Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 22, 2015

2015.02.22 “Qualities of Jesus: Discipline – Do We Have What It Takes?” – Mark 1: 9 – 17

Central United Methodist Church
“Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?”
Pastor David L. Haley
Mark 1: 9 – 17
February 22nd, 2015

The Temptations in the Desert by Michael O'Brien

The Temptations in the Desert by Michael O’Brien

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” – Mark 1: 9 – 15, New Revised Standard Version It was back in 2003 when I got a phone call from my son Chris, 20 years old at the time and in his 2nd year at the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana. What he wanted to tell me that he was thinking about joining the Marines. He was obviously learning something at college, because he wanted to know what I thought about it. It was a year and a half after 9/11, and the time of the start of the War in Iraq. I told him as far as I could see, it sounded good, with one major downside: “You could get killed,” which I made sure to repeat in each paragraph of my email.  I told him it had to be his decision, because if he did it for me, he would probably not make it through when the going got rough, and, should he get killed, his mother would blame me, and I would probably blame myself. I also told him whatever he decided, I loved him, and would support him. He at least waited until he graduated, and did join the Marines in 2006.  As his Dad, I followed his time in Marine Boot Camp with two equal and opposite feelings: first, respect and admiration, knowing that the 13 week Marine Boot Camp is the toughest of all the military boot camps; and secondly, with extreme anxiety and concern: would he have what it takes to make it? The long and short of it is that he did, and it was one of the proudest days of my life when we flew out to San Diego to watch him graduate in August of 2006. He even deployed to Iraq, leaving the Marine Corps in 2010 with the rank of Sargent. Don’t get me wrong; I’m proud of all four of my children for all they have accomplished, each of them is gifted and talented in different ways. But I respected what Chris accomplished, because it required physical and mental endurance – discipline – if you will, something you cannot learn out of a book. The only way you can learn discipline is to be tested. Having learned something about discipline in my life through my own endeavors, I have great respect for it. In truth, all of us are tested in life in various and different ways, sometimes to our limits.  Whether we have been tested or whether we have not yet, we all wonder at times, “Do I have what it takes to make it, for what life requires of me?” Now – at the beginning of another Lenten season and following the example of Jesus – is a good time to ask the question. So today I begin a Lenten series of sermons, entitled “Qualities of Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?” I first preached this series back in 2003, when I called it, “Qualities To Get Us Through Hard Times.” At that time we were only a year and a half past 9/11, beginning a war which would soon start returning the dead and injured, and the economy was tottering on recession: hard times were immanent.  Now, though times as not as hard as they were then, the same qualities are required of us, the qualities exemplified in the life of Jesus.  The first of those today, is “Discipline.” The word “discipline” has many meanings, and for most of us most of them are bad. I realize if I put up a sign up sheet today for a course on discipline, not everybody would jump up at once, and I might not need a very big piece of paper. Because most of us know from experience what discipline is about, if not from our parents, from disciplines we have undertaken: -Eating all we want of what we want, or following a diet. -Sleeping late vs getting up early to pray or exercise -Watching sports on TV vs going for a walk or a run -Having a night at home vs taking a class -Being a nominal member of a church congregation vs becoming a member of a covenant group All the alternate choices push us, they go against the flow, they hurt, and it’s easier not to do them. But without doing them, we don’t get thinner or more fit, we don’t learn, we don’t become a contributing member of the human race, we don’t become a growing and mature disciple of Jesus. The word “discipline” actually comes from the Latin “discipulus”, which means “student”, which comes from the verb “discere”, “to learn”. Thus, to be someone’s disciple, was to be their student, and to learn from them. As the concept broadened, it came to mean “To train by instruction and practice, especially to teach self-control to’, orto teach to obey rules or accept authority.” If we were fortunate, our parents instilled that in us, as we now (try) to do for our children. Though it is not fun for parents or children, if we don’t learn self-discipline, our lives will be a wreck, because self-discipline is a necessary characteristic of mature human beings. As we know, either from our own experience or from that of others, there are few lives more tragic, either in their own suffering or the suffering they bring to others, than those who never learn self-discipline. The highest concept of discipline goes one step further, which we might define like this: “Training undertaken to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.” In order words, discipline we undertake – even though it may be difficult and painful at the time – that will make us stronger and better people.  This is what I mean by discipline. It is exactly such discipline Jesus undertakes in today’s Gospel, the story of his testing in the Wilderness, with which we begin the season of Lent. At about the age of thirty, Jesus began his ministry, which he inaugurates by being baptized by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River.  