
Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore
- sign up for an in-depth bible study
- read the bible in 90 days
- visit a Sunday School class at another church
- start a home group in which you can break bread, share prayers, and “devote” yourselves
- take an online course at a seminary or through a community lifelong learning program
- begin a “spiritual formation” journal in which you chronicle your development as a disciple
- commit to making church attendance a priority whether at home or during travel
- read a “Christian book” that may be outside of your comfort zone and discuss with a trusted friend