"What does it mean to be a disciple?" I first asked to a group of new people at our church. People waited about 15 seconds before several responses were vocalized: faith in Jesus, love of neighbor, wanting to make a difference.
"Who do you look up to when it comes to being a model disciple of Jesus?" I later asked, expecting to hear beautiful responses about lives well lived. But the room became silent. People looked straight ahead or down at their workbooks, but no one spoke.
After a few moments of silence that felt more like an eternity, one woman spoke up. "I've seen too much dichotomy between the pulpit and a person." Another person chimed in, sharing a few of the ways she was hurt by the church, feeling excluded instead of included. Others nodded their heads before someone asked me who I look up to as a model disciple of Jesus.
It didn't take long for me to start naming certain aspects of one's life. I described my Grandma Ivy as a person of prayer. Grandma was a regular viewer of shows like the 700 Club or the PTL Club. The television was set up in the kitchen, and if Grandma was not cooking, she was sitting in front of it praying. If someone prayed on television, she insisted that the room be silent and people pray along. There is something about her prayer life that moves me today as I realize how often I heard the language of prayer flow from her lips but cannot remember a time when slander or abusive language came from the same lips.
I then shared a glimpse of a dear clergy sister's prayer life. While other people regularly say, "I'm praying for you." My friend, A, will ask me a week later about the particular person or situation that was weighing heavy on my heart in a way that reminds me she was praying all week long, lifting my burden before the Lord.
And then I talked about a few people in our congregation who see serving others not as a practice but as a way of life. I offered a brief description of how our ministry with our unhoused neighbors has been strengthened by those who constantly show up for others, or give generously while naming that their family is larger than the people who live in the same house or have the same name.
The more I reflected, the more it became clear that a model disciple isn't born that way and isn't perfect. Rather, they have taken on a series of characteristics or practices they seek to embody on a regular basis. They are people who understand how God has given them a powerful light that is not to be hidden under a bushel but rather shared with the community around them.
We are in a season when many people have purchased t-shirts or bumper stickers with the simple words, "I'm with Her." They are words that proclaim who a person is voting for without even naming the candidate. When one wears such a shirt, one could conclude that the person is many things: a feminist, a Democrat, a supporter of Hillary, a liberal and so much more.
But what does it look like for us to live lives that point to our being with him - to our following Jesus in such a way that others can see who we are with by the lives we live? How is it that others can see who we follow not by what we wear, or the cross we place on our bumpers, but by what we say, what we do and how we love?
Paul writes to the Colossians, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." (Col. 3:12-15).
Few people in my life have all of these characteristics. But countless individuals in my community have a combination of them. Perhaps striving to exhibit one or two of them is a good starting place to show others that, "I'm really with him."
Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Amen.