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Discipleship, Part I: The Wisdom of Growing The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

I have decided to follow Jesus (3X); no turning back, no turning back.


What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to follow Jesus?

For the next three Sundays, we’ll hear what’s called the Missionary Discourse in Matthew’s

Gospel. Matthew’s 10th chapter is all about what it means to be on a mission from God,

following Jesus. After four verses from the end of chapter 9 about Jesus having compassion on

the crowds because they were helpless, “like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36), he turns to his

disciples, his followers. Then, Jesus begins to tell them just how hard this Gospel work of

teaching, preaching and healing really is. Like this:


Travel light. Take nothing valuable with you. You’ll work for your food. If you’re

ignored, if you don’t feel welcome, just leave - and have nothing more to do with those folks.

Remember: you’re kind of helpless, like these crowds, so beware of people who look like sheep

but behave like wolves. Be both wise and innocent, depending. Now, if people, acting like a

pack of wolves, come and take you away, don’t worry about what you’ll say, because the

words will come to you. However, when they realize that it’s the living God you’re talking to

them about, and not some idol that makes them feel good, they’ll turn on you. Even your own

family members! But don’t quit. Keep on keeping on. Endure! Persist! You will survive. Help

is on the way.


So…now that we’ve heard about what true discipleship, really following Jesus is all

about, who here wants to say, Put me in, coach!?? I suggest that, because of all those challenges,

it’s easy for us to get distracted, discouraged, even despondent when we try to be a disciple of

Jesus. But what I hear in this text, what I’m here to tell you, is this: Following Jesus is not a

spectator sport. We have to get in the game. Following Jesus, being a disciple is also not a solo

performance. It’s like a lot of other things in life. It’s about teamwork. It’s about working and

laboring together - on a harvest, with Jesus.


Years ago, while reading this Gospel text, the line after “The harvest is plentiful, but the

laborers are few” got my attention. It’s this part: Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send

out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). Really? It’s that easy?


So, while reading that Gospel, I started praying. I needed help, including God’s help,

with finding a youth minister for the church where I was the new associate rector. Now, in the

Episcopal Church, being the associate rector often means you are the youth minister, unless you

find someone else to do the job. I was forty years old, and I had a baby daughter and a seven-

year-old son. Not a bad profile for a youth minister…unless you’re also a priest. That’s why I

was praying to the Lord of the harvest, to send just one more laborer into his harvest. Someone

really good with youth, Jesus. Please.


While I was praying, a man - literally - knocked on my door. Chuck introduced himself.

He said he already had a job, running a drop-in center for teenagers, but now, he was looking

around. Chuck believed he was now called to do youth work in a church.


Even though he was looking for the very work I’d been praying about, I wasn’t ready for

Chuck to show up, unannounced. And yet, my life had already taught me how kairos - God’s

timing, not mine - can either be much slower…or faster…or both. God’s timing is not kronos,

the chronological time we keep with our calendars. So, I listened to Chuck while he told me why

he wanted to share the mission of his drop-in center, to turn his youth work into youth ministry.

When I asked him what that mission was, he said, “To do the normal work of growing up, from

adolescence into adulthood.”


I still remember Chuck’s words. For three reasons: First, I knew that growing up as a

Christian is described well in Ephesians. “We must no longer be children, tossed to and

fro…blown about by every wind of doctrine by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful

scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Christ” (4:14-15,

NRSVue). Another rendering of that passage, perhaps a bit more hip, puts it this way: “No

prolonged infancies among us, please. No babes in the woods, small children who are easy prey

for predators. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love - like Christ,

in everything” (The Message).


But what does growing up into Christ actually look like today? Back when Chuck walked

in the door, it looked and felt different, real different. On Tuesday, I attended the monthly

meeting held for clergy at the Memphis Police Department’s Mt. Moriah station. The Gang Unit

of MPD made a presentation. In it, they described how 14 and 15 year olds are highjacking cars

literally at all hours of the day and night. That wasn’t happening in my associate rector days or

even in the days just before the pandemic. I wonder: How would I grow up, if I were a youth in

2023?


The second reason Chuck’s words still resonate deeply in me has to do with what

physicians, sociologists and psychologists have learned, long before COVID, about the human

brain and our social development. Members of the scientific professions now say we mature

well after age 21. And according to many sociologists, the human race is still in adolescence. In

short, as a species, we so-called adults act too often like children.


The third reason I still remember those words is that the Episcopal Church now has a

curriculum for youth called “Journey to Adulthood.” While I never actually got my hands on

that way of helping youth grow up into Christ, I know others who swear by it. Journey to

Adulthood “uses Bible study, prayer, rites of passage, and outreach, while examining Self,

Society, and Spirituality.” It lasts two years and ends with a pilgrimage.


