Journey Forward: Follow Jesus
Testament School Discipleship"
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: I Samuel 3:1-10; 2 Kings 23:1-3; Isaiah 61:1-2
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Old Testament School Discipleship Texts: I Samuel 3:1-10; II Kings 23:1-3; Isaiah 61:1-2
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Mennonites as Disciples of Jesus
Mennonites are known for discipleship, for following Jesus. So, when Mennonite Church USA is aiming to be an Anabaptist-minded church in the US right now, it’s not controversial to say that one of our three commitments is: Follow Jesus. Of course, when we follow Jesus it can actually be rather innovative, interesting, or controversial. When we refuse to buy our children war toys because we follow Jesus, this becomes controversial in our own families. When we give up the grudge we’ve been carrying because we follow Jesus who taught us love for one another, this is innovative. When we seek to limit our ecological footprint or reduce our material possessions because we follow Jesus: that’s interesting.
The 16th century Anabaptist term for discipleship was Nachfolge Christi–following after Christ. Obviously, Anabaptists didn’t come up with the idea of following Jesus. Their spirituality was drawn from the gospel stories, of course, and from the then recent Medieval spiritual classic by Thomas a Kempis The Imitation of Christ. For many CMCers discipleship, or following after Jesus, is the basis of our baptism, the way we describe our life’s purpose. For some of us discipleship is fairly new. So, I’m going to share a couple dimensions of 16th century Anabaptist discipleship that might interest all of us. Old school discipleship, if you will.
First, the idea of discipleship is not just mimicking Jesus unthinkingly. We’re not just playing Simon Says. So, obedience to the direct commands of Jesus is not the deepest dimension of discipleship. Early Anabaptists personally experienced the new birth–our topic last Sunday–resulting in believers becoming co-witnesses to God’s truth. They believed that as a community of disciples, we, like Jesus, call people to faith, teach the ways of God and indeed change the world. We might say: a disciple of Jesus knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. So, discipleship is not just mimicry.
Second, Anabaptist discipleship is not mainstream Christianity. In 1529 an Anabaptist witness states: “Our neighbors, the sword users, also think they are Christians, but their works and deeds prove something much different. Their life accords very little and not at all with the teaching and life of Christ.” (Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ p. 153) This is a fairly mild rebuke. I’m sometimes offended by the more severe rhetoric of 16th century Anabaptists disputing other Christians. I hope that Anabaptist Christians today build relationships with folks from different streams of the church. At the same time, all who follow Jesus must be clear about behaviors that we believe are essential for a Christian witness in our time and what behaviors we must refuse and resist.
Our ancestors in faith were quite clear. In fact, for them, following after Jesus included three specific measures: rejecting materialism, living non-violently, and speaking the truth. So, if their neighbor Christians were accumulating wealth–leaving the poor to suffer, or taking up weapons against enemies, or lying, the Anabaptists were swift to critique them. And they judged rather harshly when fellow Anabaptist Christians slid into these worldly temptations. Anabaptist Christianity has always been a different way from the dominant churches. So discipleship is not mimicry and it’s not mainstream.
Recently, I’ve heard some Mennonites say that they don’t want to identify themselves as Christians because Christians in our society are associated with racism, homophobia, the health and wealth gospel and patriarchy. Well, if you don’t want to follow the way of Jesus, then I hope you’re successful at losing the Christian label. But if you do want to follow the way of Jesus. If God has revealed something in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something that is worth living for and even something worth dying for, then I hope you’ll join me and many others around the world who call ourselves Christian and sometimes have to explain how it is we are following Jesus, how we are different from others who claim Christ.
One example: Here in Virginia, Liberty University is producing a film called The Trump Prophesy, which tells the story of firefighter Mark Taylor and his so-called prophesy predicting Donald Trump’s presidency as God’s desire for the country. But many Christians–including students and graduates of Liberty–reject Mark Taylor as a prophet and oppose the film. These Christians, only a few of whom identify as Anabaptist, see that the current president has acted against immigrants, women, disabled persons, queer folks, people of color and the poor. We might say his “life accords very little and not at all with the teaching and life of Christ.” There’s an onlife effort urging the Liberty to not release the film.
Three Old Testament Texts on Discipleship
So, I’ve said what discipleship is not. Now, we turn to scripture to see what discipleship is. And it’s beautiful. I have never preached a sermon on discipleship from exclusively Old Testament scripture readings, but it’s fitting because these scriptures foreshadow features of contemporary discipleship that we desperately need. And, it’s an Anabaptist Christian way of reading the Bible. I’m calling these scriptures: the story of the Voice, the story of the Scroll, and the story of the Spirit.
