One of my students, Karina, was telling me that she enjoys making tamales. She learned from her ‘abuelita’ (grandmother). She would stand beside her and watch. She asked her grandma why she did certain things, what spices were added. She watched as her abuelita mixed the ‘masa’ (dough) She watched as her grandma cooked the beans, chicken, or beef that went inside. She watched as the masa was spread in the dried corn husk, filled with meat or beans, rolled up and placed in the pot. As she got older, her abuelita put her to work, had her doing parts...adding spices...stirring this...mixing that. Today, Karina is in her early 20’s. She says, “Yeah, I can make a really good tamale...almost—almost! —as good as Abuelita’s.”
Karina learned by watching, listening, practicing and asking questions. In fact, as I thought about it, that’s how anyone becomes proficient in a practice of any sort. Think about it—doctors, mechanics, artists and teachers all become proficient by doing the same things. Doctors spend a time as residents—after all the book learning—when they shadow veteran doctors. Mechanics go to work in a shop and watch and listen and try and learn. Artists watch and try and watch and learn. Teachers do the same—after classes are done, it’s time for that three-month “student teaching” when the student teacher works with and learns from a seasoned teacher.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is clearly stated:
To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We could spend hours taking this a part; it’s a rich statement and a high bar we’ve set. But, it’s a thoroughly biblical bar. So, for today, let’s just take those first few words—to make disciples. How does one make a disciple? Well, just like all the things we mentioned above, only a disciple can make a disciple.
We find disciples in the Gospels. They were those men and women (yes, there were women disciples) who walked with Jesus—watching, listening, questioning, and doing. At times, they didn’t understand the parables— “Lord, explain what you mean....” At times, Jesus sent them out...in pairs to the surrounding villages. For three years, they were there by his side listening, listening, learning, learning.
There is a mistaken idea in many corners of the Church today that we are called to be Christians. The idea goes something like this: A person hears the Gospel and believes or accepts the message; that person prays a prayer (“Lord, forgive me; come into my heart....”); they are then baptized and recite the vows of membership...and voila! —they are now a Christian and they are done. First of all, this might be the FIRST steps of a life of faith, but this certainly isn’t the end. Then, in the Gospels, following Jesus doesn’t look anything like this. Following Jesus (being a Christian) is all about being a disciple—learning, listening, watching, reading, questioning, doing.
And, being a disciple involves making disciples. Just take a look at Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. These are some of the last things that Jesus says to his disciples, to us, and it all involves making disciples, sharing the story.
As disciples today, we keep an eye on the Gospel and an eye on one another. We watch Jesus and we watch those who have been walking with Jesus longer. We listen to Jesus and we listen to those who have listened longer than we have. We question Jesus and we question those who have questioned Jesus through the years. We begin to live the changed, transforming lives that God calls us to. This is how we BE disciples. And at some point along the way, someone is watching, listening and questioning us...and we begin to MAKE disciples—to invite people to live that changed, transforming life that God calls us all to.
For the last four weeks, we looked at those holy habits—prayer, presence, giving, service. We insist that when we make these habits part of our lives, we have a Church Strong...and we have stronger lives of faith. But, why? What for? Why do we want a ‘church strong’? Why do we want stronger lives of faith? So we can be disciples and make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Will you commit to being a disciple—to learning from, watching, listening to Jesus who transformed you and me through his life and death and resurrection? And, then will you make disciples? Keep coming, keep gathering, keep being present, keep praying, keep giving and keep serving...and God will give you the wisdom and ability and the opportunity to share your faith with others—for the transformation of the world.