God chooses us just as we are.

Matthew 4:18-22

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Have you ever heard of “call stories?”  They are the stories of ordinary people that are used by God for a purpose.  The first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took uneducated fishermen and called them to fish for people.   God chooses us as we are and as we lean into that we are called to be disciples who draw others to Jesus.

The fisherman left everything, nets and all.  They left family and friends.  They left everything that was familiar to them:  from their day to day routines to their favorite corner store or coffee shop.

How many of you were born before 1992?  Mike had the kids and I watch Sneakers this week and it was made in 1992.  He said he and his brothers watched it over and over again.  Have any of you heard Steven Curtis Chapman song For the Sake of the Call?  It came out in 1992 and my brothers and I knew as United Methodist preacher’s kids, when my mom played it, we were about to move!  That and Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends are Friends Forever.

scc_forthesake
(Don’t you love the mullet!)
Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

We knew what my mom was getting at.  If God called our family to another church, we had to obey.  If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be an adventure.  Has anyone ever seen Running Wild with Bear Grylls?*  I love that show.  The concept came after he first had Will Farrell join him in his first survival show.  In it, celebrities go on adventures with him and he teaches them survival lessons along the way.  It’s always a journey from point A to point B.  The celebrity doesn’t know the path and they balk when there’s heights or they have to eat something to survive like grubs or crickets or a squirrel or there’s only a small space between rocks and they’re claustrophobic.  He leads and they follow.  Sure they pitch fits along the way, sure they threaten to not go on…but in their fears is where I most see their humanity.  They’re real people at those moments and they obviously don’t care about what the camera is making them look like.  We’ve seen insights into some of the why’s and how’s of their fears and when they conquer them, it is a beautiful thing.   I used to think of the disciples much like Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit.  But they weren’t like that at the beginning of their trek with Jesus.  They were probably very much like these celebrities, albeit the celebrities have the right kind of gear.  Does God equip us with the right kind of gear for the road, no matter what road?

Did the four fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them?  Nope!  They didn’t know where the journey would take them.  They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart.  As we talked about last week, we each have figurative baggage.  Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket.  That we hold onto.  We carry it with us wherever we go and we’re afraid to lay it down because it’s ours – the familiar and the comfortable.  Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there and even those that are closest to us don’t know the full extent of our hurts.  The words that were used against us when we were younger that we’ve never told anyone.  The awkwardness of not feeling comfortable even in your own skin.  The voices in our heads of who society or our “friends” or what social media tells us we should be.  I dislike the way trolls can hide behind screens and say you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re not smart/pretty/kind…..enough.  Jesus doesn’t want us drinking the haterade.  Jesus is asking you to go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage, sometimes daily.  Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing.  Superhuman expectations.  The pressure we put on ourselves to measure up to this person or that person.  Lay it all down.  Take it off your shoulders.  Stop rolling that luggage around and repent.  Ask for forgiveness.  Let it all go.  If you pick it back up, repeat and ask the Holy Spirit to block you or your behavior from picking it back up.  Use a breath prayer.  Every time something comes into your mind or you revert into old familiar patterns of behavior, say “Lord Jesus take this from me” or “Lord in your mercy” or “My help is in You alone Lord” or “Not my will, but Yours.”

My son Enoch when he was in kindergarten got a color for every day for his behavior.  The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office.  He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch was a rambunctious and inquisitive child, so inevitably we were happy with the yellow days.  He would always get stressed out and upset if the teacher moved his color and that would affect his behavior as well.  He was in this cycle because he didn’t want to disappoint us.  I would explain to him that every day is a brand new day.  I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”  Leave the mistakes of today and don’t carry them with you to tomorrow.  I will go farther still.  Leave the mistakes of all the yesterdays in the past.  Ask for forgiveness and then do 180 degree turn.  That’s what repentance is.  I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let there be no doubt in your mind that Jesus scatters your sins and my sins from the east to the west and we are free.  Romans 8:14-16 says, “14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Let the mean thing that someone said about you go.  Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you go.  Let all of the hatred and demonizing the other go.  You don’t have time for that.  You have a world to love.  If you let it, hate will blacken your heart.  As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  I love this quote from Marianne Williamson about fear.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Our second scripture for today, John 15, is all about abiding in Christ and loving one another as we abide in Christ. Abide or meno in Greek means to stay, remain, accept, obey and heed.  Have you heard of the resting state on an MRI?  Resting state is a method of functional brain imaging that can be used to evaluate regional interactions that occur when a subject is not performing an explicit task.  In other words resting in the love and grace of God should be how we go through life.  If we rest in God’s love, it’s easier to show others God’s love.  John 15:16-18 says, “16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” 

