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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

About Discipleship: Letting Go Of The Old - 05/26/2019

You may have detected a theme in our sermons and focus this Easter Season: it is Portraits and Marks of Discipleship.

As I said that Sunday following our big, fat and joyous Easter morning celebration, “I am thinking more deeply about what it means for us at Eden to be disciples of the Risen Jesus and how these Easter texts inform and prepare us. And I am and will continue to ask you to think more deeply about discipleship too. How do these scriptures incite and encourage us to be part of this faith community, particularly as it comes together to be fed this holy word, bathed in these holy waters and satisfied at this holy table?”

Our first portrait of discipleship was about Thomas – the courageous and loyal seeker, who modeled Jesus and surprised us with his unexpected choices and appearances, and who also doubted.

Then we considered the disciple Saul who would become Paul. We focused on how God desires to communicate with us in order that God may work in us and through us, even if God has to chase us down like Saul and hit us over the head with a 2x4; even if we need to get popped in the head by a nut-throwing squirrel.

The third week, we considered the Disciple Tabitha and what it meant to be Tabitha-like or recognize Tabitha in others. Marks of discipleship came up like taking care of those in need, praying over one another fiercely, doing the hard and sometimes unpopular work of forgiving and welcoming each other back into the Jesus Way.

In Sunday School class that morning, our project was to create and send little cards to people who we found in our local newspaper … people who maybe needed a Tabitha-like disciple in their lives, or people who themselves were Tabitha-like. We created a card for the little girl Emily who has been so ill this Spring. Another went to Pastor Jim over at the Presbyterian Church blessing him in his new work with our local Sheriff’s office. Another went to a local student who got a baseball scholarship for college. And one went to the DNR based on a picture of a cougar taken near Manistique. The note thanked them for their care of U.P. wildlife and included some information about our Sunday School study of Tabitha.

It was a really cool project. I think the kids really enjoyed it. I’m fairly certain the recipients did. I heard back from one. Terry Minzey, U.P. Regional Wildlife Supervisor at the DNR emailed:

“Dear Pastor Ann, I wanted to thank you for the nice card and the scripture regarding Tabitha.  They certainly lifted my spirits and put a smile on my face.  I have photographed the card and the note and forwarded them to my entire staff.  They work hard to maintain a healthy natural resource community for the citizens of the Upper Peninsula and the State of Michigan.  I know they will greatly appreciate knowing that you and your Sunday School class have recognized their efforts. 

Cheers.  p.s. My wife and I lived in Shingleton for four years in the 1990s during which time we were members of the Shingleton Congregation meeting in the township building. (before the church was built)”

In other words, our tiny little Sunday school disciple class did a tiny little act of discipleship … and they ended up witnessing to the the entire wildlife division of the DNR – perhaps more than that.

This whole discipleship thing has got some legs.

And last, but certainly not least, we saw that portrait of discipleship embodied again last week as Elaine Robbins served as our preaching minister. She truly opened the word of God for us in meaningful ways, and her act of discipleship reminded us that indeed we are all created by God with different gifts and skills, a variety of calls and passions, to create one beautiful expression of the Body of Christ at Eden Lutheran.

This week, our portrait of discipleship takes us down yet another line of thinking with our story of a man who has waited by a pool of healing waters for 38 years. Now one can look at this story as an example of how we who are typically-abled can often overlook those of us who are differently-abled.

And it can also be looked at as a story of one who is being very passive about their circumstances, or one who will not ask for or accept help in their time of need, or perhaps one who did not know they could.

And so I’d like to share a column I wrote when I was on internship in SW Minnesota. I offer it in the hope that it may lift up another mark of discipleship – how this Jesus-following way of life means that we will likely have to give up some old ways in order to make room for the Way of the Disciple.


“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5: 2-6)

There is a choice to be made here. I wasn’t expecting that. This is a gospel text we used one January Sunday for a healing service at the five Winds of the Prairie churches I served on internship. It ended up being a Sunday I was back in the Upper Peninsula unexpectedly because my husband Larry had a heart attack while he was back here on some business. The need for healing and wellness came knocking on our own door aggressively. 

As someone drawn to literature and wordsmithing, I've appreciated how the biblical texts change – or, perhaps more accurately, how we change in relation to them. Our experiences, our needs, our prayers, our joys shine like lights from different angles on the texts and reveal newness all the time.

One of my most jarring experiences of this happened in December 2012. I was all set to give my first sermon at the church I was assigned to in Chicago during my second year of seminary. It was a text from Luke about John the Baptist. I had a clever little scene set up for the sermon in which the pastor of that church, who joyfully baptized about 20 babies each year, took up the ancient baptizers' persona, leaned into those gathered to welcome a new child into the church, and yelled – “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There was an ax poised at the root of a tree and unquenchable fire in the story too. But I didn't give them much heed.

But then the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut happened. The news was still so terribly raw for the world witnessing this horrible picture of brokenness as people assembled for worship that Sunday.

“Under typical circumstances I'd read this text and scratch my head for a minute. Then I'd force myself to dive deeper into Luke’s many exhortations to find what glimmers like good news,” I said. “But today I'm drawn more to the glimmer of the ax at the base of the tree and thinking about some bad-fruit bearing trees I'd like to see come crashing to the ground. I'd like to see this Messiah John is describing out in the world with that winnowing fork ... tossing chaff into the unquenchable fires and keeping it far and forever away from our babies and loved ones.”

So when Larry had his heart attack, I found myself on that quaking ground again, this time between the story of John's man at Beth-zatha and the health crisis our family experienced. The story had changed. When I'd read the story before, I don't think I stopped for a very close look. In my memory of the story I had categorized this encounter between Jesus and this man as a rescue from disease and disconnection from community.  But now, I saw it differently as story about a man perched on an edge between his unwellness and his wellness; a man precariously navigating the boundary between those two realities.

This time, I kept hearing Jesus ask the man at Beth-zatha, “Do you want to be made well?” I was drawn to the choice Jesus placed before this man who now seemed so passive – waiting 38 years for someone to show up and take him into the pool.  And then the Messiah himself comes along and all the man can think about are all the reasons he can't get in the pool.

Gracefully and despite the man's inability to see beyond his distractions and even his ability to recognize and believe in the man now standing before him, Jesus did heal him and sent him on his way.

This new encounter I had with this story helped me realize that we do have choices between all manners of wellness and unwellness, old and new, outgrown and newly tailored. And frankly the unwellness side of the equation can look more desirable – it's the known, the familiar, the comfortable and predictable way of things.

But now we have this guy standing before us – Jesus Christ – our Healer and Savior of the world. He's already changed everything and lit the path to wellness, put the darkness of unwellness into its proper contrast. The healing has already happened and so the question really is “Do you want to be made well?”

I pray that question hangs with us for a good long time as we make our way and grow as disciples; as we let go of whatever we must from our old ways and make room for the new life-giving ways God is making with us disciples of Jesus today.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! C hrist is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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