Christianity is a paradox: it is the gospel for “Whosoever” and yet is full of what theologians tend to call “The Scandal of Particularity.” It asks us to believe that though there is one God and He is everywhere, He came to us in a particular man, Jesus of Nazareth, being born in a specific place and time. It asks us to believe that there is salvation in no other name and in no other place than the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That same scandal of particularity finds its way into discipleship as well. It is probably something we have all experienced but it was brought home to me in a very definite way just a few days ago. On that day I had conversations with a few people, all of which were blessed by God. However there was one conversation with one man where I knew God had come in a particular way that asked of me that I say and do something very simple and very specific. Why? Well, I could fill a few blogs with some inklings as to an answer to that and might well do. However first and foremost I was experiencing another manifestation of the scandal of particularity. The Jesus who wants me to carry His love to all the world wanted me to listen to that man and speak to him in a particular place about a particular thing. I did not speak a word of prophecy, I did not give a word of knowledge, I simply had a clear witness of the Holy Spirit to my spirit that God had drawn close in concern about a human situation and there was something that should not be ignored or missed in the conversation that was happening.
I was thinking about all of that today as I read what is perhaps the best opening chapter on a book about “Discipleship” that I have ever read. It is called “Being Disciples” and is written by Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. “Discipleship” is an “in” word at the moment in Christian circles, and thank God it is so, for it should always be an “in” word. However what refreshed me in reading the opening chapter of Rowan William’s book is that his description of discipleship begins with something that is there in the Gospels but is more than often not there in the present crop of books and courses about being disciples of Jesus. I cannot remember reading a book on this whole subject that begins where this book begins, namely by stating that the essence of discipleship is awareness. In the days when Jesus walked in flesh upon the earth, a disciple was not someone who primarily learned from books or courses, but who learned from a teacher, a master, a rabbi. They would commit themselves not to a lecture hall and note scribbling and exam passing and course certificate relationship with their Master, but to a living relationship with him. They would simply hang about intentionally with him wherever he was and whatever he was doing, with an attitude of awareness that at any moment something new might break through into reality and life. For disciples of Jesus that primarily meant becoming aware of ways, encounters and conversations in which the Kingdom of Heaven was breaking into the world through their Rabbi Jesus in a particular moment, time or place. Sometimes they got it, at other times the moment of Kingdom reality seemed to pass them by and rather sheepishly they had to have their attention drawn back to what they had missed by their Master.
To put the same truth in more pictorial form, Rowan Williams says that being a disciple of Jesus is almost having the awareness and expectation of a birdwatcher: knowing you are in the sort of place a particular bird frequents but needing to be alert for that moment in which it actually appears. He mentions in this respect a reference to a Kingfisher in a poem by T.S. Eliot. To me the sight of the flash of the blue of a Kingfisher is an almost mystical experience, it is so special. I frequently go on my electric bike to a place where I know a Kingfisher either lives or visits. I do so with an awareness that all of a sudden I might see that amazing blue streak, or I may not: I can be alert to it happening, be excited in anticipation of it, enjoy the moment when it comes, but I cannot make it happen.
This makes Christian Discipleship incredibly exciting; it makes for a rather unpredictable day and life, it carries a sense of discovery and adventure. It is not a Mystery religion open only to some, but there is the excitement of a Mystery Tour about the whole thing. Of course we know from our Master there are things we should always be doing which require obedience, not further guidance, but I so love it when I see the Kingdom of God flash of Kingfisher blue, a breeze or a wind disturbing the stillness, or a holy stillness disturbing noise and turmoil, the touch of the butterfly wing, the sudden sense that I am standing near a fire; the fire of God’s presence and activity. As we are simply with Jesus and He is with us, as we hang around together listening to and receiving His Word, learning from Him about being in the world but not of it as citizens of another Kingdom, we do so with an intentional awareness , alertness, and expectation that God’s Kingdom activity may break in at any moment. We need to learn to recognise that moment, be sensitive to it and go with it when it comes.
I referred to a particular conversation with someone in the opening paragraph of this blog. I had no idea the conversation would come about but, as I try and always do, stayed open to the scandal of particularity. I had no sense of the approach of God; it just happened. I have no idea as to how that conversation will influence circumstances in the future but I believe things will be different because that moment occurred.
At the core of its essence, Discipleship must be a simple commitment, to live each day consciously with Jesus Christ as my “more than a master” Master, with a non-neurotic, gentle and trusting prayer that He would teach me not to miss what His voice is saying, His hands are doing or where His feet are going. I feel split in my approval of the often quoted notion of Jesus having no hands but our hands to do his work today etc. I know what is meant and there is a truth in it, but with the greatest respect I have always felt that it puts the cart before the horse or something like that! The Master is always ahead of the disciples calling them to go where His voice is speaking, His hands are working and to follow His footsteps to where He is; being near His presence in an attitude of learning, listening, sharing His joy at the surprising breakthrough of the Kingdom is what discipleship is really about.
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