And then what does he do: hold a press conference? Head for the bright lights and big city of Jerusalem? No, he heads in the opposite direction, away from the crowds and from human companionship, out into the desert beyond the Jordan.  He takes no food, no water, no friends, no iphone, no TV, no books; all the props we rely upon are left behind. It is time for a discipline to prepare himself: to make himself physically, emotionally, and spiritually stronger, for that is ahead. One of things I learned about Marine Boot Camp (as I followed it closely) is that the next to last week is known as the Crucible. The Crucible is a final exercise lasting 54 hours, day and night, with minimal sleep and food, over a course in which all the skills learned in training are tested. If you make it, at the end you are awarded the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, thereby becoming a United States Marine. In heading to the wilderness, Jesus entered his own Crucible, which would prepare him for the hardships ahead, where instead of a having a medal pinned on his chest, he would be bodily nailed to a cross. In our lives, spiritual formation is forged by sometimes choosing to enter a time of testing – our own Crucible –  to strengthen ourselves for whatever cross we may have to bear. At this point you may be ready to say, “So, Pastor, I’m a little confused here, what exactly are you asking me to do? Join the Marines? Join a monastic order and wear hair shirts? Call Jenny Craig?  Train for a triathlon?  Undertake spiritual disciplines as we begin another Lent? The answer is “Yes”, to all the above, if that’s what God is calling you to do, as a discipline, to prepare and strengthen you to become a better person and a better Christian. For most of us, life’s struggles are occasions for whining and complaining. But if we desire to follow Jesus, life’s struggles are actually discipleship training. In the sense of, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” The Lenten season is traditionally a time to undertake such disciplines.  That’s why the invitation to observance of a holy Lent says: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy   Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by  works of love, and by reading and meditating on the Word of God.” That’s why today, we have prepared and invite you to take home with you, “My Preparation for Easter,” available from the ushers or in the narthex. Pick one thing or several things among the suggestions listed; make that part of your Lenten discipline. One of those disciplines might even be to join the Wednesday night study, “Teach Us to Pray.” Some might say, “I don’t know, undertaking disciplines, that sounds too Catholic.” No, it is a good Methodist tradition. Do you know where the name, “Methodist” came from? In early 18th century England, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, attended Oxford University, where he decided to enter the ministry. Along with a group of like-minded friends, he undertook the practice of strict spiritual disciplines. For example, they each arose at 4 every morning for prayers and Bible study. They visited jails and the poor and gave their money away.  Because they were so “methodical” about their religious practices, they were made fun of by other students and called “Bible Moths”, the “Holy Club”, and “Methodists,” a name which stuck. So the voluntary undertaking of spiritual disciplines, is not only Christian and Catholic, it is a part of our heritage as Methodists. Some of you, I know, are undertaking disciplines not of your own choosing. You are undergoing chemo or radiation therapy for cancer, undergoing dialysis or other therapies to maintain your health, strictly attending AA or other support groups to stay sober or sane, attending counseling to deal with depression or to repair a relationship. Those are disciplines, and I admire the strength and courage of those of you who are doing them, to make yourself a more healthy and better person or to have better relationships. Discipline, such as Jesus undertook in the wilderness, is never easy, but sometimes it is the only way out, the only way ahead. I have used military metaphors today, but what I am saying about discipline applies in all spheres of life, such as sports, the arts, and the sciences. Malcolm Gladwell estimated in his book The Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery in any field. I began with a military example, I’d like to end with another, in fact the one that first got me thinking about this. The Mogadishu Mile refers to what happened in 1993 to an elite group of Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers, who were sent into Mogadishu, Somalia, on what they thought would be a quick and simple mission to capture a violent warlord. Instead, they found themselves outnumbered and fighting for their lives. By morning, 18 U.S. soldiers were dead and 73 were wounded. Finally, at dawn, rescue vehicles arrive, but there was a miscommunication, and instead of shielding and supporting the soldiers, they drove off without them. At this point they’re been up all night without sleep, without food or water, they’re dead tired, they’re getting shot at, but the only way out is to run out. Now, their very survival hinges upon the physical and mental stamina they had received in their training. Here’s the way it was portrayed in the 2001 Ridley Scott movie, “Blackhawk Down.” You can view it here: Life may not ask of us such a dramatic challenge, nor perhaps even a physical challenge, but life will require of us testing, a crucible of our own. The question is, “Do we have the discipline to do what it takes?” Amen.


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