Discipleship is a big buzz word these days in Christian circles - it means forming a people to be disciples of Christ. When we read the gospels we read that Jesus preached to the multitudes, but He called 12 men to be his disciples. They came from all sorts of walks of life, none of them were good enough to be rabbinic scholars so they often took the vocations of their fathers - they were business people, tax collectors and fishermen and the like. They were both eager to follow Him and prone to saying stupid things at just the wrong time. (I think my favorite has to be Peter - he didn't get it much of the time but he sure loved Jesus and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost he got it!).
Out of the 12 Jesus chose three to go to some pretty big events: the healing of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane to name a few. Peter, James and John had front row seats to witness Emmanuel, God with us, do amazing and miraculous things. (tho they still didn't get it...someone had to be there to witness and later tell the stories).
And one was the beloved.
What if we each followed the 12-3-1 formula in our faith journey?
We worship with our chosen community of faith - praising God for all of the blessings and sharing in the mission and vision of our respective congregations.
But vital to our growth as people of faith is participation in small groups of 12 or so for study, prayer and Christian fellowship. 12 is a good number for a small group - too many more and everyone won't be able to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams and prayers. It is in small groups that we are able to grow and be formed - it was the backbone of the Methodist movement - they were called classes back then - and in churches with an active small group ministry it is what grows disciples and forms a people to be more like Christ.
The next part of the equation is 3. What if we were willing to be open, authentic and vulnerable with three Christian friends? These three friends are the ones we turn to to hold us accountable in Christian love. Warts and all it is because of their love of us and their desire for us to grow in faith that we can share our joys as well as our struggles and sorrows. When we have three close faith friends we are able to walk in places that may have seemed impossible and yet because of the depth and authenticity of our relationship with one another we are able to grow even closer to God. (As a church leader - these are 3 lay folk to mentor into leadership roles.)
And then there is the one we call beloved. For many this will be a spouse or a very close friend. The beloved is the most elusive part of the equation and the greatest blessing. What an amazing gift to have someone who is our beloved, who prays with and for us, who encourages us as one of God's precious children, who is a confident faith friend and when needed he/she is also about to tell us to straighten up, get over ourselves, or even to be more bold in our faith!
Today I was blessed to meet 2 of my closest seminary friends for coffee - we each had to drive over 2 hours to get to a centralized location - but it was worth every mile. We each serve churches in different states. As we shared the joys and challenges of ministry we came to the conclusion that we have been richly blessed by the call and vocation of being United Methodist Pastors.
Regardless of how God calls you to live into your baptismal covenant, my prayer this evening is that you become part of a small group, that you seek out 3 close friends to share your faith journey - and that you have one who is indeed your beloved.
It's the pattern established by Christ - so it has to be what our Father had in mind for us...right?
Peace, love in Christ