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Experiencing Discipleship

Follow me

Where I go,

What I do,

And who I know.

Make it part of you to be a part of me.

Older readers will immediately hear the voice of John Denver singing these words, which speak the essence of friendship, of the willingness to join oneself into the life and experience of another. In the upper room, Jesus said to his disciples, “Abide in me, and I in you. No longer do I call you servants, but I call you friends” (John 15:4, 15).

Follow me is the call of discipleship. Discipleship is not about believing correct theology. It is about a journey with a friend, a costly journey. To be a friend of Jesus is to place oneself in the path of criticism, abuse, and false charges. “Your master eats and drinks with sinners.” “Your master does not wash his hands” (Matt 9:11; Luke 11:38).

“When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”1 The only way to survive this journey is to die. “It is easy living after we are dead.”2 Dead people have no need to defend their actions or behavior, their characters or their reputations. Being dead to self is liberating. It frees one to concentrate on others.

Where I go. “The Father has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

Jesus says to us, “Go, my friends, wherever there is need, wherever there is hurt. Go to those who are lonely and afraid. Make yourselves vulnerable and accessible; offer permanent love, no-strings-attached love. Go to the nursing home, the prison cell, the homeless shelter, the work cubicle, the teenager’s bedroom. Go and be my visible body, my comforting, healing, restorative presence in the world.”

What I do. “Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. He then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel” (John 13:4, 5).

Discipleship is down and dirty work. It is hands-on work. We cannot outsource our discipleship. Jesus held the children in his arms; he lifted up the woman who had fallen at his feet; he touched the untouchable lepers; he broke the bread and fed the multitude.

We who are joined to Christ are new beings, the old self is dead and gone, the new self has come. And God, who changed us through Christ into his friends, now gives us the task of making others his friends also (2 Cor. 5:17 paraphrased).

And Who I know. “Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these know that you sent me. I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them” (John 17:25).

Although Jesus’ whole mission on earth was to make his Father known, some of the greatest revelations of the Father’s love can be seen during Jesus’ final hours. Consider the following vignettes of God-kindness.

Shortly after uttering the words, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), Jesus demonstrated the tender pity of the Father by making excuses for his sleepy disciples. “Surely the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). While being taken into custody, he stopped the action and took the time to heal the ear of his arresting officer’s servant.

During his trial, Jesus prayed earnestly for Pilate to be spared from the deed he was about to commit and even sought as far as possible to excuse his actions. “The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a worse sin” (John 19:11). The soldiers tasked with carrying out his execution were assured of God’s forgiveness, and he excused their ignorance. “You don’t understand what you are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When the women of Jerusalem wept for him, Jesus responded to them with words of concern for their children’s future. In personal agony, his thoughts were of his mother’s sorrow, and he entrusted her to the keeping of one whom he knew would not only provide for her but love her as well.

As disciples, are we quick to put the best construction on the motives of others? Do we pray for those who despitefully use us? Does our concern for the immediate eclipse our concern for the future well-being of others? Is our forgiveness conditional, our love limited?

God did not need his son to die to forgive humankind; God is forgiveness personified. But God did need a faithful witness to his forgiving character and Christ was faithful unto death. He was love incarnate. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Make it part of you to be a part of me. “My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him” (John 6:55, 56). “To the Holy Communion this scripture in a special sense applies.”3

Ellen White had no problem in referring to the communion meal as a sacrament. Our haste to disavow all things Catholic has dulled our senses to the meaning and importance of the sacramental nature of the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is basically a sign; it “signifies.” A sacrament is a kind of language; it has something to say.

We come to communion, not as spectators or silent congregants, but as active participants. In communion, we are outwardly speaking to God in word-signs. The Eucharistic celebration is an act of thanksgiving for the gift of God in Christ. It is also an act of self-giving to God. We indicate our willingness to be broken for the needs of the world. We offer our life blood to be poured out for our brothers and sisters.

“It is at these, His own appointments, that Christ meets His people, and energizes them by His presence.”4 Do we need to be spiritually energized? Do we desire greater vitality and endurance in our spiritual journey? Do we want to know God intimately? His invitation is to take, eat, and be filled with his energizing, life-giving Spirit. The bread that came down from heaven is the bread of the Presence.

Jesus said, “Do this for my recalling.” He did not say, “Do this to call me to mind.” He was saying, “Do this and enter into the reality of my life and death.” To remember is to “re-member,” to reassemble, to put back together again. We re-enact the event. We are to put ourselves back into the upper room and to be present with Christ as he speaks. “As we receive the bread and wine…we in imagination join in the scene of Communion in the upper chamber.”5

As we commune with him, “In full consciousness of His presence…[we] are to hear His words,” as he speaks to us personally and individually.6 And maybe, if we listen with our whole hearts, we will hear him sing.

Follow me

Where I go,

What I do,

And who I know.

Make it part of you to be a part of me.

Notes and References

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier, 1963), 7.

2. Ellen White, Messages to Young People (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 2002), 127.

3. Ellen White, Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), 661.

4. Ibid., 656.

5. Ibid., 661.

6. Ibid., 659.

Donna J. Haerich is an elder at the Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Apopka, Florida, and teaches an hour-long Sabbath School class there.

Copyright © 2008 Donna J. Haerich

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