The story of the Voice. So here’s the young kid commissioned by his mother Hannah to live in the Temple. And he hears a voice. Apparently, there is divine prompting in our lives–it may be a voice, a persistent thought, a sense of conviction as we read scripture, a sign or revelation. When we get a sense that God is speaking and understand what the Lord would have us do or be, then we’d better pay attention. We’d better get some others to help us pay attention and not miss the message. That’s what discipleship is all about. Just as little Samuel, directed first by Hannah and then by Eli, finally recognized God’s voice, so can we. Christ is a alive and speaking to us.
The story of the Scroll. This was our scripture reading from II Kings. Let me remind you of the context. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and his mother Jedidah basically ran the country for him, but at least by age 26 he was launched into adulthood and acting like a monarch. King Josiah sent a staff member to pay the workers who were renovating the Jerusalem Temple. And somebody gave one of the staff a scroll that was “found” in the Temple. It was a version of Deuteronomy. When that scroll was read to Josiah, he wanted to be sure that it was really God’s word, so he sent his five most powerful men to a local prophet: her name was Huldah. Incidentally, she is the first person to be recognized as an authority on scripture as a written text. This is a big deal. Not only the king and his advisors, but two different Biblical historians–the one who wrote Kings and the one who wrote Chronicles regard Huldah’s prophetic decision to be a pivotal moment in our sacred history. Now when he first heard the message on this scroll Josiah thought the words indicted the previous generations for not living out the law. But, Huldah clarified that without humble repentance, Josiah’s own generation was in trouble. Huldah is a servant of the Word if there ever was one, which is why I identify with her. But Huldah is not the point, the Word is the point. So, the book she was authenticating was some early version of Deuteronomy. Here is my 10 greatest hits from the Deuteronomy album:
-Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
-Teach children the truth about God.
-Love the stranger.
-Forgive debts regularly or your nation will collapse.
-Take care of widows, orphans, immigrants.
-Legal decisions must reflect justice.
-Limit the power of kings:
*Not a lot of horses (that meant not a big army)
*Not a lot of wives (that meant–not a lot of wives..and not making alliances through marriage with foreign governments at the expense of the community.)
*Not a lot of wealth (that meant–not a lot of wealth.)
*Kings should listen to and learn from the law.
*Kings should be humble.
-Pay workers fair wages.
-If your country becomes corrupted like Egypt back in the day, expect a prophet like Moses to show up .
Oh, and there is another top ten list in Deuteronomy–the 10 commandments!
Huldah the prophet turned her country, her king and all his advisors toward God’s desires for how we should live. And, praise God, the administration listened! The leaders and all the people made a covenant with God to perform the words of this covenant, to make these words alive and fresh and here and now. Isn’t that what we as contemporary Christians, disciples of Jesus are aiming to do? A disciple who follows Jesus knows the way–because we read the Bible. We don’t know everything, but we’ve got some very relevant material. A disciples goes the way–whether it is aligned with society or must be a dissident discipleship. And a disciple shows the way. Because a lot of people are lost.
The Story of the Spirit. The third passage I chose to help us focus on discipleship is Isaiah 61. That’s part of the Bible that Jesus knew by heart. It was so deeply in him that he fulfilled it. The Spirit of YHWH is upon me because YHWH has anointed me and sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the Jubilee year of YHWH’s favor, and the day of…Jesus eliminated that part about vengeance because he didn’t want us to harm a brother, a sister, a neighbor, a stranger, or even an enemy. No vengeance on this day of the Lord, not toward ourselves or anyone else. I chose this scripture for a discipleship passage because it it draws together social justice and healing and preaching and because it begins with the Spirit. We do not have all the answers to all the world’s problems. Jesus sure didn’t fix everything in the first century! But the Spirit has come upon us. Disciples are anointed and sent as good news.
Samuel said: speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Right now CMC is preparing a place for young adult servants. We’re preparing the Dean House, so that 3 or 4 young adults can respond to God’s call to discipleship and serve in this community. This is a way for us as a congregation to sponsor young disciples.
After Huldah said–this is God’s voice and this is for today, that scroll was read aloud and all God’s people covenanted with God to perform these works: to love God and take God’s word seriously in all dimensions of their society. So as you’re loving God, teaching children, paying your workers fair wages, reducing violence, struggling for justice and meeting needs of widows, orphans, immigrants and trying not to get wealthy–it’s not all about you, but the divine Word being lived by a covenant people.
And that unnamed prophet whose words ended up in the Isaiah collection chapter 61 like a wind whose origin we don’t know and which goes beyond what we image, the one Jesus followed, that great saint blesses us with the reminder that disciples are always Spirit-led, anointed and sent to preach and heal and do justice. It’s all bound up together. So as CMC and as Mennonite Church USA let us heed the direction of Hannah and the authority of Huldah, the discipleship of Samuel and the covenant renewal of a king and a whole nation. Let us follow with humility and joy the One whom the Spirit has anointed and sent on ahead.
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