We did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world.  God seeks to be in right relationship with all of God’s children.  God’s prevenient grace, that grace that goes before we even realize it, is offered to everyone.  If we abide in God’s mercy in our resting state then it will be that much simpler to live into the full matrix of human life.  God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him, but that’s all right.  If you speak the truth in love, some people won’t like that.  A word of caution here, if you are a truth teller, make sure you’re abiding in Christ, make sure you’re resting in the love of God, because you don’t want to do harm for harm’s sake.  You see the enemy wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, and he will use you to attack.  He doesn’t like when we tune into the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice.  That voice that tells us we’re somebody.

Remember my earlier rhetorical question about God equipping us for the road ahead?  God does and God will.  If you abide in the true vine and live to follow God’s heart and leading, God will give you everything you need.  You may be thinking that’s impossible.  Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” With God all things are possible.  With God all things ARE possible.  Amen?

“A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

But sure enough, the man came over to their table.  “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”

The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether the boy was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?”  He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him too much. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the dreaded question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was.  The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’

The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”

ben-hooper

Lo and behold, on one of our trips to Nashville, right across from a Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper.  God actively pursues us.  God reaches for us.  God chooses us.  All we have to do is lay down our fears, baggage, and mistakes and trust in God’s abundant grace.  All we have to is follow where Jesus leads like the disciples that we are and abide in the true vine, that’s what the world is crying out for.  Something that’s real, and solid as a rock.  Something that could make fishermen leave their nets and go fish for people.  Something that neither moth nor rust will destroy.  “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

(There’s a lot of calling out to God and bleeps but it’s funny.)

Creativity, Faith and Healing

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

We typically invest a high level of energy and effort at the start of a relationship, to woo someone or put our best foot forward. But, after a time in relationship with someone — once all your good stories and jokes have been shared, once it feels like you’ve learned all there is to learn, once it feels like you’ve got nothing new to say — that takes a persistent creativity. To reinvent ourselves for one another, or to approach each other with fresh eyes, to not take each other for granted, it all takes creativity. The same is true in how we relate to God. The Centurion’s faith is a great example because, as a Roman military commander, he should’ve been the last person on earth to believe in Jesus. Rationally, he should’ve been the last person to ever have a strong relationship with the local Jews and synagogue; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to humble himself to this wandering Jewish rabbi in Jesus; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to have this special insight into Jesus’ power and authority (to be able to command this healing even from afar). The Centurion represents that even though we must be obedient as disciples, it doesn’t mean we check our insights, experiences, and ideas at the door. Guided by the Spirit, we can personally, creatively and with humility understand and relate to the Lord.  Being in the making as a disciple takes creativity.

Where is this in Luke’s narrative and what are these sayings Luke alludes to?  Luke 6 is chock full of teachings.  It is a rich smorgasbord of Jesus’ disciples eating grain on the Sabbath, then the Pharisees hating on them about that, Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, the Pharisees calling him out about that, but he did it anyway and they were (not surprisingly) furious and that’s just the first 11 verses.  After he names the disciples, verses 17-19 say, “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

So the centurion had heard about Jesus and, no doubt, about the miracles he had performed in the town, like healing a man with an unclean spirit right there in the synagogue for which the centurion himself had given a lot of money. The centurion was likely a commander in the army of Herod Antipas rather than a Roman soldier. We can infer this since Capernaum was a minor trade center and toll station along the Via Maris, which was the trade route that led from the countries in the Fertile Crescent down to the Mediterranean. While Capernaum was not a combat post, the centurion was nonetheless a military veteran who may have seen his share of combat earlier in his career. If that were the case, then his slave would likely have been right beside him in the thick of battle, thus forging a relationship that was less master and slave and more like comrades in arms. His most valued slave was ill and close to death so he stepped out in faith, as we have seen all Jesus’ disciples do.  He had the faith that Jesus could heal his battle buddy.  Unlike most of the Gentile soldiers, Roman or otherwise, who were stationed in the notoriously revolutionary region of Galilee, this centurion not only built the synagogue for them (the foundation of which still stands in the ruins of Capernaum) but he went so far as to love the Jewish people. The centurion already saw the world differently than many of his peers, and his creative imagination allowed him to formulate a different vision of reality about the Jewish people AND about the itinerant Jewish preacher and healer who was now back in town.

