What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
You’ll see one later and one in a while.
What’s the difference between a broken clock and a weatherman?
A broken clock is right twice a day.
Clare will like this one: What’s
the difference between a man and a computer?
You only have to tell a computer to do something once.
What’s the difference between a disciple and an apostle? Not a joke!
A disciple is someone who willingly sits under the
discipline of a teacher. Discipline, you
see, is a many-layered word. It’s
different from punishment – although being a committed disciple might involve
getting punished from time to time. We
might talk about the discipline of learning a sport. Or, in the case of Jesus’ disciples, the
discipline of living alongside Jesus – to learn all they can from their,
teacher, their rabbi, their master.
But there comes a time for every disciple when they’ve
absorbed enough of their master’s teaching that they are ready to strike out on
their own. They are ‘sent’ out into the
world, to spread the Master’s message.
The Greek word for ‘sending’ is ‘apostolos’. So apostles are those who are sent out, by
And that’s what Jesus does, in today’s Gospel. He sends his disciples out on their first ‘training
mission’. He clearly believes that they
are ready to strike out on their own.
They are not yet the fully formed Apostles that he will commission on
the day of his ascension…but they’ve learned enough. They’ve demonstrated enough knowledge, and enough
change in their attitude, for Jesus to trust them to be his ambassadors.
But notice how carefully he puts boundaries around
their mission. He tells them “Go nowhere
among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the
lost sheep of the house of Israel”. We
can guess that Jesus thought his disciples were not yet ready to take their
message of the coming Kingdom to people other than Israelites. Perhaps he thought they weren’t ready to take
on the deep theological arguments of a debate with Gentiles and
Samaritans. So he protects them…he
carefully circumscribes this training mission, because (as he says) “I am
sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as
You see, theological and ideological opponents can be
tricky forces with which to grapple. I
personally enjoy a jolly good intellectual battle with theological
opponents. I have great fun, for
example, every time I encounter Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses on the
street. I’ve studied quite a bit of
theology, as you know – whereas your average Mormon ‘Elder’ is a teenager
without much accumulated wisdom. I love
fencing with them until they get to the point when they (inevitably say) ‘we
can’t answer your question – but if you give us your contact details, we’ll ask
one of our senior elders to contact you’.
They never do, by the way!
The real challenge, of course, comes when one’s
ideological opponents are in positions of real power. Jesus warns his trainee apostles that is they
are not wise and innocent, they will end up flogged, and dragged before
governors and kings. Jesus’ message of
love, tolerance and peace was a real threat to the religious and political
leaders of his day. They could use the
full force of their law, backed up with martial power, to silence anyone who
threatened their status quo.
I wonder whether we see examples of such power in our
society today? Some may think that the
arrest of anti-monarchy protestors during the Coronation looked rather like an
abuse of state power. Others might
consider that new laws to stop the protests of the Green movement – like ‘Just
Stop Oil’ - have been employed precisely because such protestors threaten the
status quo; a status quo in which big energy companies continue to make billions,
while the world tips over into unstoppable climate catastrophe. Others might point to recent changes in
immigration law to permit the indefinite detention of children as an abuse of
power. Some might regard many of our
nation’s newer laws with a great deal of suspicion. I couldn’t possibly comment.
In a few moments, we will say these words from the
Creed: “I believe in one catholic and
apostolic church”. What we mean by that
simple sentence is that we believe in a Universal church, across time and
space, which is sent by her Lord to declare
his good news to the world. That, my
friends, is our sacred task. We are disciples,
at this moment. We come together to sit
at the Master’s feet, taking in his words and wisdom from the pages of
Scripture, offering him the worship he rightly deserves. But when we leave here, this morning, we are
sent out. My last words to you will be ‘Go
in peace to love and serve the Lord’.
And you will reply ‘thanks be to God’ as a sign that you gratefully accept
the call to a transition from disciples to apostles.
This is a tough call.
No-one said that obeying Jesus would be easy. He warned his disciples, in today’s reading,
that “brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and
children will rise against parents and have them put to death”. The good news of the Kingdom of love is a
fundamental challenge to many power structures in the world – not just to governments
and tyrants, but also perpetrators of domestic abuse, or powerful people in
companies who are quietly syphoning off wealth for themselves, or predatory
abusers in football clubs, schools and even churches. Such powerful people will use every tool at
their disposal to silence the voice of Jesus. Jesus’s message of love,
tolerance, care for the poor, justice for the falsely imprisoned, welcome to the
stranger – this message undermines the powerful people of the world – or what
Jesus called the ‘powers of the age’. Don’t
be surprised when powerful forces try to imprison those who speak about Kingdom
values, even when they don’t own the name of Christ. Don’t be surprised when social media warriors
try to ‘cancel’ the voices of those who challenge their positions of power.
Some churches have words painted over the inside of
their main door. It’s something I’ve
wondered about doing here. The words are
‘Welcome to the mission field’. They are
a reminder to every disciple, that as they step over the threshold of the
church building, they become Christ’s missionaries, his ambassadors, his apostles
– to their families, to their workplaces, to their friends and clubs, on social
media and to the very streets.
So the question I leave with us today is this: are you ready to make the step, to answer the
call, to make the transition from disciple to apostle? Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s
wild restless sea. Day by day his sweet
voice soundeth, saying ‘Christian, follow me’.
Are you ready to follow him, to transform the world, to be sent as
Apostles of his message? Amen.