Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. I‘m standing in the garden by the tulip tree planted by her majesty the Queen in 1976. This coming weekend marks an even more momentous occasion. We will be marking the 70th anniversary of the accession with a service in the Cathedral on Sunday afternoon. To have served her country for such a long time is without precedent. I’ve no doubt the secular press, will be effusive in their praise, but likely miss the real significance of the Christian faith that has been the foundation of her life of service. I have had the privilege of meeting her majesty only once when I had to do homage as part of the preparation for taking up this role. I was only there for 15 minutes or so, understandably rather nervous. But I was very struck by her deep Christlikeness, the fruit of many years of obedience to Jesus Christ.
Discipleship isn’t a part-time activity, it's something to be worked out in every area of our life. In her majesties case, it is as Head of State and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. For us, it will be as a full-time mother disciple, an accountant disciple, a teacher disciple, a plumber disciple, a builder disciple or whatever field we find ourselves operating in. Discipleship wasn’t a concept invented by Jesus. Other Jewish Rabbi’s had them. There were disciples in Ancient Greece amongst the philosophers. Plato for example was known as a disciple of Socrates. The New Testament word is a translation of the Hebrew Talmadeen, which can mean follower or student, but the best English equivalent is probably apprentice. In Jesus’ day, this was the pinnacle of the education system.
Most children would begin their education in what was known as the Bet Seffer or House of the Book. There they would learn to read and do basic maths from the Torah and by the age of 12 would have memorised most of Genesis to Deuteronomy. For most that was it, but the best of the best would go on to the next stage, the Bet Talmud, or House of learning. Here, from the age of 12-15, (boys only), with a full-time teacher they would memorise most of the Old Testament. The very best would then look to become a ‘talmadeen’ to a local Rabbi. It was very hard to get into, involving gruelling and thorough interviews. If the young man was successful they would be invited to become a disciple. The disciple was aiming at three things, firstly to be with their Rabbi, which would have been 24/7. There was a Hebrew blessing which said, “may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” i.e. may you experience the same things they did as they travelled around the dusty roads of Palestine. Secondly, you were invited to become like your Rabbi. When Jesus invites the fishermen to follow him and says, “I will make you fishers of men,” it’s not actually a pun to talk about evangelism. Fishers of men was a Hebrew idiom that meant teacher. Essentially, Jesus was saying, “follow me and I’ll make you a great teacher like I am.” Thirdly, it was to do what your Rabbi did. So, when Jesus sends out the 12 and the 72 commanding them to teach, heal the sick and drive out demons, he’s giving them the first opportunity to do this having watched him do it many times.
We know that Jesus had 10s or even hundreds of disciples outside the central group of the 12. In Jewish culture, girls didn’t progress beyond the basic House of the book. Jesus’ disciples clearly included women. Jesus doesn’t call just the best of the best of the best to be his disciples as the other Rabbis did, he calls absolutely everyone. Imagine an Oxford don saying, “Hey, everyone come to Oxford to study. Don’t worry about the GCSE’s or A levels; everyone is welcome,” and you’ll get some idea of the impact of it.
As ever, we have the challenge of translating all this to 21st century Britain. Last week I was talking about three ways in which our discipleship grows, and all the above is by way of introduction to number one: spiritual disciplines or training or practices. If the first goal of discipleship is to be with the teacher, the age-old spiritual practices are the way we do that today. Prayer, fasting, solitude, worship, bible study, eucharist to name the best known. When Jesus in John 15 said, “abide in me and you will bear much fruit.” That’s what he had in mind. Her majesty has not developed the character she has overnight, but by 96 years of faithful obedience in the right direction. Christian maturity and Christlikeness doesn’t just happen. We are not going to wake up one morning and realise, “gosh I’m the second version of Mother Teresa!” Our growth as disciples will depend on the degree to which we put these things into practice and weave them into our everyday lives. Brother Lawrence called it practising the presence of God, seeking to cultivate every day that awareness of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of those who trust him.
The goal of an apprentice electrician is to be able to re-wire a house. The goal of spending time with Jesus through the spiritual disciplines is to be able to do the things Jesus did as a natural outworking of who we are becoming. More of the crucial nature of community in that process next time.