Yesterday, I introduced the difference between apostles and disciples to set us up for this - because it's absolutely critical for our churches to understand the difference if we want to meet a seeking world. The world wants to know Jesus. They want to know how He talked, how He walked, what He looked like when there was something dancing behind His eyes, what His hands felt like, what the hillside felt like when He sat down to speak, what it was like to watch Him pick up a child - your child - and put that kid on His knee. The world wants a real experience of Jesus. They want a disciple's story.
Which is why we have to make our church more than apostlecaries.
Yes, I just made up that word. Actually, it hit me on Sunday morning during a discipleship sermon, and I got a little giggly there in the seat. But it's true - too many of our churches have become just that. Apostlecaries. This word comes from two - apostle, of course, which is someone who teaches or talks about Jesus but conventionally did not or does not walk with Him. And apothecary, the old-timey word for a pharmacy. Put them together and you see where our churches are - places trying to heal the infirmities of the world by talking about Jesus.
Certainly, it seems like the thing to do. And it makes us feel like we're offering something good, like we're honoring God by presenting His word, His message, His mission to our communities. The people seeking, walking in our doors, don't know a great deal about this Jesus most of the time, and it's our job to start telling His story, to introduce them to the things we've found, to talk about what it means to know Jesus. They need the back-story, we think. It's good that we tell them where this comes from.
But that's not Jesus. And honestly, it's not really what they're looking for. They just want to meet the man, not pass a quiz.
Jesus never started His sermons with an introduction. "Hi, my name is Jesus. I'm the son of Mary and the half-son of Joseph. We live in Nazareth, and I have some experience as a carpenter, but then I really felt like this traveling and teaching thing was what I was really supposed to be doing. I enjoy good fish and good wine. A little bread every now and then isn't too bad. These are my friends - Levi, Simon, John, James, Bartholomew..."
No, He got down to the heart of the matter. "Welcome, friends. This is Love...."
Jesus knew it didn't matter if people knew His whole story right away. He knew it didn't change what He could teach them in the moment. He knew that knowing where He came from wasn't going to answer any of their questions. He had a word for them, and He just started talking. They could ask questions later, and many of them did. But the moment for Jesus was now. The moment to hear Him was now. His ministry was based on now, on people walking up and settling in and sitting there and just hearing Him.
That's still how it needs to work. Our churches need to be places where people walk in our doors and encounter Jesus. Not a lesson about Him. Not a poignant sermon about His word. They need to walk in and see Him. They need to settle into our seats, wherever they are comfortable, and listen. And hear. Something more than our take. Something more than our story. We need to be a place where Jesus is speaking and we are all students at His feet. Where He's speaking for Himself and anyone coming in those doors is going to meet Him. Hear Him. Know Him.
When Jesus speaks, He's not talking about Himself. He's not rambling on about facts and history and formula. He's rooted in love, and He's speaking what the heart needs to hear. He's answering the immediate questions of the hearts gathered around Him, talking straight to the core of life as we know it, to our seeking, to our wondering and our wandering. He's answering...and He's inviting. He's offering us a chance to hear what we need to hear and to make a choice to hear more, to go further, to take a new step, to embrace this Man that stands before us. We can ask questions later.
That's where our churches come in. That's where we come in. Those of us who know His story, those of us who have our story woven into His. Those of us that know where He came from and what He means. When people walk in our doors, they need to meet Jesus first. The back-story, the history, the lessons and sermons and doctrine can wait. We need to make sure it's Jesus they find. Then, when they have questions, we're there to help fill in the blanks.
To start a journey. To give a history. To encourage and strengthen and guide and support and love. Mostly, to love. But to stand beside each other and journey Jesus together.
It goes back to apostleship versus discipleship - our job is not to be the professors, it's not to teach our communities a good story about a good God. Our job is to follow Him, to make a place for Him within our walls and without, to give ourselves to journeying with Him and create a spectacle - something our communities can't take their eyes off of and dare to inch closer to. Then when they get here, we have to, in a hushed whisper, make sure they're listening to the right Man. Put the focus back on Him. And when He's ready to move, we go and take our new friends with us, answering questions along the trail but always, always following Jesus.
Into discipleship. Away from our apostlecaries. Because talking about Him, we're not really healing anything. Our world needs to hear from Jesus.