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The Followers kit

Those of us who have had job descriptions attached to a particular position of employment know that those job descriptions have their limitations. It’s impossible to detail every aspect of our work. Imagine trying to detail the work of a Mum or Dad looking after a young family!

These instructions directed toward the potential followers of Jesus have their own intense impact, but as scripture shows, they were not always the sole blueprint of discipleship.

As an example, we read in Mark 9 that a large crowd had gathered around some disciples of Jesus. Jesus asked the crowd, “What are you arguing with the disciples about?” A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they couldn’t”.

After chatting with the Dad, Jesus cast that spirit from the boy. Later that day, when indoors with the disciples, they asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive the spirit out of the boy, to which he replied ‘This kind can only come out by prayer’.

They had their job description, their instructions from Jesus, and they had their authority to cast out spirits, but all had not gone to plan.

Among other instructions from Jesus is the challenge of what it may mean to follow Him – and the warning is – “Be prepared if you wish to follow me, because potentially it won’t be like you would expect!” And it wasn’t! Jesus is breaking new ground here – forewarning them, and demanding that this ‘discipleship’ is not to be taken lightly. What sound leader would not warn their troops of the emerging dangers?

In the history of Israel, Jews remembered their exodus from slavery into the promised land, and they worshipped the God who led them through those times. There were leaders and there were prophets and there were kings who were fondly remembered for their diligence in steering ‘the chosen people of God’

But now Jesus comes on the scene, and at times is critical of the more recent leadership of the Jews. Things are going to be different, but how different?  What does it mean?

We’ve already seen that the instructions and authority given to the disciples was not always going to run according to plan. Flexibility must be built in. Think of the disciple Peter. Later, in Acts 10 we read of his encounter while up on a roof and praying. He fell into I guess what must have been a light afternoon nap and he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. It contained all kinds of animals considered impure to the Jew. A voice said to him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat”. But true to his calling as a Jew, Peter said “definitely not”.
The voice spoke to him a second time, challenging him on his assumptions about rules under Jewish Law. As Peter was pondering the meaning of the vision, there was a knock on his door. Peter was about to lay aside his Jewish beliefs as he was called to minister to a Roman Centurion, Cornelius. Peter obeyed despite his personal feelings and his original job description as a Jew where Jesus told them to reach out only to the lost sheep of Israel. Not to Romans, or Samaritans or Gentiles!

Saul, a Pharisee and leader of the Jewish faith was a very religious man.

Challenged by the risen Christ on the Damascus road, Saul’s life was changed in a dramatic way. Previously a persecutor of the new Christian movement, the new Paul shaped the history of Christianity by reaching out to the Gentiles and by taking the good news about what God did through Jesus to many peoples across many lands.

As a young Christian, I wanted the scriptures to instruct me on how I must be and what I must believe as a follower of Christ!  I wanted a new set of rules, but all I got was seeming confusion and contradictions. It was because I wasn’t getting the big picture of God’s mercy, love, and salvation for all who trust in Jesus.

In 2001/2 while in East Timor on deployment with the ADF, and among coalition forces, I noticed there was a significant number of Muslims. As a chaplain, I’d already made contact with a number of their leaders.

At that time Aussies knew little about Muslims and Islam, so I invited an Imam of that faith to come and speak with the Australian contingent about Islam. The offer was accepted, and we had a large number of Aussies turn up to the evening.

The Imam had a power-point presentation on the 5 pillars of Islam. His presentation was excellent, simple, and inviting. Afterwards I had an Aussie soldier approach me and she said, “Padre, why can’t we have a simple explanation for Christianity like the Muslims. It seems so simple and easily explained”. When we look at the Islamic faith today I’m not so sure that it is easily explained!

For some of us, reducing our gospel to 5 principles would find that works for us.

I’m not convinced though that our Scriptures are that simple – nor is our God a God of the production line stamping out a way for living the Christian life.

And when I read this passage before us today, along with the remaining scriptures, I believe it’s not meant to be simple, and yet, in many ways, following Jesus is simple.

These words of Jesus give us a hint of what following Him may bring. This is the initial ‘shock treatment’ for those who want to be His followers. “If you feel called to follow me, this is what I expect” says Jesus.  You will be challenged, you will be affirmed, you will be reassured! And it may not be easy! The simple part is the central message couched and nestled among these thorny details. It’s the foundation, the central toolkit that enables followers to follow their calling or ministry.

And here is the simple yet best message - “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid – you are worth more than many sparrows.” Words of encouragement and affirmation stand at the centre of Jesus’ declaration on discipleship.

The cost of discipleship varies in time and place, but the eternal message of God’s faithfulness is central.

Flexibility must be afforded to each person who chooses to follow Jesus. The Bible is not a book of hardened rules and regulations, but a book of stories of the interactions between God and His people, together with God’s covenant commitment of love, mercy and salvation for all people through Jesus Christ.

Can we be disciples who hold the cost of following Jesus together with the affirmation of God’s covenant to always be with us and we forever be His child? That’s a powerful message, a wonderful expression of love expressed through Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Gary Wheband

The Rev Gary Whelband is a retired Uniting Church minister and Air Force chaplain. Gary’s ministry both within the church and the Air Force has taken him to many parts of Australia and overseas. Gary continues to support our congregation’s worship through his preaching. 

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P: (02) 6231 0488
F: (02) 6296 3403

Comrie Street
Wanniassa ACT 2903

PO Box 423
Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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