by Pastor Sarah Stadler
Following Jesus is the part of Christianity I find most compelling.
Weekly worship, Bible study, even believing certain things, these for me are not as compelling as Jesus’ call to follow. I imagine where Jesus’ disciples, his original followers, went when they followed Jesus. I imagine the people they met and with whom they spent their time. I imagine their lifestyle. I imagine their surprise and hesitancy to follow at times because of the outrageous things Jesus did. And imaging all this makes me laugh because it in no way resembles the lives of most Christians here and now.
Because where did Jesus go? He started his ministry in Galilee, kind of a rough neighborhood, you might say. If you weren’t from there, you probably didn’t want to go there or hang out there. And then, leaving Galilee meant traveling through desert wilderness, think: varieties of reptiles and insects, no water, no electric light at night.
With whom did Jesus spend time? Tax collectors—who were despised. Prostitutes—even more despised. Children—totally devalued. Samaritans—completely untrusted individuals. Gentiles—with whom Jews were absolutely forbidden from associating. Women—with whom men were not supposed to talk except for family. Fishermen—smelly, nighttime workers, kind of embarrassing that they were Jesus’ disciples. Oh, and then some Pharisees, but of course, instead of impressing them, Jesus spent his time convicting them of their waywardness and challenging their supposed religiosity.
Jesus and the disciples’ lifestyle? Transient. Poor. Homeless. Apart from family.
Outrageous acts? Take your pick of the gospel stories. Together, Jesus and his disciples fed people, healed people, taught people to love their enemies and forgive endlessly. They made friends and hung out with the aforementioned wrong crowd. They challenged people in power despite the very real risks to their lives and certainly their reputations.
Is this what it means to follow Jesus today, here? When we consider where Jesus went, with whom Jesus spent time, his lifestyle, the just and loving outrageous acts of his life, is this the path we are taking? No. But yeah. Yeah, we are following Jesus. Now, I don’t know about your personal lives so much. I don’t know how you treat the people with whom you live or the ways you contribute exactly to the community or your workplace during your days. I don’t know if you gossip about other people or if you are busy judging people because they make different choices than you. I don’t know if you allow your faith to inform how you spend money or how you earn money. I don’t know those things. But here’s what I do know: as a congregation, we are following Jesus. Hey, it’s hard, and we stumble constantly. I’m not saying we’re great. Let’s keep it real. But it is actually possible to follow Jesus because we do it here. And what I invite us to think about this morning is what makes following Jesus possible here—so that we might go and follow Jesus even when we’re not here, in all the other aspects of our lives.
And here’s what I suspect it is: we’re all trying to follow Jesus together here. At least once a week, for an hour or two, or maybe several hours a week for some, we come here because we want to follow Jesus. We set this space apart. We practice grace here when people are having a bad day. We forgive others here, by, for instance, sharing the peace before we come to communion regardless of conflict we may have with an individual. We are not afraid of people who are different than us here. We’re a congregation that has long said that we’re in the city for good even when this neighborhood was pretty barren from a development perspective. We value all the people who are part of us; indeed, you—every single person here now and every person who is here all week long—is part of us, not us and them, us. We read scripture together here and sing together here and pray together here. We share Holy Communion and pass the peace and eat together here. It’s so easy to hate our enemies and curse the person who cuts us off when we leave this place, but here, at Grace, we remember that we are loved by God—and that everyone else is too.
When Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me,” he’s calling them not just to help him with day to day ministry tasks; he’s calling them into community. And he’ll go on to call ten more disciples. After Jesus dies and is raised, after he ascends into heaven and the Holy Spirit descends, the Apostle Paul and Peter form communities who want to follow Jesus…because following Jesus is not a solo act. The primary reason for the church is that following Jesus can be quite difficult, and we need help. We need other people around us to encourage us and inspire us and support us. We need each other.
I yelled at a friend this past week. We were in a group of pastors—she’s a pastor, and she was telling us about a very difficult thing in her life. By way of explanation for her absence from text study, she said: “That’s why I haven’t been around. I’ve been dealing with this thing, and it was too hard.” Before I could stop myself (sigh), I yelled: “That’s when you should be here, when it’s hard! If you’re with us, we can support you. We can help you. If you don’t tell people that things are hard, we can’t help you.” Yelling was definitely not the way to go there; I apologized to her later. But I stand by the sentiment. When things get difficult, especially when following Jesus gets difficult, we can let other people help us. We can tell someone we trust: hey, it’s so hard to forgive this person for what they said or did. We can ask real questions and listen deeply to each other about the stuff going on in our lives. We can encourage each other to do the things that are most life-giving, like prioritizing loving relationships and serving others.
Following Jesus is possible, but it’s not a solo act. Jesus says today: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” We have long read Jesus’ words and interpreted them as a call to evangelism: sharing the gospel with people. That is a valid reading of those words, certainly. But today, I wonder if Jesus maybe meant something more like: “Follow me, and together, we will build community,” fishing for people meaning building community.
Let’s put our faith in motion and first sing together: Take my life…
Faith in Motion: I and certainly many other people I know have wondered: what should I do with my life? What are the best choices? Basically, how do I follow Jesus? What direction should I go? We ask these questions, and we are trying to follow by ourselves. We’re wandering solo. No wonder it’s hard.
But, what if we followed together? I invite you to stand and to get in one long line around the worship space, like a conga line, except a Jesus line. Where do we go? We decide together, right, since we’re in one long line. We talk. We pray. We read scripture together. We listen to each other. We listen to God. We decide, okay, we are all going to go here, this direction. It helps to have a community moving together. Right? I invite you to rely on this community, not to wander alone but to join us all as we discern together where Jesus leads because Jesus is leading.