Still, he recognized that there was a separation between him and the Jews. He wants to be respectful to this Jesus, so he sends some of the Jewish elders to speak with Jesus about his servant, knowing that a pious Jew like Jesus could not enter a Gentile house. The Jewish elders see this generous Gentile as a “worthy” candidate for a healing miracle, but the centurion believes himself to be “not worthy” to have Jesus come under his roof. The centurion understands orders and believes that it isn’t necessary for Jesus to be physically present in order to heal.  Indeed, as a commander of men, the centurion knows that he doesn’t need to be present in order to get things done. He gives an order and it is obeyed, even in his absence, and he now assumes that Jesus has the same kind of spiritual authority. All Jesus has to do is say the word and his healing order will be carried out. The centurion imagines another reality made possible by Jesus, and then acts on it.
Sister Joan Chittister tells the story of a priest who once traveled to see a renowned spiritual teacher, to spend a time on retreat with him.

“Master,” he said upon arriving, “I come to you seeking enlightenment.”

“Well, then,” the master said, “for the first exercise of your retreat, go into the courtyard, tilt back your head, stretch out your arms and wait until I come for you.”

Just as the priest arranged himself in that position, the rains came. And it rained. It rained the rest of the afternoon. Finally, the old master came back. “Well, priest,” he asked, “have you been enlightened today?”

“Are you serious?” the priest asked, in disgust. “I’ve been standing here with my head up in the rain for an hour. I’m soaking wet. I feel like a fool!”

The master said, “Well, priest, for the first day of a retreat that sounds like great enlightenment to me.”

The centurion has all the power in his relationship with Jesus. Yet, unlike the priest in the story, he is no fool. He could have lorded it over Jesus, but instead he sets his personal authority aside and submits himself to the authority of Jesus, a Jew — a subjugated member of a captive people. This wise officer understands that spiritual humility is the prerequisite to healing.

Jesus is surprised at this Gentile centurion’s ability to imagine a different outcome. “Not even in Israel have I found such faith,” Jesus says. It’s like he’s alluding to the two disagreements with the Pharisees in Luke 6 and the instructions at the end where he’s preaching against hypocrisy of the highest order.

Luke 6:46 -49, “‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”  This centurion’s house is built on rock and Jesus rewards him for it.

What is a disciple?  The centurion is obedient.  No doubt.  He followed through.  The centurion owned his own sinfulness, by humbling himself before Jesus.  Remember the Heng story.  How Vietnamese kid in the orphanage that would sacrifice himself for his friend?  The centurion made the sacrifice.  Even to ask Jesus to heal his servant would be looked down upon by his peers, but he did it anyway.  And he had the creative imagination to envision a different reality for himself and his friend.  He believed and had faith in Jesus to heal just by saying the Word.

A recent sign I saw said, “Faith is like Wi-Fi.  It’s invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.”  The centurion had a desperate need and Jesus had the power to fill it.  Faith can lift us toward a vision of a different future.  The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Even if we do not receive a miraculous healing, a restoration of a relationship, or the satisfactory resolution of any of a thousand other circumstances in which we might find ourselves, faith invites us to begin moving, even if only a bit at a time or a step at a time, toward hope and wholeness.

Like the centurion, we need to be willing to ask for help, even if we feel unworthy of it. Jesus specializes in those of us who believe we are unworthy. Jesus will take on even the roughest of our cases with healing grace. All we have to do is reach out in faith, to bring our hurts to the surface, and allow him to meet us there.

Dr. Harold Koenig, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, and Director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke, is considered to be a pioneer in the scientific study of the potential of spiritual healing. After studying thousands of people since 1984, Dr. Koenig found that religious faith not only promotes overall good health, but also aids in recovery from serious illness.

“By praying to God,” Koenig said, religious patients “acquire an indirect form of control over their illness.” They believe that they are not alone in their struggle and God is personally interested in them. This safeguards them against the psychological isolation that batters so many people with serious disease.

