Monday, October 8, 2012

Follow Me

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”  Again the Jews were divided because of these words.  Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?”  Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”  At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.  So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 
John 10:11 - 28 (NRSV)
In the Gospel accounts, no less than six times, Jesus said to someone, “Follow me”.  That begs this morning’s question:
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Of course the text (John 10:27) connects hearing Jesus’ voice, His relationship to us and following.
At the core, following Jesus has to do with faith, where the heart has sensed the truth of Christianity’s truth claim, that the Gospel account is true.  There is also a mental assent side to this issue, where we agree that the facts of the Gospel are accurate.  But there is one remaining issue that (should) trouble each of us…
What does my will choose to DO?
If Christianity merely stays within the confines of my mind, I may have a warm, fuzzy feeling that assuages my fear of death and eternity, but what kind of faith is that?  James the apostle, half-brother of Jesus, called that kind of faith dead![1]
It is like the “I do” of a marriage ceremony, which is a very necessary thing; it satisfies the legal requirements of a community.  However, saying “I do” is no more a marriage than the first step is the whole journey if you’re walking from New York to California.  Just so in following Jesus:  there is something further than just agreeing with God that Jesus came to die for our sins, and thinking you’ve followed Christ.  Indeed, there is a sense in which we can never put “follow” in the past tense.  “Follow me” is a lifetime, lifestyle, ever-pressing-onward invitation; it’s always in the present tense!  It is always in the current conversation of my life with Christ that I must bend my will to His will.  Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”.[2]
With all of that in mind today, I would invite us to the Lord’s Table with these few simple reminders about Jesus’ invitation to “follow me”:

#1. it’s not always easy to follow jesus

There are daily challenges to our faith which make it sometimes a very rough road upon which to carry this cross we pick up.  Among these daily obstacles are frustrations with people and circumstances, and those little doubts whispered in the ear by our Enemy.  I’ve come to call them “spider events”.
In our family I was always the "designated hitter" when it came to anything crawling, flying or slithering.  My girls were especially terrified of crawling things.  Spiders were the worst!  I have seen my wife and girls run from spiders, shriek and squeal when threatened by spiders (usually because our son, Jason was wielding one like a weapon); I have seen them walk three blocks out of the way to avoid the last place they saw a spider.  My girls do not like spiders.
When we moved into one church parsonage the carpeting was well past its prime.  The church folks graciously allowed us to pick out new floor coverings for the entire home.  My wife likes white...all white.  So she picked white carpeting for 2400 square feet!  We painted the walls white and even bought white furniture.  We lived in a snow palace!  I once laid down a white shirt and couldn’t find it again for three months.
Early one morning, shortly after moving into this winter wonderland I heard a piercing cry coming from the bedrooms.  Carrie was pinned to the wall, cowering near her door; the expression on her face was as if Osama bin Laden was on the doorstep.  I looked left and right for the bad guys and saw nothing.  Then, looking back to Carrie, I saw her pointing to the hallway floor near where I was standing.  There, highlighted against the snow-white carpet, center-hallway was one of the biggest, blackest, hairiest spiders I'd ever seen.  I felt like David the shepherd boy facing Goliath the spider.  The creature was glaring at me with a look that said, "I'm the new big cheese on the block -- come on, big fella, let's see what'cha got". 
For an instant I couldn't decide if I should run or scream to Carrie to protect me!  Then I remembered I was the protector!  I would have to deal with this dragon.  My "father-protects-his-kid-no-matter-the-cost" image was on the line.  No Goliath arachnid was going to steal my little girl's trust in me.  So I called for Elizabeth.  She brought a broom!  I have never understood how (to women) brooms are better than an axe or baseball bat at such times...but a broom was now my weapon!  I calculated the distance, allowed for the counter-attack the devilishly sneaky enemy was obviously planning, and swung a mighty swing, whacking the spider a mighty blow.
It turned out that Goliath, the mighty terrorist spider was actually Goli-ette, the mommy-to-be spider-ess!  And it seems (I found out) that when you apply the mighty whack of a broom to a very pregnant spider, hundreds of little baby spiders get launched everywhere! 
Our white carpet now had a hairy brown-black spot of spider innards, and two square yards of moving black dots.  It seemed like they were storming the walls; they were all over my broom weapon, and Carrie was now jumping up and down, certain that at least two or three hundred of the little monsters were on her leg.
It took a long time to clean up both the hairy brown-black mush...and collect all the offspring, (not to mention calming-down my offspring), but eventually, with four cans of insect spray and much resolve, we restored order and some semblance of dignity to the Baptist parsonage. 

little things turn into big things

Sometimes little issues do turn into big matters.  A Christian Jesus-follower goes to the doctor for a checkup (little thing), and comes home with news that will turn a family’s life upside down.  There are losses that rock our world.  Ultimately following Jesus has to do with keeping perspective on what’s a little thing and what’s a big thing.  My Dad’s young adult years were lived out during the Great Depression.  He often despised his old worn-out shoes that he couldn’t afford to replace.  But one of his favorite perspective sayings is, I used to complain about having no shoes until I met the man with no feet.
Very often it is not easy to follow Jesus, but it is always possible!

#2. it is always right to follow jesus

In the book of Acts[3] we read that the Apostles faced a huge spider event.  The religious rulers (who also exercised a great deal of political power) hauled them before the court and forbade them to preach anything about God in the name of Jesus.  These days in America we would say it was an infringement of separation of church and state, a classic religious freedom issue (spider). 
Debates could rage over where civil disobedience is appropriate, but for the Apostles this was a no-brainer; no one was going to shut their mouths about the Messiah.  Now that is quite a contrast from today; it almost seems impossible to get a Christian to open his or her mouth to say a word of witness for Christ.

to the table

I love happy endings.  You might recall the young boy who was staring in the pet shop window at all the fat little puppies.  His dad had promised him he could pick one.  They were all adorable, but one was wagging his tail like a hummingbird’s wings.  The father said, “OK, son, which one do you want?”  Without hesitation the little guy smiled, “I want the one with the happy ending.”
Going to the table is our happing ending.
In our text Jesus said about the sheep that follow him,
My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  John 10:27, 28a
Going to the table is a commitment, a decision from that center of each of us which decides what we’ll do and how we’ll live.  It is a commitment within, and to each other, and to the entire world that we are His followers.
Eternal life has no ending; it also has no beginning.  Life has always existed in the Father, and that life which He promises is the life of God.
When we come to the table it is more than a happy ending.  It is a joyful continuing-on in the life of following Jesus.
So, live your eternal life now; come to the table….live, and follow Him!

[1] James 2:17
[2] John 14:15
[3] Acts 4

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