Following: I am no sheep!!! Or am I…

In this sermon I explore the next step on our journey to the cross and beyond while reworking our understanding of what it is to be a follower…a follower of the ONE
Here is what I had written for this weekend.

Eph 4:17-32 (MSG)
The Old Way Has to Go
17 And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd,
the empty-headed, mindless crowd. 18 They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. 19 They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion. 20 But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! 21 My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. 22 Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, 23 a life renewed from the inside 24 and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. 25 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. 26 Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. 27 Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. 28 Did you used to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work. 29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. 30 Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. 31 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. 32 Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

During this time of the year I have the opportunity to be a reference for a number of young people applying for colleges, scholarships, jobs and internships. I always am delighted to be able to write about the wonderful things that they have done, brag a little bit and then give them a God bless to remind them yet again that I am a pastor (and that usually means that they make sure that Rev. get placed in front of my name for all others to see).
One of the questions that I am always asked is if the candidate is a leader? Does this person lead? I have always been a little leery about how to answer this question. Do they want someone who is always a leader no matter what? No I don’t think so, but they act like it would be absolutely horrible if you mention the “F” word (Follower). My response is something tempered like they are ready and willing to take on the role and responsibility to lead a group, but he/she is also a team player that know how to listen and keep the goals in sight.
S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
I think that we have been tricked into thinking that being a follower is something that is to be avoided like the plague. There is no “both/and” when we talk about leader and follower. As we continue upon our sermon series of taking the next steps in our faith lives, and see the cross in the distance and the Easter tomb on the horizon we need rethink what it is to follow.
If we are honest we are all followers at one time or another. But the true heart of the matter is what or whom do we follow? I guess that there is a great importance in what it is that you are trailing behind? What is it that is the one thing that you are placing your trust, thoughts, energy and heart into? Is it someTHING that you are following only to want to upgrade to the next model year in a couple of months? Is it to be like someONE, only to find out that they were not the person you thought that they were? Or could it be some POSITION or title which could be gone in an instant due to injury, poor market economy or one bad decision?
Throughout the scripture the author of the letter is telling the people of Ephesus that they are to stop living the life that they know is sinful and begin following the ONE who is the leader of their lives. I imagine that the people of Ephesus were living lives like a dog chasing its own tail. All of their energy is going to in chasing something without going anywhere, and even when the catch what they are following after there is nothing to do but let go and begin again.
The author writes, “But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! 21 My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. 22 Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go.”
It isn’t bad that you once were chasing your tails, but now that you KNOW Christ do something! We are called to change our lives and be the change we want to see in the world—to steal a quote from Gandhi. We need to be followers of the One who will never leave, let us down or get out dated.
If we look at the graphic our media team worked up this week we see a very clear leader and then a gaggle of followers. When I saw the image I thought about the way that the followers are all just kind of traipsing along behind the red guy and they are longing to be the one in front. Then I began to think about where they were going and what they were going to do when they got there. The wonderful fun they would have or the incredible letdown of what they were going to find when they arrived.
As I have been thinking about this image I have thought about times when I have been a follower. I have since distinguished two kinds of followers. The first is the oblivious crowd seeker. This is the person that is swept up in the wash of the crowd and goes with it. When I think about this kind of follower I think about a time when my family went to Disney World. One afternoon we were trying to cram as much fun in as possible, so we saw a long line of people and without thinking got into it knowing that it must be the coolest new ride in the park. After a long while of waiting and passing more than a couple signs warning that small children, pregnant women, people with heart conditions, weak bladders and queasy stomachs should rethink this ride we were finally at the front of the line…I am not completely sure what happened after that but all I know is that for the next 2 hours or so the Bishops we walking on wobbly legs through the park pretending it was a wonderful experience. Not a good time to be a follower.