In a study of 455 elderly hospital patients, for example, Koenig found that people who attended church more than once a week averaged about four days in the hospital. People who never or rarely attended church spent about 10 to 12 days hospitalized.

When Koenig initially began telling his colleagues about these observations, many were skeptical. They saw spiritual healing as irrelevant to medical science. In recent years, however, more scientific journals have been publishing reports with similar findings. More and more doctors are beginning to understand that faith can have a role in healing.

A Dartmouth Medical School study found that heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following a surgery if they did not participate in group activities and did not find comfort in religion. Within six months of surgery, 21 patients had died; but there were no deaths among the 37 people who said that they were “deeply religious.”

Researchers in Israel studied 3,900 people living on kibbutzim (Jewish communal living at its finest) over a 16-year period. Their findings: The religious had a 40 percent lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer than their secular peers.

A Yale University study of 28,212 elderly people found that those who rarely or never attended church had twice the stroke rate of weekly churchgoers.

So there are definitely health benefits for people of faith, who are actively walking the walk and talking the talk.   Mike was telling me about the stradivarius violins last night.  They were built during the 17th and 18th century by the Stradivari family from Italy.  Their sound is unparalleled and all sort of stuff goes into the making of one.  Recently they discovered, the more you use it, the better it sounds.  It’s like prayer and walking alongside one another in community, the more you use them, the better your life will be.  God can use us to minister to and encourage others in their walk as disciples of Jesus. It’s faith lived out in relationship to others in the body of Christ.  Sometimes we have to have faith that God’s got this so that the world may see and know.  Sometimes we have to have faith FOR someone, like the centurion asking Jesus for the healing of his servant.  That’s called intercessory prayer and that’s what we do intentionally every Tuesday at prayer group.  That’s also why I created the facebook group “Point Hope Prayer & Encouragement.”  So that we can more fully share life with one another.  So when one of us wants to give up, give in, or give out, we pick one another up and spur each other on.  We’re not meant to live this life or walk this walk alone.  The truth is that we can be the healing presence of Christ to each other, helping one another, supporting one another, encouraging one another, being church to each other. We all need people who can speak into our lives and be the physical presence of the spiritual reality of Christ among us. We are members of one Body, says the apostle Paul, and the members should have “the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). The Jewish elders in Capernaum saw the Gentile centurion as a neighbor and wanted to alleviate his suffering by going to Jesus. Can we be agents of healing for each other in the same way, acting as intercessors and faith-walkers for those around us?  An old Irish Proverb says, “In the shelter of each other the people live.”  I believe that.  We shelter one another, covering one another’s weaknesses with our strengths.

Who do you know who is struggling? How can you be an advocate, an intercessory healer, a representative of Christ? How can you help others envision a different sort of outcome for the brokenness in their lives? And if you are the one who is suffering, whom can you ask for help? How will you take the step of faith not only to trust Jesus to heal you, but also trust the members of his Body to intercede and advocate for you?

in-the-shelter

 

Discipleship Takes Obedience

Last week, I invited you to “own” your discipleship. To go out in the deeper water and actually follow Jesus. This week we arrive at the very next step, which is the daily decision to keep following Jesus. This is the place where most of us stall out as disciples — somewhere between that first “yes” to Jesus, and the next dozen or hundred “yesses.” After all, at some point down the road Jesus will say, or do, or ask something that makes us slow down in our tracks. Or, we will have something else along the roadside grab our attention. Have you ever seen the movie UP with that dog being so distracted by that squirrel?  I was having dinner with two of my cousins this past week and we were people watching.  Our grandmother used to love to people watch at the State Fair, so it’s in our genes.  Ha!  We observed a couple who were sitting in front of the sunset on their phones.  It was not just a quick glance, it was a whole 5-7 minutes.  Maybe they were texting each other.  They may be texting one another.  I don’t want to judge.  But these smart phones are easy to get distracted by.  Sometimes we will just long to head back to Galilee and that ship full of fish. That would definitely be easier. It’s the struggle to keep following, to keep in step with the Lord. And the word that sums that it all up is obedience. Being in the making as a disciple takes obedience.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around obedience to God, because in human relationships healthy obedience is so rare. How can we obey someone else if even the best make mistakes? And, at worst, human “obedience” can be totally corrupt, based in fear, coercion, control or manipulation. Think about child soldiers in Africa or abusive households. Think about the big ways in history that the people of faith have gone wrong: the Pharisees, the crusades, the inquisition, legalistic fundamentalism, the Jonestown massacre. Because of our fallen human condition, “obedience” can go horribly wrong. If we focus on the “rules” TOO MUCH, we miss the freedom Christ wants to give us. If we focus on getting everything “right,” we miss the beauty of grace. Not a cheap grace, as I said last week, but a costly grace. The grace that comes from a Savior that suffers alongside of us, Emmanuel, and was obedient unto death for you and me.

