Monday, January 28, 2008

Discipleship: 'Hearts and Minds'

1 Peter 3:13-15a

One of the great places to visit here is the Tower of London. I loved that tour. It had royalty, treachery, executions, wealth, diplomacy and superstition. It’s England’s story all in one place. I’ve been there a handful of times now, and I’m thinking it might be time to go back.

When you’re inside the walls, the Yeomen Warders are the tour guides. You can hear them all over the grounds—big booming voices that call people to order and show them around that amazing place. The Warders have to meet strict requirements to get those jobs. They’re all retired sergeants—the rank that really runs the army—and they have to have served for at least 22 years of impeccable active duty. They’re mostly men, but last year the first woman was appointed—she joined the army at 16 and served all over the world. Her name is Moira Cameron, in case you find yourself in a pub quiz later on.

When the Warders tell the stories of England and the Tower, they do it as insiders—as people who live lives that are devoted to this nation and its Queen—as people who have trained and traveled and served and fought for their country. Some bear the wounds of their service, and tell those stories as they walk groups of tourists around the Tower grounds.

The stories of the warders—the stories of their loyalty and service—are wrapped up and intertwined with the story of the Tower. They tell the stories, but they lived some of them as well. That’s what makes their presentations so powerful, so moving, so real.

1 Pet 3:13-15a

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Purpose of this letter is to encourage a church in time of trial. One author said that the letter was written to comfort people who were ‘no longer acceptable to their cultural world.’ That’s sounds a little familiar, isn’t it? There are all kinds of reasons why Christians might not feel welcome in this culture—some deserved and some not—and so we should see this letter as a source of comfort.

Our text starts with a challenge: ‘Do not fear what they fear.’ This is a crafty way of saying ‘don’t believe what they say about you—don’t believe your own bad press.' People fear the Christian faith because they don’t understand it—because we haven’t communicated it clearly enough or well enough. But don’t join in, Peter is saying here—You have a calling on your life and a job to do.

There are two main themes in this letter:

First, God is revealed in the ministry of Christ. What we learn about Christ has a direct bearing on what we understand about God in his fullness.

Second, our conduct is the mark of our faith. How we live communicates a lot about what we believe.

Talking about conduct here—how the original readers behaved in their communities—was important for a church suffering persecution. The way they conducted themselves in society back then could mean the difference between life and death. Their lives needed to be impeccable some that they could be witnesses to the faith.

That conduct, the behavior and lifestyle that is transformed along the journey of faith, is what we call the life of discipleship.

So what are we called to do? What does it mean to be a disciple—a follower—of Christ? Brian Draper is an author here in England who writes on issues related to faith and ministry. Up until last year he worked near here at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. In an essay on discipleship he wrote this:

“Following Christ is not about becoming like the stereotypical Christian—it’s about starting to explore and inhabit the words of Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life, and life to the full. The moment we cease being curious, the moment we stop journeying along the way, we start diminishing, not growing. Discipleship is not about being told what to do, but about being shown how to live. It’s not about developing a neat program which formulates all the right answers, but about recognizing that every step along the way of life is crucial, that our lives matter to God as a whole, not just on the whole.”

Discipleship is about our Hearts and Minds. Think back on the text.

‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.’

Part of the life of discipleship is surrendering to the belief that Jesus Christ is who he says he is—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; the Prince of Peace; the Lord and Master of, well, everything. We make that decision every day—in small ways and huge ways—as we make our way on the journey of faith.

But there’s something practical and human about this command, too. It acknowledges that there are all kinds of things that compete for our attention—jobs, families, health, money, sex, world peace—all kind of things jockey for position in our hearts. They do their best to edge out the others in tapping into our energy—into our souls. The call here is to set apart Christ—to give him the most important place among the many things that are important to us. It’s about keeping our priorities straight.

Keeping our priorities in order these days isn’t easy. Last week most major papers here in the UK had Heath Ledger’s tragic death on the front page. But in the Guardian, on the same day, there was a story describing how more than 20,000 children are dying each month in Congo because of the civil war there. The problem was that the story about Congolese children was on page 19. Next time someone tells you that Christians have a strange way of understanding the world, tell them that story. There’s plenty of strangeness to go around.

But it’s not just about our hearts—there’s a cognitive side too, to this life of faith.

‘Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.’

This is another practical word from our passage. It’s about knowing what we’re talking about so we can help other people along in their own journeys of discovery and faith.

One of my seminary friends became a pharmaceutical salesman after graduation. He was newly married and had a child on the way, and he found that he was good at the work. When his company was ready to release a new drug onto the market, he would get a set of notebooks that he had to read and commit to memory. He had to be able to describe the need for the drug in the first place, the science and testing that prepared it for sale, and why it was better than the other similar drugs on the market.

Frankly, he studied more for his meetings with doctors than he ever did in seminary, and he explained why. In those meetings where a healthcare provider was deciding whether or not to buy what he was presenting, it was critical that he was knowledgeable and confident of the material he was sharing. Anything less would reflect badly on the medicine he was trying to sell.

Now we’re not selling anything here, but we are telling a story that matters—a story that offers healing that matters more than what any drug can do. The call on our lives is to be prepared to talk about what we believe—about what we struggle with. ‘Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.’

Knowing some of those answers takes work—I’d be lying in the worst way if I said that wasn’t the case. Here at this church we want to provide ways where each person here can be challenged to read and study and wrestle and get a deeper understanding of this Christian faith. We don’t ever have to work to be loved by God, but there is a lot of work required to be able to share the story of that love with other people.

Like the yeomen warders at the Tower: God calls us to live lives that are guided by training and loyalty and and action...Christ-like hearts and minds.

So what do we do? Two suggestions:

Be intentional about making Jesus Lord of all things. Make a conscious decision to follow Christ in your regular daily tasks. Tell your kids about what Christ has done. See your story wrapped up in the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Be equally intentional about learning to share that story with others. This is where the minister stands up here and says that we need to know more of what it says in our Bibles. Not just to check one of our to-do items off the list, but so that we can have a better understanding—and give better answers—about why we have the hope that we have.

The first time I went to the Tower almost 20 years ago I was fascinated by the history and the stories of what had taken place inside those walls. But one of the things I remember most was the Yeomen Warder who led my tour. At one point when he was telling his story he pulled up his sleeves and showed us the scars from a wound he’d received in battle. The little chapel where we were standing was silent—this big, strong man was telling us about this awful thing that happened to him during his time of service, and he had tears in his eyes.

Being a disciple is like that. The life of faith isn’t easy or simple. But the call is know who we are and whose we are, and to share that story—even when it means showing our scars—with anyone who asks.

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