The Ridiculous Journey
Part One: “The Ridiculous Journey”
This morning we begin a sermon series entitled “The Ridiculous Journey: Following a Nobody from Nowhere.” It’s based on a series produced by “Work of the People,” a media resource for the church. The series invites us to reflect on why we follow Jesus. It invites us to consider, “A Middle Eastern homeless man from twenty centuries ago and why he still stirs the souls and imaginations of many." And finally, the series invites us to consider what it might really mean to follow this Jesus, to embark on what some may call “a Ridiculous Journey,”“A costly journey with an unknown destination.”
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus approaches the first disciples and invites them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And the scriptures tell us that these fisherman, “immediately … left their nets and followed him.” It’s a very curious story, it is a ridiculous story, who does that? Who seemingly drops everything, who leaves their work and their family behind, to follow an itinerant teacher? Perhaps it’s such a familiar story that we don’t ever think twice about it? After all it was Jesus, and so it makes sense that they would drop everything and follow him. But what we often forget is that “Jesus” was not really “Jesus” in this moment. At this point in his life he really was “a nobody from nowhere.” In fact, when Nathaniel invites his friend Philip to join him in following“Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth,” he famously responds,“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It seems Nazareth wasn’t a really happening place. Why would you follow a “nobody from nowhere!”
I wonder what we would do if Jesus had chosen to come into our world, seek out potential disciples, and invite them to drop everything and “follow me?” I wonder how we might respond? How would you respond? How would I respond? What would you do if a “nobody from nowhere”showed up at your place of employment, and asked you to leave your work and your family behind to embark on a mission from God? What would you do if someone from outside “The OC” showed up, someone who appeared homeless, someone without a good resume and references, someone who perhaps spoke a different language, had a different background, someone from someplace like “Nazareth;” and that person invited you to be his or her disciple? How would you respond to the invitation, “Come on, let’s go, we’ll challenge the status quo, turn things upside down, and take on the empire!” I am willing to bet you would not follow this person! I can’t imagine myself doing it. Why would we leave our jobs, our families, our mortgage, our car, and our way of life in “The OC” for some kind of “Ridiculous Journey with a nobody from Nowhere!”
Yet those first disciples did just that, they were able to choose that “costly journey with an unknown destination.” How does that happen? And while we didn't have to make that kind of radical decision, we too have decided to follow Jesus. (Although I guess we have to admit that it’s much easier now.) We just need to find a church, become a member, give an offering, and participate in programs that provide us opportunities to live out the teachings of Jesus and the values of the kingdom. Still challenging, but not as radical as the decision the disciples had to make, on the spot, that day that Jesus showed up while they were at work fishing.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s “too easy?” Sometimes I wonder if there is no real cost, am I really following Jesus? Sometimes I wonder, what does it really mean to follow Jesus? Am I following Jesus? I want to follow Jesus, at least I think I do?
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16thCentury Catholic founder of the Jesuit Order, had such a moment in his life. By all accounts he was a very successful military officer, a servant of the King, and a defender of the faith. Yet one day, after recovering from a serious wound in battle, and after spending many days and nights reflecting on life and faith, he encountered a poor man, dressed in sack cloth, and immediately decided to put down his sword and dagger. In that encounter, in an encounter with humility and poverty, he was invited to follow Jesus in a new way, in a costly way, yet in a way that truly set him free. This encounter would become one of the central practices in Jesuit Spirituality, the “Practice of the Two Standards,”the invitation to reflect upon under whose “standard,”under whose “banner”or “battle flag,”do you ultimately stand? Are you of this world and its trappings, or of the Kingdom of God, the values lived out by Jesus? This “Practice of the Two Standards”invite one to consider what it really might mean to follow Jesus?
Father Greg Boyle, from Los Angeles, the founder of “Homeboy Industries,” (a ministry that has been very successful helping young men and women escape the violent cycles of gang life,) fleshes out the practice of the two standards in this way. He speaks of the Jesus Strategy …
Jesus is always found standing in the lowly place. That’s the strategy, he’s not pointing to it - but standing in it, in a place of humility where the poor and marginalized are found. He stands there, silently beside them, because that’s where they have been forced to stand. He is there to stop the demonizing. You do not erase the margins by pointing to them, they are only erased when you choose to stand in those places, to dwell in those places, and ultimately to be evangelized by those who live on the margins.
So it is, that the “Ridiculous Journey,”the decision to follow “a nobody from nowhere,”often, if not always, leads us to the edges of life, to those margins where Jesus silently waits for us. For it is here, in our willingness to create space that bridges the gaps, that the transformation of God takes place, and the Kingdom of God comes!
Jesus invites us on a “Ridiculous Journey,” and in many ways, you have to be “crazy” to say “yes” to the invitation to follow. Yet we do, we say “yes.” It’s a hard journey, and though our hearts are willing we often fall away, get lost, get distracted, become afraid, and sometimes, we just say, “no.” Yet here we are, gathered up by the Spirit, eager to hear the words of Jesus, eager to figure out where Christ is, so that there we may be also, hoping for the kingdom, the manifestation of God’s love practiced in our world. “A Middle Eastern homeless man from twenty centuries ago … still stirs the souls and imaginations of many."
Perhaps it’s because some of the wisest people we know, some of the kindest people we have experienced, some of the most “peace-filled,” “hope-filled,” and “joy-filled” people we have encountered in our life have chosen to follow this Jesus all the way to the edges? And their witness draws us in.
Perhaps it’s because in moments of gifted grace and holy courage we have found ourselves on the journey, and in those moments, we have experienced something that was truly transformative, something that touched us powerfully, something that won’t let go of us.
Perhaps we have, at one time in our life, found ourselves living on the margins, cast off and forgotten, and one day we noticed that Jesus was standing beside us.
And perhaps, just perhaps, we know deep down inside that it would more crazy not to follow Jesus, that it would be insane to just go along with the predominant cultural narrative that wants us to believe the life is a zero-sum game, that it’s all about competing with each other, outdoing your neighbor; that it’s all about money and possessions as if those things will save us from emptiness and loneliness; that meaning can be found in selfish consumption; that fear and death are a means to an end; that our legacy will be measured in terms of our resume and the wealth we will only leave behind. That sounds like a Ridiculous Journey!
Into “this craziness,” Jesus offers us hope, a different way to live; an opportunity to love and to be truly loved; the opportunity to be free, free of possessions, free of other worldly expectations, to be free indeed; the opportunity to live deeply from a meaningful place in the midst of a world obsessed with an empty agenda. As crazy as it might seem, when I step back and think about it, this idea of “following a nobody from nowhere,”kind of makes sense, it actually sounds like a good idea. If this world seems crazy, if you want something more, if you’re interested in love, grace, mercy, hope, peace, justice; it might just be a really good idea to take a chance on the Ridiculous Journey of faith in Christ Jesus.
I’m thankful to share the journey with you. I look forward to seeing where it takes us. It won’t be easy, this “costly journey with an unknown destination,”so let us pray for each other, be strength for each other, be constant reminders of the love of God in Christ Jesus for each other. Amen.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29I mean, brothers and sisters,the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.