Philippians 2:5-8 says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Some of you may be thinking of course he was obedient. He was and is Jesus. The perfect one. Need I remind you of his 40 days in the wilderness, of temptation after temptation, or him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane “Take this cup from me.” It’s not easy to be obedient. Not even for Jesus, who was at the same time God and man.

If we own our discipleship and we’re growing more and more like Christ, it’s still going to be hard at times to be obedient, to walk in the way that leads to life. We have a hard time with obedience, because most of our culture rejects it. We want to take the easy way out, get out of things, or be ambivalent. My peers, the millennials and younger, look at all that broken human history and we mistrust human institutions and traditions, especially the Church. We say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Question everything. Preserve your freedom!” And, culturally, we’ve concluded that there is ultimately only one person who is trustworthy to obey — ourselves. Let that sink in a little bit. Some say the only person you can truly depend on is your self. But the problem with that is my “self” is just as human as everyone else. I operate under the same fallen human condition. If I think obeying only myself is going to solve anything: *newsflash* how has that gone for me so far? I find, sometimes, that myself is an idiot. “I” am just as corrupt and self-centered and off-base as any institution. The Christian faith tells us that our only hope is to be guided by something that exists outside of this broken, fallen system. Something, or rather Someone, who loves us, who understands all the perfection and glory that God meant for us before the fall. Where are we going to find Someone like that? As a matter of fact, he came to find us, and his name is Jesus. It’s totally counter-intuitive, but what it means is that the only way for any of us to be truly free, or to be our truest selves, is to give ourselves over to him. We’ve got to lose our lives to save them. Jesus calls us to live counter-culturally. Obey God alone. Follow Jesus’ instructions. Go where the Spirit leads you. Trust.
I think we get a great glimpse of it in Matthew 10:5-15 today. It’s a great picture, literally, of what comes next right after the disciples have first said “Yes” to begin following Jesus. And it says a lot for proper obedience.
Matthew 10:5-15
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
All of a sudden for basically the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are going to leave the training wheels behind and ride the bikes. Jesus takes them aside for special instructions, and they’re being sent out. Can you put yourselves in the disciples’ shoes? It’s been a sweet deal. They’ve been little tag-alongs, watching Jesus do the fireworks, and being in awe like everybody else. Not only that, but they’re probably starting to be noticed, right? Like, fame by association since they’re his inner circle, like the tv show Entourage. If Jesus is the lead singer of this boy-band that everybody swoons over, sooner or later someone will start to notice the rest of us, his disciples. There’s the bad boy – Judas; the one with the good hair – Philip; the cute one – Bartholomew; the other cute one – Simon the Zealot, and so on. No risk, no effort, no tough decisions, all reward. Until Jesus says, now I’m sending you out, and by the way, I’m not coming with you. And, by the way, you’re still going to be responsible for carrying on my mission in just as powerful a way as you’ve seen me do it. As Scooby Doo would say, *Ruh roh*.
I, personally, may be a little freaked out with this change. Jesus is giving specific instruction about how to go about this mission, but he says he wants us to do these things AND not take practically ANYTHING with us!?!?!?! I admit, I’m a bit of a control freak. You may not fully realize this about me, but I like things a certain way. Some may call it OCD, some may call it organized, whatever. I’ve had to learn the hard lesson of not being so self-reliant and independent that it begins to becomes an idol or a mantra. “I can do it myself.” Just like a kid learning to do something for the first time shouting, “By Myself!!” Thomas Merton writes, “All the good that you do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used for God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.” We need to let go of the need to prove ourselves. We are enough. We are called to be Disciples of the Most High King. We all need not our own ways, but God’s provision for each of us. That God will pick us up and dust us off when we fall from the bike with no training wheels. We may scratch and scrape our knees, but our God works things for good for those who love God, and what is seen is only temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. We have to trust that if we risk ourselves and are obedient, he will give us the power and authority to move mountains.
One of the biggest ways we turn away from obedience is we doubt ourselves. We doubt our abilities. We aren’t comfortable with God’s call. And we, ultimately, secretly say to ourselves: he’ll just get someone else to cover this. Surely it can’t depend on me? There are 12 other disciples, there are millions of other Christians, there are so many better Christians than me. I’d rather just be the one “with the good hair.” But Jesus challenges that here. Jesus wants them to not only hear the Good News but take it to the world. Jesus not only wants them to see miracles, but perform them. Jesus wants them to seek out the lost, the last and the low, not the easy crowds that have gathered to hear a celebrity preacher or a magician. Jesus wants them to seek out the Zacchaeus in the group, the bent over woman, the Samaritan. Karl Barth writes, “The human righteousness required by God and established in obedience — the righteousness which according to Amos 5:24 should pour down as a mighty stream — has necessarily the character of a vindication of right in favor of the threatened innocent, the oppressed poor, widows, orphans, and aliens. For this reason, in the relations and events in the life of his people, God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and on this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who already enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied and deprived of it.”
What crowd do you think Jesus would hang out with today? Republicans? Democrats? Independents? Green Party? Everything in between? Police officers? Protesters? National Guard? First Responders? Anarchists? Red? Yellow? Black? White? Brown Hair? Purple Hair? Don’t Care. God gives his prevenient grace to all people. God woos us to God’s self before we’re even aware of it. We are ALL created in the image of God. Who would Jesus want to reach? All of us sinners and saints. You. Me. The person on the other side of the political divide, cultural divide, any kind of divide.
I’ll close with these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Humanly speaking, it is possible to understand the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. But Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience — not interpreting or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his words. He does not mean for us to discuss it as an ideal. He really means for us to get on with it.”
Matthew 5:3-11,
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Being a Disciple Takes Owning Where We Are