I believe our life’s journey is, like that Episcopal curriculum puts it, a journey into

adulthood. I believe Jesus calls us to grow up, like him, into our fully human selves. We say we

believe Jesus was fully divine, but he couldn’t have been so without also being fully human.

That’s what some call “the work before the work” - the inner, daily, spiritual journey into

adulthood we need to make, while we live life in the “outer” world.


Today is Father’s Day. While we honor today all those who are or who have been fathers

to us in any way; while we also observe both Flag Day and Juneteenth as national holidays this

month; while we take part in other celebrations, like Pride Month, or remember anniversaries,

graduations or ordinations; and while we see or hear any of the news in our world about all of

the ways people do not act like grown-ups - there is an invitation, my friends. There’s an

invitation, and it’s from Jesus.


The invitation is this: to find and embrace, in each of our many celebrations and

situations, the wisdom of growing up. That strange simile - the comparison Jesus makes

between serpents and doves - that’s all about growing up into discipleship. For me, here’s

something of what being a mature, grown-up Christian looks like.


I believe that, to be a mature father, mother or child, we have to keep treating our family

members with honor and respect - no matter what. I believe that, to be a mature American, we

have to learn to treat all of our fellow Americans with honor and respect - no matter what. And I

believe that, to be a mature Christian, we have to learn to treat our fellow Christians with honor

and respect, so much so that we are ready, willing and able to see the image, the very face of

God, in every. human. being - no matter who they are, what they believe, who they love - or

how grown up they are or seem to want to be.


Being a mature Christian, then, means seeing how easy it is for God’s image to get

tarnished in someone, including us. Sooner or later God’s image in every person will get

disfigured or damaged. Then, seeing God’s image becomes hard work. In this beautiful, broken,

polarized world, I think it’s now even harder to see the face of God in everyone.


I know some don’t see God in the Episcopal Church. They say we’ve lost our way; we’re

not really Christians. Some can’t abide our stance on the rights of women, persons of color, or

LGBTQ+ folks - not just to be welcomed, but to be fully included. That’s because, in our

Baptismal Covenant, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect

the dignity of every human being.” With God’s help, of course.


For ages our official signs have said, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” By that we

mean everyone’s welcome to be baptized and receive Communion in our church. Or not; it’s

your choice. Welcome, anyway! Anyone who believes they’re called to be married or ordained

in the Episcopal Church is also welcome to explore that call with us.


Sometimes, God’s image in a human being or in a church gets disfigured beyond all

recognition. For me, it’s really hard and heart-breaking (I weep!) to see the image of God in my

Christian sisters and brothers, whether they’re Episcopalians or any other kind of Jesus

follower, when those sisters and brothers, as church leaders and members, keep saying that

anyone who’s been marginalized for centuries by the church and society - people of color;

LGBTQ+ folks; women, especially - that they just cannot be pastors.


Some say, like Jesus did, just shake the dust off your feet and move on. Some 21st

century followers of Jesus, especially women, will need to do just that. Meanwhile, a Native

American Episcopal bishop, Steven Charleston, says something profound about women in

ministry, something that sounds like Jesus to me. The bishop says, “Whether they are

credentialed or not, women are spiritual leaders in every faith tradition. They provide the

vision. They embody the values. They hold the community together. Without the leadership of

women, none of our religious institutions would survive.” I ask you: With women in all kinds of

leadership here for years, has not All Saints’ Episcopal Church survived? Bishop Steven adds

something to that wisdom from his experience as a Native American man: “I come from a

matriarchal culture, where spiritual leadership simply acknowledges what is already there”

(Facebook, 6/16/23).


Sisters and brothers, growing up - as a Christian, as an Episcopal Church - it’s not for

babes in the woods. Which means you and I need to keep praying. We need to pray not just for

the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers. We need to keep praying that, together, we keep

on keeping on; that we keep on trying to become, with God’s help, the most healthy, mature,

grown-up laborers we can possibly be. I’m sure that prayer will delight God! Because even

though God may get plumb tuckered out by the likes of you and me, God is the One who keeps

on keeping on - with us, and in us, and for us. God is the one who keeps on loving us, every day

of our lives, every chapter of our life together, every step of journey to adulthood in Christ.


I have decided to follow Jesus (3X); no turning back, no turning back.


~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar, All Saints’ Episcopal Church

1508 S. White Station Road

Memphis, Tennessee 38117

www.allsaintsepiscopal.org

fathermom1949@gmail.com

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