Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa writes that Bold Discipleship is how our lives become avenues of God’s love and presence in the world.
In this series of blog posts reflecting on The United Church of Canada's Call and Vision: Deep Spirituality, Bold Discipleship, Daring Justice — we will explore each line and the insights they offer for our personal faith experience and our witness as Christ’s church. (These reflections could be used as inspiration for your own. Please let us know if you have sermons, reflections, or ideas to share to animate the United Church’s Call and Vision statements.)
One of the movies in which Laurence Fishburne acts is Akeelah and the Bee. Fishburne is the teacher who commits to work with 11-year-old Akeelah to prepare her to compete at the National Spelling Bee.
Akeelah is keen to pursue this, but partway through the preparation she loses focus. Fishburne has set her the task of memorizing boxes of words, and she is rather bored with the enterprise. Her approach leads him into a discussion of discipline that forever changed my understanding of discipleship.
Fishburne explains that discipline is what gives life to learning. The word discipline, like the word disciple, comes from the Latin discipulus, meaning pupil. Like discipline, discipleship is the act of giving life to learning.
If spirituality is intimacy with God, then discipleship is how that intimacy shapes us. Discipleship is where our understanding of God connects with our lives.
In the story of Jesus turning water into wine from John 2:1‒11, we witness the moment that Jesus was called to leave his private life to take up his public ministry. He has been in the community as the son of Joseph. He has cared for his mother and his younger siblings, who at this point appear to have been raised. He attends a wedding, and when the wine runs out his mother nudges him. Has she been watching from the sidelines wondering when he would take up the calling she believed he had? Has she been worried that his sense of family obligation is standing in the way of his future? Has she sensed a restlessness in him? Jesus is none too happy with her prodding. He appears to be willing to continue as is, with a quiet life not much different from that of his neighbours. But whether it is his mother’s prompting or his own yearning, the moment has come when Jesus needs his life to reflect his identity, and he changes the water into wine. It’s a turning point in his life, or as the writer of John calls it, it’s the first of his miracles.
This is often how we speak about call, as though it is a dramatic moment where life changes completely. Consequently, we often only discuss call for people like myself, people whose lives are obviously shaped by a decision born of faith. But we do a disservice when we do that. We miss seeing how our personal stories are connected to God’s holy story.
Take my mother for example. My mom was a woman of deep faith, but I suspect if you asked her what her calling was she would have fumbled for an answer. Yet to me, from the outside it was obvious. My mom fed people. She was forced to leave school early to care for her younger sisters due to her own mother’s illness. When she left home, it was to work as a domestic. Then she served in the navy as an officers’ cook. After the war she was responsible for the cashiers in a Toronto-based chain of supermarkets. When she quit working to have a family, apart from caring for us and entertaining others she was always the person in charge of meals at the church: fundraising meals, celebratory meals, and so forth. In fact, when friends of ours described the church as God’s house, their three-year-old daughter asked if Grace, my mom, cooked God’s meals! Long before the practice was widespread, my mom was part of initiatives to make sure struggling families had the supplies they needed for a Christmas feast. In every experience in her life she was devoted to helping people have the nourishment they needed. Surely that is just as sacred a calling as mine to serve as an ordained minister!
Discipleship is seeing how our lives are a sacred calling and, out of our faith, connecting our gifts with the world’s needs. Discipleship is how our lives become avenues of God’s love and presence in the world. Let us not be hesitant in understanding or embracing this but rather bold in claiming every moment of every day and every activity as an expression of how God is caring for the world through us.
— Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa is the Executive Minister of The United Church of Canada's Antler River Watershed, Western Ontario Waterways, and Horseshoe Falls Regional Councils.
This blog post was originally published as a reflection that makes up part of the United Church’s Call and Vision worship resources.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.