Sunday July 15, 2018
Our Summer Sermon Series concludes this morning with the question, “Why do you follow Jesus?” Why have you chosen to embark on what the world might see as a “Ridiculous Journey?” You are here this morning, many of you are here almost every Sunday morning, some of you volunteer here on Tuesday nights serving a hot meal to those who are hungry, some of you are here Wednesday mornings working at The Caring Hands Pantry, all which means you have decided to follow the way of Jesus!
“Why,” It’s not always an easy question to answer. Some of us have just always been here, or in some church on Sunday mornings. We’ve been following Jesus, taught to follow Jesus, from an early age. It’s the only faith story that we know, it’s a story that our parents and grandparents have taught us, it’s the story we share in common with our friends; for many of us, in many ways, it’s a story that just kind of chose us.
I sometimes wonder if I had grown up in the context of a different story would I still be following Jesus? What if I grew up in a place where Jesus wasn’t so popular and widely accepted, what if I grew up in a place where there weren’t buildings dedicated to him in every city, what if grew up in a land where only a few people followed him and not millions, what if … would I still be a follower of Jesus?
Pastor Rich Nelson writes, “What if Jesus was just some little-known mystic/teacher/healer with four short books written about him and handful of letters that some of his disciples wrote about their attempts to follow his teachings - and none of these things ever got assembled and called “The New Testament”? If you came across these stories in a dusty book in the basement of your local library one day, would they be enough to compel you to call yourself a Christian?”
Would the story of Jesus, the story isolated and alone, be enough to cause you to invest your whole life in Jesus, to shape your values around Jesus, to make your life choices based on the teachings and world view of Jesus? I don’t know, but to be honest, probably not! It’s a pretty amazing story but without the history of the church, and the stories of the saints, and the tradition of family, it probably would not be a story upon which I would risk my life! It would probably be just another very interesting biography.
So why do we follow Jesus, why do you follow Jesus, why do I follow Jesus?
I thought I might go a little “Baptist” on you this morning, and even though it’s not very Lutheran, I thought I might share my testimony, my story of how it is that I came to follow Jesus. I do so, trusting that your story and my story might overlap and make connections, that in my story you might recognize the story of Jesus. I also found that I could connect my story to the four “archetypes of Christ,” the four “expressions of Christ,” that have been introduced to us in our sermon series; Jesus as The Revolutionary, Jesus as The Reconciler, Jesus as The Lover, and Jesus as The Sage.
So, here’s my story!
I grew up Lutheran and for many years I took my faith for granted. I was baptized, confirmed, and went to church every Sunday. That’s what my family did! It just so happened that at my church there were not many kids that were in my age group, so in high school I found myself at the invitation of a friend, at another church, a very different kind of church, participating in their youth group. They emphasized a more personal experience with Christ, a more emotional experience, something that very new to me. And it was in that encounter I first “experienced” Jesus as the embodied love of God. At that point in my life I really needed to know that I was loved completely and unconditionally. I was a teenager, and in the midst of all that angst that goes along with that, it was incredibly liberating to experience the power of love. The love of Jesus gave me the confidence and the strength to navigate those years, the “experience” of that love compelled me to be a follower of Jesus.
I was blessed to go to college at California Lutheran University, and it was there that I encounter Jesus as “The Revolutionary.” In college my whole world exploded with new information, the development of critical thinking skills, and the task of having to do my own laundry! And like many college students, all that was happening to me inside and out made we want to “change the world!” And in the Jesus experience, being active in Campus Ministry, I found a God who wanted to make “all things new,” I resonated with Christ as God’s Agent of Change in the world, and I was all on board to follow, to be an active part of the present, and the soon to come, world changing, Kingdom of God!
As college came to an end, and I was faced with the reality of finding a job, I encountered Jesus as “The Reconciler.” As I reflected on my gifts and talents, my dreams and passions, I realized that in my case I was being called into that “ministry of reconciliation.” I sensed a call to stand in the gaps of life, to wander along the edges where “the least of these” could be found, to advocate for those who were “marginalized,” to be a “peacemaker,” to help connect people to the faith, the hope, the love, and the peace, that belongs to the Kingdom of God. For me, following Jesus, led me into the Ordained Ministry, the vocation where I might best live out my faith, where my gifts, talents, resources, and passion intersected with God’s great dream for the world. A dream that sought to reconcile all of creation, all of humanity, with God and each other.
And then somewhere along the way I finally found some wisdom! (Still looking for more of that!) I encountered Jesus as “The Sage.” One of the best parts of growing older is becoming “a little bit wiser,” realizing what really matters and what doesn’t matter, and then investing your time and resources into those things. It’s the ultimate values clarification exercise! For me that meant realizing that - the greed and the materialism of this world, the need to scapegoat the other to define myself, the craziness of equating my true self with empty and false symbols of status, and the preoccupation with fear and the need to trust in violence; that all these things were not the true reality, that all these things were not to be found in the life and teachings of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus’ beautiful articulation of The Kingdom of God, I found something that made lasting and profound sense. This encounter with Jesus, the insights of faith, the aha moments of wisdom; “the way, the truth, and the life;” gave and continues to give me, “that peace that surpasses all understanding,” and that continues to compel me to follow Jesus.
So why do you follow Jesus?
Perhaps you follow Jesus because in Jesus you have experienced the power of the love of God! Perhaps you follow Jesus because you see the brokenness of the world and you are longing for the change that the Kingdom of God brings. Perhaps you follow Jesus because you find yourself in the gaps of life, alongside Jesus, where peace and reconciliation are desperately needed. Perhaps you follow Jesus because the emptiness of this world and “the way things get lived out” just don’t make sense, and you know there’s a better way. A better way lived out by Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life.”
In the end we don’t follow Jesus because it’s an amazing story that you can find in a book, we follow Jesus because we have encountered “the living story of Jesus” in our life, because Jesus continues to be fleshed out in the world, we follow Jesus “because he first loved us!”
In today’s Gospel Jesus exhorts his disciples to be “witnesses of these things.” The decision to follow Jesus is not passed along in books but in our witness to the experience of the love of God in Christ Jesus. For it is in our witness, in our sharing, in our sharing of the experience, our sharing of the love that we have first received in Christ, that the faith of discipleship is passed on. I am so thankful for those who served as witnesses to me, the mentors of faith that shared their “experience” that I might have the “encounter,” the people who loved me when I felt unlovable, the people who challenged me when I was complacent, the people helped me discern my purpose when I was lost, the people who opened my eyes to the “distortions” of this world and the “reality” of God’s Kingdom, the people who followed Jesus in such a way that Jesus came to life for me. In the end, they are perhaps biggest reason why I choose to follow Jesus!
Why do you follow Jesus?
May we all be blessed with the faith and courage to follow Jesus. May we all be blessed with the power of love that keeps us on “The Ridiculous Journey.” May we all be blessed by the faithful ones who bear witness to the story of God in Christ Jesus. And may we all be blessed with the opportunity, in-with-and through God’s “amazing grace,” in our own “blessed” life, to be that witness for someone else, the story of Jesus alive again in this world. Amen.
12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’