But the second group of follower is the enthusiastic supporter. These are the people who enable, stand behind and encourage the leader and push forward the cause. This past year when we went on our mission trip I stood bleary eyed after 24 hours on a bus in front of a dilapidated 3 story Victorian that needed some serious work. It need scraped, primed, painted, new siding in spots, steps made from the back entrance and a whole lot of prayer. There was no way we could have done it by ourselves. But because of the cause and example we have in Christ we were able to pull together, stay longer than was required, get help from other crews to finish the house. Of course banana bread from our resident and deliveries of doughnuts also helped moral. But when we were done we had something that was bigger than ourselves and at the center fueling the fire was they desire to share our leader with the community.
This is the place where our faith becomes action, where following Jesus isn’t just for after we die and bumper stickers. This is the hope of what our student ministry ties to engage our student in so that when they go to college or the workforce they are able to have a faith shines and makes a difference. Following like this is the turning from the ways that we once knew and are now living and acting in a different way.
Brian Mclaren recently wrote a book entitled, Everything Must Change. He asks two questions at the onset of the book. First, he asks, “What are the world’s biggest problems?” Then he goes on to ask, “What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?”
Through these couple of questions more begin to spill out into the open. Questions like, why hasn’t Christianity made a bigger impact on combating these problems drawing on its size, resources and message? What would happen if we were to take a stand on the world’s problems?
I think that John Wesley was great at this. He was a whole hearted follower of Christ, lead by the Holy Spirit. He would go to prisons and orphanages feeding and ministering to everyone who would listen. He knew what it meant to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Not always the most polite, or politically correct in the way he presented his message, but he made an impact on those who he encountered.
Recently there have been a number of sketches on Saturday Night Live about the state of our economy. Financial analyst Oscar Rogers has the catch line Fix It! He says the way we are to get out of the financial crises is to identify the problem and then FIX IT! Find another problem and FIX IT! John would find the problem and then find a way to faithfully fix it.
Wesley knew that there was more to your faith than just talking about it and speaking about the theological dilemma that we have gotten ourselves into. Our faith is not something that we do while following something or someone else. Or names on church roles are not there just so we can be married in the church or buried in the cemetery. John wasn’t ever worried about the future of Methodism living on, but rather that we would lose sight of the One we are following.
To this Wesley was quoted as saying:
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Sometimes the hard part isn’t knowing that we need to follow Jesus, but that we don’t realize that we have gotten off of the path. When I was little and I did something that was wrong my pulse would race and I would get stressed about it and I thought that the whole world would know that I messed up. But at times nothing happened, and other times my parents would find out or the guilt would be too much and I would confess. But when nothing would happen it would make it that much easier to do it again…and then again…and then just one more time. By this point just one more time usually had no intention of being the last time. It is hard to follow and not get off of the path.
Here is where I can almost hear Eugene Peterson talking as he interprets this part of scripture because he writes in verse 21, “My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. 22 Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go!”
We are all quick for making excuses and giving ourselves grace. But as we have heard there is no reason why we can’t stay the course and follow. This is our journey the journey to life lived abundantly.
When we look to Christ not just for a snapshot in time, but as a continuing narrative and dialogue teaching us The Way to follow we don’t have any excuse that will be good enough. As we continue in this season of lent I will make a deal with you. If you haven’t done anything differently this far that is all right because you can start right now and the timing will be perfect. If you began something or gave up something and then slacked off…well there is no excuse for you…but you can still play along.
Starting from today through the rest of lent pick up your Bible and begin with Matthew 1 and read a chapter a day until Easter Sunday. Get into the word and find out what Jesus calls us to when we commit to follow Him. I am betting that if you take it one chapter a day and really reflect on it you will find out something that you didn’t know, hadn’t heard or that strikes you in a new way this time you read it. I think that this will be kind of cool because you will be reading about the resurrection on resurrection day ?
If you have questions about something please ask someone. This could be family, friends, Pastor Susan or Bill…oh even Me I guess. We are all working to be good followers of the one who gives everything purpose. Let us be the courageous followers rather than another lone wolf leader waiting from someone to come and follow us. Let us not be just another voice in the wilderness being a distraction from the one voice that is calling us to our one true home.
My brothers and sisters on this day may you go in PEACE following the one that brings peace.

Fuel Last Night

I was so stoked about FUEL last night. I thought that the music was super well done by our band the message was perfect (woot Alyssa) and the vibe I got from the students was that it was a fun time.
There was an energy in the air that i think has been gaining steam for some time now. It could have just been that a 14 hour work day was coming to a close…but I was excited about the way the evening went and I didn’t have to do much. I just presided over communion and did some house keeping, but it was great to have so many people involved. We had a couple of new potential youth workers that came and saw what we do so it was a good night.
I wonder what next month will bring?