Sunday, January 26, 2014

"follow me"

January 26, 2014
All Saints’ Church

“Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation” (part of today’s collect, found on p. 215 of the BCP). Amen. 

Jesus’ ministry begins in earnest during a period of darkness. Israel is under control of the ruthless Roman Empire. Jesus has just emerged from the desert, where he has been tempted by the devil. As soon as he returns, he finds out that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been imprisoned. Jesus moves to a new town and expands upon his cousin’s message of repentance. As he is walking by the sea spreading this message, he comes upon two brothers, casting their nets into the sea. Jesus says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt 4:19). Immediately, Simon and Andrew drop what they’re doing and come to him, leaving the net to float at the mercy of the sea. The three men walk along the beach until they come to another set of brothers, mending their nets in the company of their father. Jesus calls, and they get up and leave their father, gaping open-mouthed, behind. 

Frankly, this scene creeps me out a little bit. In my mind I picture the disciples as lemmings, blindly following a stranger just because he said, “Come.” I have so many questions about the scene: Was there really no dialogue at all? How did Zebedee, James’ and John’s dad, react to his sons leaving him alone like that? Did they give him a hug before they left, or settle their affairs, or have lunch together one last time? Was he hurt, sending them off with curses and angry threats? How many times did Jesus try this on other people before these four said yes? And the biggest question of all, what was so compelling about Jesus that complete strangers would leave their lives behind to respond to his call? 

Unfortunately, I cannot find answers to these questions, and my speculations are unsatisfactory. All we know is what we hear today: Jesus says “Come, follow me” and two sets of brothers get up and do just that. 

But what does it mean for us to follow Jesus? In many ways, the disciples had it a lot easier than we do. They had a living, breathing, talking Jesus to follow. He told them what to do, how to act. How are we supposed to follow Jesus today?

We begin to follow Jesus first by learning about him. We can’t call him up and ask him questions, but we have access to accounts of his life and those of his followers. Every Sunday we read aloud from these accounts and get to know Jesus and understand his teachings a little better. There are other ways we learn about Jesus. If you’re curious and/or studious, you can read the countless writings of theologians, who ponder everything from whether the bread and wine literally become Jesus’ body and blood to attempts at explaining the Trinity. Another way to learn about Jesus is through the traditions passed down from generation to generation of Christians. One of these traditions is the calendar year, which sets aside time to celebrate and remember important occasions, like Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. Learning about Jesus is a life-long process.

As we learn about Jesus, we try to listen to where God is calling us. We do this both individually and communally. We pray for direction and guidance for world leaders, for leaders of our local communities, and for ourselves. We listen to each other as we try to make decisions in line with our faith. Listening is a huge part of any relationship, and our relationship with Jesus is no different. 

Finally, we follow Jesus with our actions. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz, writes, “What I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do” [repeat]. Jesus gives his followers several commands: feed the hungry, tend the sick, clothe the naked; “love your enemies,” “don’t store up treasures,” “pick up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 6:19; Matthew 16:24). Following Jesus helps us to realize that we are not isolated in our faith but are connected to every human being. Each person is “wonderfully and fearfully made,” and a beloved child of God (Psalm 139:14). What affects one person in some way affects us all.

I’ve talked about how to follow Jesus, but perhaps you’re wondering why. 

This past week one of my seminary professors and her wife gave the keynote address at a conference about Christian formation. They both reflected on how in our society epic storytelling is what sells. For example, there is a google ad that came out a few months ago. In this ad, a granddaughter listens as her grandfather tells about his childhood best friend, who he has been separated from for over 50 years during the partition of India and Pakistan. Using google, she quickly locates his long-lost best friend, buys him a ticket, and reunites the two as a birthday present for her grandfather. While google is certainly useful, I doubt very seriously that it is used for such a dramatic purpose on a regular basis. I bet it gets used a lot more to find movie times or sports scores than to bring together people torn apart by geopolitics. 

Then there’s our culture’s obsession with magic and superheroes. It seems like every time we turn around there’s another movie about spiderman, superman, batman, or vampires. I think the reason these stories are so attractive is because they are so powerful, dramatic, seemingly far superior to our normal, everyday lives.  

But what my seminary professor and her wife pointed out is that we have the most epic story of all, we just don’t always do a great job of selling it. Think about it. We follow a guy who lived over 2000 years ago. He taught about God. He taught about how we should treat each other. He hung out with social rejects and leaders of society. He healed people who were sick or impaired. He turned water into wine, fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, and brought back some people from the dead. When he was put to death, it seemed that his cause was lost. But 3 days later he came back. Not all shiny and new but with wounds that were still visible. But what really makes this story epic is not that Jesus was a pretty nice guy who had a few superpowers. What makes this story epic is that Jesus was God made flesh. The Creator of the stars, who set the planets in their courses, who separated the light from the dark and gave breath to every living creature, who formed this intricate and extraordinary, breathtaking and heart-wrenching world--this God became one of the creatures God so tenderly made. In Jesus God walked along the same roads as humans. God laughed and joked and wept--experienced joy and disappointment, loss and heartbreak. And by doing this, God reconnected with us, God’s people, who had gotten disconnected from God over the years. Because of this, nothing “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39). Not our faults, not our failures. Not even our humanity.

What is more epic than this story? This is why we follow Jesus. A love like his compels us to follow. And so follow we must. Just as Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John, he is also calling you. He is calling you to put away your pens, spreadsheets, and projects. So put down your net...books and follow him. 

Image found here.

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