Sunday, November 5, 2017
The Divine Conspiracy, Week 8
Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30 & Matthew 7:13-23
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
“Who teaches you? Whose disciples are you? Honestly. One thing is for sure: You are somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else.” That’s how Dallas Willard begins chapter eight of The Divine Conspiracy. He continues, “It is one of the major transitions of life to recognize who has taught us, mastered us, and then to evaluate the results of their teaching.”
I did some thinking about the teachers in my life, and I was even able to break them into three categories. First, we all have personal teachers. My first teachers were my parents. They took me to church. They taught me the joy of sledding. They taught me the pleasure of a well-made pizza. I also learned from my brothers. If my older brother didn’t become a Chicago Bears fan in 1985, I probably wouldn’t have either. (Who said that all lessons were worthwhile, right?) If my younger brother didn’t pick up the guitar, maybe I never would have tried my hand at it too.
Personal teachers don’t just have to be persons, however. Some of my best teachers have been books. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have been shaped by several authors. We are reading Dallas Willard right now because his book is so influential for me as a pastor. If I had the time I could tell you all about N.T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Henri Nouwen, and David James Duncan, who write in ways that move my soul. Books are good teachers.
Second, we have institutional teachers. We are all shaped by whatever education we have. For me, growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and attending the Iroquois School District formed me. In Erie you aren’t allowed to get too big for your britches, whenever someone gives me a compliment on a job well done, I am quick to think of everything I did wrong. Calvin College, Bowling Green State University, and Princeton Theological Seminary have also been profoundly influential in my worldview.
We are also shaped by whatever church exposure we have. What you are looking for in a church is totally shaped by your prior exposure to it. That’s why some of us absolutely love hymns, pews, and organs, while others of us run as fast as we can from anything that feels like old-time religion. All of us come here for various reasons, but we all bring our pasts with us into this place. Those shape our experience even this morning.
In addition to personal and institutional teachers, we all have mediated teachers. This is probably the category we think about least but the one that is probably the most subliminally influential on us. News, movies, and TV shape us. Have you ever taken a break from Facebook or Twitter or the internet? It’s like a deep soul cleanse to get away from it. This summer I read that the actor and comedian Aziz Ansari had unplugged from it all, which is wild both because he’s only 34 and because he built much of his comedy around dating in the age of social networks. Here’s how he described giving it up:
[The internet is] just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] How am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the stuff you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.
If you set aside the constant barrage of information, you’ll be surprised by how much happier you’ll be, by how much you didn’t need to know, and by how it’s OK to miss out!
There is one major teacher I have left out of this so far, but I think that’s because this teacher fits all of these categories. Of course, that teacher is Jesus. Jesus is a personal teacher because through the Holy Spirit he is present to each of us and available always. Jesus is an institutional teacher because the church is his physical body present in the world, although I have to admit that sometimes Jesus gets obscured by the church. Jesus is a mediated teacher because we encounter him in the Word as the Word of God.
All teachers are important in forming us, but I hope that our deep desire is that Jesus is the Good Teacher for each of us. And if he is our teacher, then we are his disciples. And if we want to be his disciples, then we must spend time learning from him, not just because it’s a good idea but because Jesus’ discipling of us reshapes how we receive all the other teachers in our lives.
“As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace,” writes Willard, “learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God….That means…how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that “I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.” This does not mean that we are supposed to be exactly like Jesus was in the Bible, mimicking his actions and speaking his words. It means that we are to be so influenced by Jesus that the way we live our lives is a reflection of Jesus to the world.
The purpose of all teaching is to translate knowledge into action, and the three illustrations in our text today all hit on that idea. Individually these passages are harsh on first reading. They seem impossible. Narrow doors. Bad fruit trees cut down and thrown away. People cast away from Jesus’ presence. Not exactly the best way to get people to join in, is it? But there is a thread tying these three illustrations together, and that thread is obedience.
Over the final weeks of our time in The Divine Conspiracy and in the Sermon on the Mount, we will focus on the “routine obedience from the heart.” How do we get it? We’ll go into much more depth in the weeks to come, but the first key is to spend regular, devoted time with your Teacher, Jesus.
Jesus is looking for people who live out what he says. He is looking for disciples, students who have apprenticed themselves to him. These are people for whom the way of Jesus becomes more and more a natural way of being in the world.
Kirby Puckett was the centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins for 13 years and a devoted disciple of Jesus. Once Puckett was hit with a Dennis Martinez fastball, crushing the left side of his face. Martinez thought Puckett would be angry and hate him, but Puckett responded with love. He called Martinez his good friend and held no grudge against him. Puckett was a community leader for good causes and shared his faith naturally with words that matched his life. “Everyone knew Kirby was trusting and why he would not hate someone who had injured him. He was living in God’s world and relying upon it.”
Hearing and doing. There are countless stories of people who have done this. Christians who protected Jews during the Holocaust. People who quietly house the homeless and feed the hungry. People who forgive others for their horrific actions. Disciples are those who are living in God’s world and relying on it, but they have done the legwork of being ready for the moment their faith is tested.
Today is the day we mark All Saints’ Day in our worship; it’s where we remember those who have left this life and have joined the communion of the saints. We are so grateful for their example and for their witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ, for without them, we wouldn’t be here today. They are part of those who have taught us the faith, and someday, by God’s grace, we will join them. While what they did in this life didn’t earn them God’s grace, it was always a reflection of their obedience to God. I am grateful to God for such a great cloud of witnesses!
One question that bounces through our heads when someone dies is whether or not that person is in heaven. It’s a good question, certainly, and one worth our attention not just at time of death. When Jesus says that the gate is narrow, it may cross our minds that maybe we won’t cut the muster, especially because we all struggle to be faithful. But I want to share with you Willard’s perspective on this because it’s so stunningly clear and unique.
“I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. But ‘standing it’ may prove to be a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place.
“It might prove helpful to think occasionally of how, exactly, I would be glad to be in heaven should I ‘make it.’ Will it be like a nice, air-conditioned luxury hotel with unlimited room service and spectacular amenities for eternity? I often wonder how happy and useful some of the fearful, bitter, lust-ridden, hate-filled Christians I have seen involved in a church or family or neighborhood or political battles would be if they were forced to live forever in the unrestrained fullness of the reality of God.”
This side of glory, we won’t know fully what this means, but life now as students of Jesus will be good preparation for knowing God and enjoying God forever. Thanks be to God for the saints and teachers who have gone before us and who have shown us a glimpse of the glory of heaven through their discipleship. Would that we follow in their footsteps as they followed in Jesus’ footsteps.
 Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy, 271.
 ibid. 272.
 Willard 283.
 ibid. 274.
 ibid. 287.
 ibid. 302.