“Don’t Be a Temporary Disciple” August 26, 2012
Psalm 84 & John 6:56-69 Stephens City UMC
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I. I read in the newspaper the other day that at some point in the future if you wish to graduate from a Virginia Public High School that you will be required to have taken at least one on-line course.
A. For those who are young that will be the primary method for them to up-date their skills and receive continuing education.
1. Employers are going to support this because they won’t have to bear the expense of flying in an outstanding trainer in a particular field such as health care or finance but instead will simply pay that outstanding trainer an honorarium and then require all their employees to attend the on-line presentation.
2. On-line learning is going to be pretty standard.
B. You may marvel at where things are going but those involved in education 300 years ago would be truly amazed and dumbfounded.
1. Education was pretty straight forward 400 years ago particularly if you lived in the British colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and Connecticut where the Puritan influence was strong.
2. In those places you had two reading text books that you would read and re-read and re-read and of course discuss.
3. The primary text book was the Bible and the second was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
C. Pilgrim’s Progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678.
1. It is an allegory about the Christian life and in the second half of the story Christian travels with Hopeful on a religious pilgrimage.
2. While on this journey they eventually discuss another character named Temporary.
3. Temporary had begun the journey and had gone some distance with them when he simply fell by the wayside and ceased to pursue the Christian life.
4. Bunyan used the term “backslide” and that’s the origin of that term (sermons.com, August 2012).
II. Now it seems to me that our United Methodist theology which we refer to as Wesley Theology out of respect for our founders, John and Charles Wesley, has much in common with the theology expressed in Pilgrim’s Progress.
A. That’s because while their father, Samuel, was an Anglican Priest, their mother, Susannah, was a Puritan and she was deeply devoted to her children’s Christian education.
1. Susannah Wesley understood that it was not enough to have her children stand up one Sunday to proclaim their faith in Christ and that brief proclamation be the end of it.
2. That is too temporary.
3. Rather, she understood that the Christian life is a journey and that along that journey one grows in faith and that helps to produce an enduring faith.
4. Christian faith is not about a one-time statement but is about the fullness of life in Christ – fullness that the Apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to the Ephesians where he talks about bowing the knee so that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).”
B. Such was Paul’s understanding of faith, such was John Bunyan’s understanding of faith, and such is United Methodist understanding of faith.
1. What all these theologies have in common is the recognition of free will.
2. While some denominations and a significant number of the non-denominational churches will proclaim “Once saved always saved,” we would disagree, not because we doubt the power of God – far from that, but because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that people will proclaim Jesus as Lord and then turn away.
3. They will say it once and that’s pretty much of the end of it.
4. I’ve probably told this story before but as a follow-up to last Sunday’s story about Mr. Short the summer I worked laying ceiling tile for the construction of the new Charlottesville High School the work team of which I was a part would on occasion have to share a work area with the plumbers or the electricians, etc.
5. There were two young electricians’ assistants who for one week were in the same rooms as us.
6. There were hundreds of construction workers at this site and everyone noticed these two because they wore a different Christian t-shirt each day and each wore a big cross that hung outside of his shirt.
7. Unfortunately, they made a negative witness because they used so many four letter words that a sailor would have blushed plus they would spend the whole time talking about which bar they would go to that night, how drunk they were going to get and which girls they would hit on.
8. In Bunyan’s terminology they were backsliding.
9. Another way to put it would be that they were temporary Christians.
10. Temporary as to mean “short term.”
11. I have no doubt that they had made a public profession of faith but the three seconds it took to say “Jesus is Lord” was the limit to their faith.
12. They had not journeyed on to experience what Paul called the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ so they had made little progress towards knowing “the fullness of God.”
III. Now I think that Paul and John Bunyan and John and Charles Wesley were correct in believing that Jesus came so that people could experience the fullness of God.
A. For the past few weeks we have been reading from the sixth chapter of John and in that chapter Jesus has been offering people life, specifically saying “I am the Bread of Life.”
1. Life was right there in front of them, with them, desiring to be in them and many partook.
2. But, we also read in this sixth chapter that a number of his disciples had turned away.
3. (John is not talking about the inner most 12 except Judas and other people in the crowd who will be dropping out.
4. Initially many in the crowd bought into the idea that Jesus was a new source of life and could do better than Moses who had fed people with manna from heaven.
5. (Actually, it was God who sent the manna from heaven and Moses knew that but a lot of people had forgotten that part of the story).
6. So one day people were Jesus’ disciples and the next day they were not.
B. And what is Jesus’ response?
1. He asks those closest to him, “Do you also wish to go away?”
2. In other words, “Will you use your free will to backslide? Will you not continue on the journey with me? Will you be temporary disciples?”
C. It is Peter who speaks up, (of course it is impulsive Peter who speaks us) and he is bold enough to speak for the others.
1. “Lord, to whom can we go? We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
2. So of their own free will they decide to continue on the journey with Jesus.
3. They really don’t know what is ahead.
4. In John’s Gospel there is going to be another 15 chapters so there’s a lot that is ahead, but they commit themselves not so much to going forward as going with Jesus wherever that may be.
5. And since it is a group of them that makes that decision they become a community of faith.
IV. We at Stephens City United Methodist Church often refer to ourselves as a community of faith.
A. Actually when a congregation gets to be over 200 in worship it’s about 12-15 communities of faith that have just enough in common with one another to share the same pastor.
1. And what is vital to understand is that what holds us together in this journey of faith is not our human commonality but our common decision to travel with Jesus wherever he may go.
2. That means that we cannot be in control.
3. People who just have to be in control of their own lives and destiny are the people who end up backsliding and being short-term or if you will “temporary” disciples and like the character “Temporary” in Pilgrim’s Progress fall by the way side.
4. They don’t go any further in the journey with Jesus.
5. The character “Temporary” dropped out of the story in Pilgrim’s Progress.
6. There were people who when it got to the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel dropped out of the story.
B. I think that you are here today because you wanted to hear the Jesus story, the one you believe to be the Holy One of God, and so you have come to be with Him this morning.
1. That is good.
2. That is very good.
C. A number of you will turn in today the survey sheets that were mailed to you this week and which are also in the bulletin if you didn’t bring it with you.
1. Let me thank you ahead of time because that will help me to more effectively address some discipleship matters in September and October.
2. I won’t be nearly as effective without your help.
3. But this is an opportunity to begin examining yourself with regards to which character you are in Pilgrim’s Progress.
4. In Bunyan’s book, and by now I imagine there is an on-line version of that book, the character Christian travels with other characters such as Faithful and Hopeful.
5. They prove to be good traveling companions.
6. It is my hope that we will be good traveling companions with one another and that what will propel us forward, wherever that may lead, is our common commitment to Christ who is the Bread of Life and who offers us a life that allows us to experience with all the saints the breadth and length and height and depth that is the fullness of God.
7. So I’m going to put this negatively but this is actually a positive, “Don’t be a temporary disciple.”