Back in November the worship team introduced the song “Who You Say I Am”, maybe you remember. And as the team was singing, I had an epiphany. An epiphany is defined as: a moment of sudden revelation or insight.
And maybe epiphany is a little strong but considering that many Christians celebrate today as “Epiphany”, it seemed an appropriate word to use. If you are wondering, in some traditions Epiphany is celebrated, on January 6th, as the day the Christ Child was visited by the Magi. And people eat cake.
And Epiphany shouldn’t be confused with “Old Christmas” which is the day Christmas was celebrated before the Gregorian Calendar was adopted. Old Christmas is celebrated by the Orthodox Churches on January 7th. That was free, kind of a value added for the first Sunday of the year.
So if it wasn’t an epiphany I had, maybe it was just a Denn thought. And I immediately texted Stefan, because I’ve come to the age if I don’t do it right then I’m likely to forget. And that text included one word: Whoville. To which he texted back LOL.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to Stefan between services so as the team started to sing the song in the second service, I texted Stefan again saying; Whoville, Get it? And no response. After the service I asked him, Whoville, get it? He shook his head and said “not a clue”.
Hmmm, maybe it wasn’t as obvious as I had thought it would be. So, I tried again, “Who you say I am . . . Whoville. . . our identity in Christ?”
And then he got it, because you have to have a twisted mind for sermon series if you are going to work for Denn.
So, combine the song “Who You Say I Am”, with all the advertising for the new Grinch movie, which takes place in Whoville. And Denn has an epiphany, or at least a Denn moment.
Coming out of Christmas most of us know, at least peripherally about Whoville from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Either from the Dr. Seuss book or the animated TV special that has aired each Christmas since 1966, or the two Grinch movies.
But Whoville was first introduced to us in Dr. Seuss’s 1954 book “Horton Hears a Who”. Where Horton the Elephant discovers a tiny world that lives on a speck of dust and he vows to protect the residents of Whoville with the mantra, “A person is a person no matter how small”
And so, over the next couple of months our focus is going to be “Who We are in Jesus”, or more personally if you are a Christ Follower, who you are in Jesus.
By the time we are adults our identities have been shaped for us by experience, by what others have told us and by what we’ve told ourselves.
And too often those descriptions are verbalized in the negative, I’m too fat, I’m too skinny, I’m a loser. I can’t do that because I . . . and you can fill in the blank.
And self-talk defines us in many ways, as we tell ourselves, “I always do this” or “I can never do that.”
Author Elaina Marie asks “If you wouldn’t say those
things to someone else you love, why are you saying them to yourself?”
While Beverly Engel, advises us to “Turn down the volume of your negative inner voice and create a nurturing inner voice to take its place. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on instead of obsessing about it. Equally important, don’t allow anyone else to dwell on your mistakes or shortcomings or to expect perfection from you.”
But while the negative self-talk might describe who you were, it’s not who you are as a Christian.
It doesn’t matter who you were before you became a Christian, when you accept the forgiveness and grace that Jesus has to offer you become a new person, the old is gone the new has come.
Because the reality is that Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Ultimately, it’s not what others say about you and it not about what you say about yourself it’s what God says about you. And that’s where we are going to park for the next couple of months, in Whoville.
And that’s what Whoville is all about, the new you.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what Jesus says concerning those who follow him.
If we go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, we hear Jesus telling those who followed him, John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Sometimes we seem to want to divide Christians into different categories. “You see pastor there are your nominal Christians, they’re your C & E Christians, you know what I mean pastor, and you see them on Christmas and Easter. Then there are your Christian Christians, that’s what most of us are, you know just your average, every day, semi-committed Christian, you know what I mean pastor, come a couple of times a month and put some money in the plate when we come.
Then there are the disciples, you know what I mean pastor, those super saints. They pray more, they give more they are more disciplined.”
The only problem with this theory, is that disciple simply means one who follows a teacher or leader. A communist is a disciple of Marx, a Buddhist is a disciple of Buddha and a Moslem is a disciple of Mohammed. And so, by definition if you profess to follow Christ then you are a, you ready for it, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.
So, who does God say I am? He says I am his disciple.
But what does that mean.
Let’s look at some of the things the Bible says about disciples. Mark 2:13-14 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.”
The first thing we need to know is that A Disciple Follows Jesus
This is important folks, it’s here we discover that Discipleship is not a Destination it is a direction. Sometimes if you read enough church mission statements and look at enough church flow charts you get the idea that if we work hard enough, study hard enough, get through enough small group sessions that we will become a disciple.
In the Wesleyan Church there is a pathway to ordination, actually a couple of different pathways, but the one that each of our staff took meant that you had to take a set number of prescribed university-level courses. Some were required like Intro to Theology and Systematic Theology, the doctrine of Holiness and History and Discipline of the Wesleyan Church. Other’s like an intro to counselling, and principles of writing were electives, you could kind of pick and choose, as long as you had the right number.
You also had to become involved with the District Board of Ministerial Development. And that involved personal references, piles of forms and yearly interviews. While you were in college you were a licenced ministerial student, when you graduated and took your first church you become a licenced minister and after two years and more interviews, more references and more forms you are ordained, you can use the title Reverend. And all of our pastoral staff at Cornerstone have been down that path.
Other careers have similar paths. Before your doctor became your doctor, they were a medical student, a first-year resident, what they call an intern in the states, and then a resident.
And sometimes we get the impression that being a disciple of Christ is something we achieve after many courses and books. You start as a seeker then you make a decision and you are a Christ follower and then if you keep at it, at some point you have presented a piece of paper that says “Congratulations you are a disciple.”
But if you get nothing else out of this message understand, discipleship is not a destination it is a direction. It is following Jesus as he leads us.
