Monday, January 22, 2024

Follow ME. . . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (B), preached on Sunday, January 21, 2024. 

It is a shame that Jesus did not have the advantage of modern selling techniques or He could have had so many more than just 12 disciples.  Consult any expert on how to recruit people to a cause.  You need to have a clear mission statement.  You need to be able to point to a clear goal.  You need to help people adopt your goal as theirs.  You need to help them see how this will benefit them.  You need to offer them a reward for their investment in the cause.  All of this sounds reasonable because this is how many get things done today and some of those folks seem to be very successful.  But that is not how Jesus did it.

Jesus did not explain Himself to those whom He called.  He did not get them onboard the mission or help them understand the purpose.  He did not offer them promises of reward or accomplishment.  He simply said, “Follow Me.”  It should have failed.  Even in Jesus’ day, it was shocking to hear someone call you to follow him and they just did it.  It is positively mind blowing in our day that you could call people to follow and they would.  Why, it is a wonder that Jesus got anything done!

That is the crux of the problem.  The Church is not simply a non-profit organization or a cause.  The Gospel is not a mission statement or a plan.  The service to which our Lord calls us is neither glamorous nor does it offer the promise of great reward (at least on earth).  But we have presumed for too long that the Church is these things and we need to operate like such organizations in order to survive.  The Church is failing today not because we have not listened to the marketers and promotion experts.  No, the Church is failing because we have not listened to Jesus.

“Follow Me.” That is what discipleship is.  That is the whole of Christian faith in one short but profound phrase.  Jesus is not interested in your advice or some pointers.  He is calling you to follow Him.  This call is devoid of the kind of mass marketing tools we are so accustomed to – no slick brochures, no persuasive talks, no promises of reward.  There is simply a verb and an object.  “Follow Me.”  The call went out to Andrew, Peter, James, and John, to Matthew, Zacchaeus, Joseph, Nicodemus, and all the rest.  And so it goes out to YOU; “Follow Me.”  You there in the front pew and you in the back.  You on the side chairs and you off the center aisle.  The young, the middle aged, and the old.  “Follow Me.”
Jesus called them as He calls us to be His disciples.  None of them were looking for a new vocation or had been searching for something new to occupy their time. They did not know Jesus well before He called them – the most they had was a rumor or story.  Without any real preparation, He called them and they followed.

They did not ask where Jesus was going.  Later on He would tell them.  We are going to a cross, to a death waiting in Jerusalem.  They might have been interested in a cup of glory but Jesus had a cup of suffering.  He even warned them that they would be persecuted and die.  He insisted they leave their luggage at home and did not squirrel away a few bucks for emergencies.  He would provide – not all that they wanted but all they needed.  Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John.  Now He calls you.  And through you He will call others.  The call will keep going forth until the day appointed for it to stop.  You won’t know when it is coming but you will know when it has come.  Until then, it is not about knowing.  It is about following.

The Church does not offer the world an explanation to satisfy their curiosity or a vision to inspire them to be better people or a plan for the future or an easy and satisfying tomorrow.  We offer only what Jesus offered.  Him.  The Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And the promise that we will be given a new vocation which the world will not get and we will struggle to fulfill – fishers of men.  By every earthly wisdom and strategy, this should have failed a long time ago.  We are all amateurs and hacks trying to do what none of us knows how to do.  Yet the Christian Church has endured 2,000 years under the provisional leadership of amateurs and hacks.  We have done everything we know how to do in order to screw up what Jesus began but we cannot.  We have been timid where we should have been bold and bold where we should have been timid.  We have forsaken the Word in favor of slick advertising and a smooth presentation.  We have minimized the cost of discipleship and made false promises about the benefits.  But the Church goes on.  

Either Jesus does not have a clue what He is doing or He is the only one who knows what He is doing.  We will have to make a decision.  Either Jesus is right or we are.  There are some who have decided Jesus was wrong.  We miss them in the pews, where they once sat with us.  Sometimes we wonder if they were right to leave and we were wrong to stay.  But the voice of Jesus still speaks through His Word.  “Follow Me.”  And the Holy Spirit is still turning our steps to follow Him.

We have so many questions.  We want to know why about so many things.  We worry constantly about those who have fallen away and we worry about whether we can keep on going.  We fear we have not the strength we need and we fear the world is too powerful.   Jesus keeps telling us not to be afraid when we seem to be afraid about everything.  When we ask for signs to calm our troubled hearts, we get a scarred hand or foot or side and the voice telling us to touch them.  When we think it impossible, Jesus says of course it is impossible – except for God.  When we are sure we have no money or time or abilities left to give, Jesus points us to His grace and insists it is sufficient for all our needs.

Can it really be that easy?  “Follow Me?”  I am not sure easy is the right word but we make it much more complicated than it is.  Listen to Jesus.  Stay close to Jesus.  Follow in the way of Jesus.  We are treading where giants once walked – the mighty of old and those who passed on to us the faith.  Can we do any less than they did?  “Follow Me.”  His yoke is easy.  His burden light.  He does not ask you to be more than you are.  He is calling you to be exactly who you are – His child by baptism and faith.  Amen.

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