As we celebrate our Annual Meeting and another year of ministry in Jesus Christ through Hickory Neck, we could not have received a better set of lessons. Today’s lessons are all about discipleship – what being a disciple of Jesus means for us today. Our lessons tell us discipleship involves relation, revelation, and reaction.
What we first learn about discipleship is relation – that our work as disciples cannot happen without being related to one another. In Samuel’s almost comical call story, inexperienced Samuel would never have understood that God was trying to speak to him unless he had been in relationship with Eli – his mentor and guide in the life of faith. Similarly, skeptical Nathaniel would have likely never believed that Jesus could be the Messiah had enthusiastic Philip not said to him, “Come and see.” Even our lesson from first Corinthians, which perhaps embarrassingly talks about fornication and prositution, shows us that how we relate to others matters – how we use our marvelously made bodies with others matters.
This past year of discipleship at Hickory Neck has similarly and importantly been about relation. Whether we were talking about race through film, books, or testimony; whether we were sharing a festive meal or taking the holy meal to our homebound members; whether we sharing our stories of giving at Stewardship parties or sharing our faith journeys in confirmation class; whether we were discerning how to modify worship at Hickory Neck or talking with community leaders about how Hickory Neck could address wider needs of our community; whether we were preparing for a quiet day of reflection in Lent or whether we were preparing to welcome a new community onto our property – whatever we did this year, we did so in relation to others. At Hickory Neck, long-timers and newcomers alike are needed when we are discerning the call of God on our common life. At Hickory Neck, when changes big and small are being made, we do so with the input of others – both inside and outside of the community – to ensure our discernment is reflective of our related nature through Christ. At Hickory Neck, we experience God most when we relate to one another through deep, meaningful, vulnerable relationships that rely on trust in one another and on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are Samuels who cannot discern God’s voice without Elis, and we are Nathaniels, who cannot believe what we are hearing without Philips. Our discipleship is impossible without relation.
After relation, the second thing we learn from our lessons today about discipleship is revelation. When skeptical Nathaniel responds to Philip’s invitation to come and see, and he meets Jesus, he asks Jesus how Jesus knows him. Jesus responds, “I saw you.” Likewise, upon the third interruption of Eli’s sleep, Eli finally realizes that Samuel is not sleepily confused; Eli realizes God is trying to speak to Samuel. Furthermore, when Eli sees Samuel the next morning, his insistence on knowing what God said to Samuel reveals his own sin and his own coming punishment. Even Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reveals to them how important their bodies are. When the psalmist says God created us, knit us together, and we are marvelously made, Paul understands that those wonderful bodies God made are meant to be used for the glory of God.
The more we committed to our relationships at Hickory Neck over this past year, the more we began to experience revelation through those relationships. When our Tuesday night seekers group invited our brothers and sisters from New Zion Baptist Church to a joint Bible Study, all sorts of beautiful, hard revelations were experienced that night. When our liturgical task forces worked to define and discern what God was doing at Hickory Neck through worship, we discovered new and beautiful ways we could honor the abundant liturgical variety found in these walls. When an outstanding mortgage was weighing on our budget or when longtime givers moved on from Hickory Neck, we realized how our giving could impact change at Hickory Neck. And our budding relationship with the Kensington School has been full of revelation by the Holy Spirit – from sensing within the Vestry that the time had come to think again about a school, to discerning with community leaders that a school was indeed needed, to responding immediately when Charlie got word that Kensington was looking in our neighborhood, to developing a relationship so strong that Kensington would choose to come to Hickory Neck as opposed to another location, God used our relationships to reveal new, different possibilities for ministry.
In some ways, relation and revelation might be the easy parts of discipleship. The harder part is that third part of discipleship: reaction. When Paul writes that letter to the Corinthians, Paul is able to say some hard things about the ways his friends are using their bodies. The Corinthians could have used that revelation to linger in shame or guilt. But Paul has a different idea. “Glorify God in your body,” Paul says. Paul calls the community to change. When Philip shares his experience with Jesus with Nathaniel, Philip’s story is not an idle tale. “Come and see,” Philip says. Philip issues an invitation to action. And when Eli counsels Samuel what to do about the voice he keeps hearing, Samuel needs to say the words, “Speak for your servant is listening.” In each of these stories, when something dramatic is revealed through relationship, true discipleship means answering with reaction – doing something in response.
This past year, Hickory Neck has embraced this last part of discipleship with vigor. When our neighbors needed shelter this past winter, even when our community would have preferred to keep our treasured tradition of a Mardi Gras party, we opened our doors and found new ways to celebrate and care for one another and the wider community. When we realized that our neighbors were longing for relationship with Christ and our welcome on Sunday mornings was not enough, we developed new ways to invite others to church, and new ways to help newcomers feel more connected once they found their way to Hickory Neck. When we realized how deep and wide the stain of slavery on our nation was, we welcomed a stranger from Ghana into our home, and found a new friend and a deeper commitment to dealing with our own demons. When we found new ways to use our property – either through new worship experiences, creating space for community leaders to offer healing yoga to our neighbors in need, or agreeing to step into a rapidly moving process of welcoming a school – we prayed, pondered, and wondered – but eventually said yes.
As I looked back on this year in preparation for our Annual Meeting, I was overwhelmed by the faithful discipleship of Hickory Neck. We have taken to heart the steps of relation, revelation, and reaction, and said yes time and again. Being in relation to one another is not easy – look at how hard our country is struggling to stay in relationship with one another. And yet, the Hickory Neck community takes the uncomfortable and is unwavering. Welcoming revelation is also not easy – holding up a mirror to our behavior can be scary. And yet, the Hickory Neck community embraces that vulnerability with boldness. Being willing to react is not easy either – answering the call to come and see, or saying, “Here I am,” involves strength and commitment. And yet, the Hickory Neck community trustingly takes on the challenge, and acts with passion and vigor. I cannot fully express to you how incredibly proud I am of you for all that you have done this year for the sake of the Gospel. Your discipleship has been an inspiration to me, as I seek each day to faithfully serve Christ as his disciple too. Of course, the work of discipleship is never done – we will continue to need to commit to the work of relation, revelation, and reaction. But for today, in this moment of reflection and celebration, know that you are doing good work in the name Christ, glorifying God in your bodies. Well done, good and faithful servants. I feel privileged to work alongside you!