And understand if you have moved from being an atheist to being an agnostic then you are moving in the right direction.
Now, let’s go back to the scripture we started with, John 8:31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.”
The second thing we discover is that A Disciple is Faithful to Jesus’ Teachings
It’s easy to say you believe in Jesus and you love God and then live like the devil. I get so frustrated when I hear people say, “Well Jesus never said anything about ________, “you fill in the blank.” Or “Jesus told us to ______, “and again you can fill in the blank. And what they are saying is just wrong.
They have either invented things, or taken things out of context, but they aren’t being faithful to Jesus’ teachings. Maybe because they’ve never actually taken the time to read the Jesus story.
You don’t even have to study the gospels, you just need to read the gospels. All four of them if you want to get a complete picture of Jesus and his teaching.
Because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all seeing Jesus through their individual eyes. If you wanted to get to know me and I wasn’t here, you could ask people about me. But if you only asked one person how they see Denn, that might not be how others see Denn.
If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you I’m perfect, and while she’s not all wrong she might be stretching it a bit. Angela sees me different than mom, my kids see me different than Angela and my best friend sees me different again.
But read the Jesus story and read the words of Jesus as he tells us how to behave and how not to behave.
Personally, I feel that because all of the Bible is inspired that Paul’s teachings are the teaching of God as well as Peter’s and James and John’s. The bible tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
So, the Bible teaches us to do what is right and corrects us when we do what is wrong. We aren’t left wondering which is why Jesus was able to tell those who were following him in John 14:15 Jesus said, “Talk is cheap.” Well, actually that is the Denn translation what he actually said was, John 14:15 Jesus said,“If you love me, obey my commandments.”
Because it’s not enough to talk the talk you also need to walk the walk. And talk the walk and walk the talk.
And we don’t just read the bible for intellectual stimulation or to be able to say we’ve read the Bible, we read the bible to know more about Jesus and about his teaching.
Sometimes we get under the impression that the only way to read the bible is to study the bible, that we need to have commentaries and concordances, different coloured markers and bible dictionaries. Just read it, people, pick it up and read it. Enjoy the story, don’t look for hidden meanings just keep your heart open to God.
So let’s keep going in our scripture, John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
So the next thing is that A Disciple Knows the Truth. And this goes hand and hand with the last point, if you are going to know the truth then you are going to have to know what Jesus said, and that happens when you read the bible.
One of the most difficult passages for some people to wrap their heads around is John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
And the reason that it is so difficult is that it shatters our preconceptions of there are many ways to God and many paths to the truth.
Jesus didn’t say “I’m one way and one truth” or even “I am a way and a truth”. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And then just in case, we didn’t get it he says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.” Why? Because He is the way, the truth and the life.
A disciple of Jesus knows the truth because a disciple follows the truth and that is Jesus. And in that truth and realization, the disciple finds freedom. Because when you come to the realization that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, then you aren’t compelled to chase every new thing and every new revelation.
And when you know his story, not because you heard Denn tell it, but because you’ve read it and you know it, the freedom is there in know this is what Jesus said, this is what Jesus taught. And we can hold other teachings, from authors and teachers and preachers up to that truth and see how it compares.
And Jesus told us how the world would know that we are his disciples, it wouldn’t be by our Bible translations, although we might have our preferences, and it won’t be by what church we attend, although we might have our preferences, it won’t even be because we call ourselves his disciples.
Instead, Jesus tells us in John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
So, Disciples are Defined by their Love
Over and over again this concept is reiterated, Jesus disciples are to love one another.
The word that Jesus uses here for love is the Greek word Agape. Which isn’t the love that you feel toward your spouse or your kids or even your best friend. This is a love that is an act of the will more than an act of the heart, it is unconditional love. God doesn’t want us to love people because they deserve it, he just wants us to love them.
If God had waited until we deserved his love before he sent His Son, we’d still be waiting. And the scriptures are filled with admonitions for us to love.
Jesus told his disciples in John 15:12 This is my commandment: Love each
other in the same way I have loved you. And
he repeated it in John 15:17 This is my
command: Love each other.
Paul wrote to the disciples in the church in Corinth to remind them1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
And John, one of the original disciples warned later disciples in his first letter 1 John 2:9-10 If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.
And it’s not a “whatever you want to do I’ll love you”, type love because that isn’t really loving.
It’s because we love our kids that we teach them what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. This is a love that points people in the right direction and warns them about the wrong direction.
This is a love that has built hospitals, and started orphanages, that cares of the poor and feeds the hungry, a love that drills wells for people we’ll never meet, this side of eternity.
And some of Jesus last words to his disciples laid out some important ground rules, Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This scripture defines who we strive to be as a church because it is here that Jesus reveals that Disciples are Supposed to Reproduce
In those three verses, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to make disciples and they are to teach disciples.
And when the church stops making disciples and stops teaching disciples not only are they being disobedient to Jesus, but they are signing their own death warrant.
In the gospels we see Jesus calling Andrew and Peter and there were two disciples, he added John and James and then there were four, Matthew made five and soon there were 12 and then 72 and 120. By the time we get to the book of Acts the number of disciples explodes, 3,000 and then another 5,000 and then there were too many to count.
The reason I talk about Cornerstone providing a home for the spiritually homeless and guiding them into a growing, dynamic relationship with God and his family is because that’s what we’ve been commanded to do. Disciples make disciples.
So, who are you? You are disciples, not because you’ve arrived at a destination but because you are following Jesus and moving in the right direction. Because you are faithful to his teaching and have allowed the truth to set you free.
Because we are his disciples, we will love one another, and we will reproduce.
Starting the New Year, why not take the time to read his story? Not with commentaries and coloured markers, just read his story through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and get to know the one you follow a little bit more.