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

We’ve embarked on a 5-week Discipleship series and this week’s is being a Disciple takes ownership.  What is a disciple?  Merriam-Webster defines it this way “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a teacher” or “one of a group of 12 men who were sent out to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ.”  The Greek word generally refers to a student or apprentice or devoted follower.

Some may not know what a big deal this was to invite ordinary, uneducated fishermen to be disciples. As Rob Bell shares in his Nooma video “Dust,”

“Jewish education was made up of three primary sections: Bet Safar – Usually from the ages five to ten, it is a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In Bet Talmud, it continues from the age of ten on to fourteen. During this time, the student would memorize the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).   In Bet Midrash, at the age of fourteen, the best of the best would continue to apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna, Sages, and years and years of commentary on the scriptures. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. The Rabbi’s rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you.

But Jesus came and said His yoke was easy. In Matthew 11, he says He isn’t about endless lists of rules and regulations.  You see, when Jesus is speaking, He’s not just picking words out of the air; He’s speaking as a Rabbi would.

One of the Sages from the Mishna is quoted as this, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” Rabbis are passionate and animated. They would spend their days taking their disciples around teaching them, and as they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust. And because the disciples were following the Rabbi, at the end of the day, they would actually be covered in the dust their Rabbi kicked up – May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi….

Where does this come in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry?  Jesus has been tempted by the Devil, he’s read the scroll where Isaiah alludes to him saying he’ll proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, but they ran him off and tried to hurl him off a cliff.  So much for being welcomed in your hometown.  He set about proving his message – he healed people and preached in the synagogues doing what he said he would do.  In chapter 5 Jesus calls his first disciples – a group of smelly fishermen.  Mark and Matthew have him passing by the fishermen while they are casting their nets, but Luke has him actually going out on the boat.  In a way, this is more powerful, though the calling is still the same.

