A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon (January 25) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Following Jesus"

A man told about his life: “ I made a commitment to follow Christ when I was fifteen. Time has passed and I am a grandfather now and I continue to learn how to live as his follower. One crucial decision has led to thousands of others.”

Jesus says “Follow me”  and the adventure begins!

. In our Gospel story from Mark, we only get the plain  facts. Jesus invited some  fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, Simon , Andrew, James and John  to come and follow him, to be his disciples. They left their boats , their  routines, their families, and accepted the invitation. They spent the rest of their lives trying to be faithful to that initial response.  When we say “Yes”  to God's invitation, the path that we will take is not predictable.

A  pastor  was preaching on this same passage at a university chapel. He was emphasizing that when Jesus calls, a definite response is needed. Afterward , a young woman came up and told him, that while listening to his words, she had decided to drop out of school and go and work with migrant farm workers.

The pastor was alarmed by her response, and immediately tried to persuade her to not make such a drastic decision. She needed to finish her schooling, and besides,she  could still serve God in her chosen major. (  He had to be thinking  of what he would say to her  upset parents...)  Her decision made him uneasy.

This student  was firmly convinced that she was doing what she should. She was imitating Simon and Andrew by  leaving her former life behind. Like many others, her decision to follow will affect her family and life plans.

Persons have felt  called to extraordinary life changes as followers of Christ:
they have left the familiar and gone to live in another country in mission; they have chosen to make their homes in the inner city;  they have sold their  possessions, and adapted a much simpler lifestyle; they have  run for office;  they have changed careers; they have spoken out and worked  for the dignity of  others; they have put themselves in danger, gone against the norm, and gotten in trouble.

For most of us , we are disciples who attempt to live faithful lives right where we are. We don't have faith stories of  crossing deserts, or being arrested, or leaving all we have behind.

We try to follow Jesus  in our weekly routine.

 A question that arises from this passage has stayed with me: “How is my life different because I am choosing  to follow Jesus?”

  How would you answer?

Thousands of people have tried to follow Christ in a great variety of ways.
How do we know that we are on the right track, that we are where we should be?

 Trevor Hudson has written a book about discipleship where he identifies  some common characteristics of all those who  have been Christ followers.                               

1. First common point : Jesus is the focus of their lives, the ultimate point of reference. Followers want to learn of him and love him, study his words, listen for  his leading. 
It has been said that what you love will affect everything- what fills up your calendar- whom you know- what breaks your heart- what makes your day.  For his followers, Jesus is the focus of their love.

Some years ago I left a meeting in the Dayton area, (before GPS, Google maps- )  and I thought I knew how to get back to the Interstate to travel to Lima. As I drove, I realized that I had made some wrong turns and I was lost. To compound the situation,  I noticed another car had followed me from the church parking lot, and was right behind me. They were following me because they thought that I knew the way!    I had no clue where I was going. I finally had to turn around and retrace my route . At that point, the other car gave up on me!  I hope that they found their way home...

It is important who guides our way.

If we  are endeavoring to be his disciples , then our  daily decisions and actions   need to reflect our faith in Christ.

 In your life, whom  or what are you following and where is it  taking you? 
2. Second common characteristic:  For followers of Christ, what they value most in this world is people.  Jesus points out that connection in the Gospel story: if you follow him , you will become fishers of people. Your passion will be the welfare of others. Every human being becomes valuable.  You care about and interact with all kinds of people like Jesus did.

Desmond Tutu,  retired Anglican priest and leader  in  South Africa, shares that a spiritual turning  towards Christ  happened  in the 1940's when he was 9 years old. He lived in one of the segregated  townships  and his mother worked as a maid.
One day he and his mother were walking down the street and the local priest passed by them. The pastor was a white face among a sea of black faces; as he met them, he didn't turn away, but  tipped his hat in greeting.  Desmond Tutu was startled by this show of respect, and he thought to himself  as a child: there must be something to this Christian faith! 

Followers take time to listen and see others; to respond to their situations with compassion.  Disciples react to their neighbors as Christ might .

3.Third  common note among Christ followers: When we follow Jesus, we want to  be changed  on the inside.  We want to be  transformed “into what we are not yet but are called by God to be.”  ( Trevor Hudson)  We want to be reshaped so that our hearts become more like  the heart of Christ.

Followers want to be honest about their lives. They know how imperfect  they are and want to be  cleaned up, restored  thru God's power every day.

No matter how many times you have felt that you have failed at following;  or you didn't quite understand what it meant to follow in the first place.
No matter if you have felt that you have disappointed God- the call from Christ  will continue for your entire life: follow me.  Every day we have another chance to leave  the fishing boat and  follow!

Bishop Reuben Job recently died at the age of 86. From the farmlands of North Dakota, he has been a UM pastor, a Bishop,  the editor of the Upper Room, and an author of several great books.  In his writings, he always attempted to help other followers  to live out their calling in simple and honest ways.

Just a few years ago he said:

 “While I retired from an appointed ministry many years ago, the call of God I sensed 65 years ago continues today. "I now believe that God calls and sends everyone who responds to the call of Jesus to ‘Follow me.’

Some may sense a call to a specific task or vocation. However, the highest calling anyone will ever receive comes first, ‘Follow me.’

When we say yes to that call we offer ourselves to God as completely as we are able  and God accepts and blesses the offering we make in remarkable ways.”

Wherever we are and who ever we are, God blesses our lives as we
focus on Christ, love other people, and allow our hearts to be changed.

The invitation never goes away.

Jesus words of love seek to claim our hearts today: Come and follow.

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