Can the world see from our “dust” who we follow?  Who our Master is?   Jesus constantly issued a personal call to people to simply follow him. It was always an open-ended call, and they were free to choose to do so or not, and just as free to bail out on following him when things got tough. The same is true for us. Even in Mount Pleasant, this life is still a choice, and we all need to check ourselves on whether or not we are actually followers of Jesus. Not just if we once were, but if we are currently “in the making,” in process of growing in the Lord and in grace. If we are, we need to own it boldly. If not, it’s okay, but it’s a life that goes through the motions from point a to b to c.  God doesn’t want that lukewarm faith for us but God lets us make the choice.  God is not a puppet master.  We have free will to choose.

The sun had just risen when the Boy Scouts began their trek up Baldy Mountain.  At 12,441 feet, Baldy is the highest peak in the Philmont Scout Ranch, a high-adventure backpacking camp run by the Boy Scouts of America. From the summit, hikers can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains, forests and lakes of northern New Mexico.

But the summit was still a dream when the crew of eight Scouts and two adults started out, hiking through a dense pine forest in the early-morning light. Reaching a gorgeous, gurgling mountain stream, they took a turn and headed down a wide and comfortable trail for about a mile.

Turned out to be the wrong trail.

Realizing their mistake, they turned around and hiked back. This detour added an extra two miles to their trip, and you might think they would be discouraged by it. But the extra distance had a surprising benefit. One Scout who had been struggling at the start of the hike gained confidence throughout the detour, and when the group got back on track, he felt strong enough to hike to the summit.

His success required venturing out, beyond his comfort zone. And so does ours.

The Boy Scouts of America have been challenging boys to push their limits for over a century now. So just exactly who has been a Boy Scout? Two-thirds of all astronauts and 11 of the 12 men to walk on the moon. 191 members of the 113th Congress have been involved in Scouting.  Ten of the 100 members of the United States Senate are Eagle Scouts. Eagle Scouts were disproportionately represented among Hurricane Katrina’s volunteer relief workers. Steven Spielberg, Jon Tesh, George W. Bush, Harrison Ford, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Gates and even Sir Paul McCartney were scouts.

Mike and Enoch participated in a Cub Scout Clean Up at the Park yesterday and Enoch’s super excited to participate in all that scouting has to offer.  It got Enoch out of the house when he normally would have been playing videogames or watching TV.  That’s the beauty of the Scouts, to get us out of our comfort zone, and on our feet, doing good in the world.  Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.

We’re called to deep water, not shallow water.  To experience the fullness of the adventure of being a disciple of Jesus Christ who walks in the way that leads to life.  To own our failings and to own that we are sometimes scared to take that next step, to even cast a vision for the future because we’re so afraid of getting lost or of failing.

When Jesus finishes his speech to the crowd, he decides to extend his lesson with a dramatic illustration. He challenges Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4).

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” whines Simon. He sounds like he wants to stay close to shore, safe and comfortable because his time on the water hasn’t yielded any fish.

Put out into the deep water, says Jesus. He invites us to venture out, take a chance, be active and adventurous.

Jesus is looking for commitment. The idea of doing the same thing expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, so when Jesus asks Simon and his fishing buddies James and John to continue doing what they were already doing, they get a surprise – an unexpected, amazing and overwhelmingly abundant catch. All because they’re willing to follow Jesus’ words and scout the deep water.  This story reminds us that Jesus may use significant force to overcome our reluctance. The only reason for the huge catch of fish was to open the hearts of these men who had not previously considered themselves disciple material. And it worked, too, because as soon as Peter saw the size of the catch, it knocked him off his feet. He prostrated himself before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

If we fish in the deep waters without Jesus, we will always come up empty, but if we fish the deep waters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit guiding us, we can fish for people.   That miraculous catch opened these fishermen’s hearts to respond when Jesus asked them to do something they had never done: “From now on you will be catching people.”   No thought to how much money that great catch would bring, Luke says they left everything on the shore and followed Jesus.

That’s the challenge for us today: to venture beyond our comfort zones and put out into the deep water in lives of Christian discipleship. Too often we stay close to shore, safe and comfortable, when Jesus is calling us to be active, adventurous and willing to explore new territory. That’s where the fish are. That’s where the growth happens. That’s where we can make surprising discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.  We scout the deep water when we venture out to share the Christian faith with our neighbors. Jesus challenges us to reach out to our friends and neighbors with the Good News of the Gospel.

In her book Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Grace Reese says that “our most important discovery is that a vivid relationship with God lies at the heart of real evangelism.” You have to ask yourself, “Has being a Christian made any difference in my life?” If so, then you’re going to want to share this reality with other people. Quite simply, evangelism is grounded in the realization that your life is better because of your relationship with God, and this is a relationship that can benefit others as well.

Reese says evangelism is all about relationships. Not high-pressure conversion programs — relationships. We need to reflect on our relationship with God, and then find natural, authentic and sincere ways to share that relationship with others.

We’re all disciples in the making. It’s an unfolding discipleship.  We are being formed into something, something new and different from when we started.  We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto, gone is the black and white and hello the technicolor.  Jesus has called us to the mission field of our community – Park West, Mount Pleasant, the city of Charleston, South Carolina…Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision, the people perish.  Helen Keller says it in a different way.  She says, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

What is God’s vision for the Church?  What is God’s vision for this church – Point Hope UMC? How does God want us to shape our community by being salt and light bearers and loving the people with an agape love?  If we put it off as a vision of the “church,” we can take out our personal accountability.  What is God calling YOU to do as you follow Jesus?  What is God asking you to bring to the table, the altar?  Your doubts, your fears, your excuses?  There is no one “good enough.”  As Roman 8 says we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.

We don’t get the walk of Christian discipleship “right” all the time.  No one does.  Billy Graham shares on July 18, 2016, “”In God’s eyes all sin is equally serious, because all sin is an act of rebellion against God. This includes not only doing wrong, but also failing to do right. God also sees our hearts, and he knows the sins of greed and jealousy and selfishness that lurk there.”  Jesus knows everything about us, and yet, he STILL calls us.  Being in the making, is a Wesleyan understanding.  The first phase in that journey is to own this reality, to acknowledge (1) that Jesus has revealed himself to me, personally, in a powerful way through the different channels of God’s grace, (2) the point of that revealing is to draw me in, attract my attention/curiosity/hope, and prepare in me the desire for more, and (3) this desire is meant to open the door for calling, for Jesus to invite me to head down a very brand new pathway. It’s by sanctifying grace that God doesn’t let us wallow around in our own muck.  God keeps growing us in grace, transforming us, making us new.

For many of us, our being disciples doesn’t get off the ground, or doesn’t take clear form, or stays in a nebulous “whatever” or “blah” kind of place, because we don’t own what Jesus is trying to do, what he’s calling us to, and what it asks of us. Peter and James and John had a moment like this by the Sea. There was no doubt who Jesus was, or what he had done, or that something special was going on. And Simon left no doubt that he was changed and ready to change, ready to embark after following the Lord’s direction. And then Jesus leaves no doubt that this is exactly what he’s there for, and what he calls us each to do – go to the deep, dangerous depths.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy, but he promises to be FAITHFUL.

We need to own where we are in the process, wherever it might be. Some of us need to own that we answered God’s call and then never took another step. Some of us, we followed, but then petered out. Some of us, we’re still struggling to follow and not sure anymore where we are or what we’re about. Some of us, we’re faithfully following and ready for more. Some of us, we never answered the original call, or have claimed that we never heard one. Whatever the case, wherever we are today, we have to start by owning where we are and then deciding whether or not to own that we’re meant to be active, intentional disciples.

We are good in the United Methodist Church about talking about grace. When I was a campus minister, we often would set up in the student center a place for all of the campus ministries to share a brochure and a sticker.  The Catholics and the Baptists would get the majority of students.  At Emory and the University of Florida, we had a great many Jewish people that wanted info.  Methodists rarely came up to the table.  I would wager that we taught “grace” so well, that they knew if they took a hiatus from church, God’s grace would be enough to cover a multitude of sins in college/grad school/young adulthood.  And in fact, that’s true, but it’s a half-life or a shadow life from the one Christ seeks to give us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this cheap grace in The Cost of Discipleship,

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

What if we believed in that kind of “costly grace”?  Surely our world would be different.  Surely it would be.  The ball is in your court, will you follow Jesus and be fishers of people?  Bringing God’s kingdom to earth, meeting the needs of those in our community, and sharing the God’s love and grace with everyone you meet?  Or will you wait on the sidelines, being non-committal as ever?  It’s your choice, as this walking the talk of discipleship always is. Do you have the dust of your rabbi?  Are you going into the deeper waters?  Are you going to rock the world as a disciple of Jesus?  I hope so.