Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sermon: Who Am I Following

Mark 9:2-9

Imagine for a moment that you are Peter, James or John. You were fishermen, and you gave up your lives fishing to follow this man, Jesus. You gave up everything: not just your jobs, but your family, your friends, your homes, and everything you knew in life to do it. And day by day as you followed him you saw amazing things.

If you glance at the book of Mark, since joining Jesus, they have seen him heal people with unclean spirits, cure those with paralysis, withered hands, make the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and even bring back a to life a dead girl; they have witnessed miracles as he stilled a storm while they were sailing in it, fed huge crowds of people twice, and walked on water; they have heard him teach with many parables, explain spiritual life and predict that he would die and rise again. They have witnessed a lot.

But if you are anything like me, always in the back of your mind there would be little nagging thoughts like, “These are not normal things that he is doing. Is he safe? Who is this man? Because if I can’t answer that question, why am I following him?” You see, I am really good at second guessing my decisions.

Like the decision to ask to move this year. I know that for the church and its finances it is a good idea, and yet, I am terrified by the thought – I haven’t had to adjust to a new place or a new group of people in almost 12 years. I know you, and I love you anyways! So there is a part of me that says, you shouldn’t have requested a move, even though I know deep down that it will be for the best.

I know myself well enough to know that if I were one of the disciples, there would be moments when I would be missing my family, or missing the days going out and fishing, when I would ask, “Did I make the right decision to follow him? Should I go back to my family and the life of safety and security I knew? Or should I continue following? Fishing made sense, but this, this new life often doesn’t.” I know there would be a part of me, if I were Peter, James or John that would wonder if I had made the right decision.

And then comes this day, this day where we are on a mountaintop and suddenly Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, and the a cloud of the presence of God settled on the mountaintop and proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!”

Well, now what would I feel?

This moment would certainly help answer my questions about who Jesus is, and whether I had made the right decision in following him. If you are going to follow someone, the Son of God seems like a good choice among all the options out there. I mean, follow a politician or a teacher or a pastor or the Son of God. Hmm, seems pretty easy. So I would be more confident that I had made the right choice in following Jesus. But this experience on the mountain which we call the transfiguration still leaves me with questions – what does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God? And what is expected of his followers?

These are not easy questions. When a person applies to be ordained in the United Methodist Church, one of the questions we have to answer at great length is, “What does the Lordship of Christ mean?”

In other words, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God, and what is expected of his followers. Sound familiar?

For me, I summarized Christ as the love and wisdom of God in human flesh. Christ is God’s love put on earth, in motion, and at work in the world. He is also God’s wisdom and word, that teaches us and instructs us what we are to do and be as the people of God. For me that is what it means when I say that Christ is the Son of God, but clearly that is only how one person answers that question. Each of us perceives it slightly differently, explains it with different emphasis, and struggles with the question in our own way. If we all understood it the same way, we wouldn’t have to ask the question.

“Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University wrote a remarkable study of the significance of the person and work of Jesus Christ titled Jesus Through the Centuries. Dr. Pelikan demonstrates how Jesus has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture. Each age has made Jesus relevant to its own needs. Jesus has furnished each new age with answers to fundamental questions as every generation has had to address new social problems that tested the more fundamental questions of human existence. The world had to take note of Jesus as a rabbi, as the Cosmic Christ, the Ruler of the World, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Son of Man, the True Image of Man, the Great Liberator. In many other ways Jesus furnished the answers and the images that affected society in positive ways.”

“Dr. Pelikan's thesis is that Jesus did not and does not belong to the churches and the theologians alone, but that he belongs to the world. None of this is to say that we can make Jesus what we want Jesus to be. Quite the opposite. It is to say that the Christ is adequate for all our needs and that Jesus transcends culture in such a way that he is able to belong to each age and to address the issues of all time.”[1]

Whew, that’s pretty heavy stuff.

It reminds me that even after reading great theologians, and personally writing a many page paper on the Lordship of Christ, I still must confess that like Peter I am still somewhat ignorant.

There is still mystery and confusion about the nature of Christ, and that leaves me a little out of sorts so that I don’t quite know what to do.

Thus Peter wonders aloud, should we build things to honor God? A question we still ask. Is it important to have shrines where holy encounters take place? Or is there other work that is more important? See, Peter doesn’t look quite so foolish when you realize we struggle with the same questions.

I like what one commentary says about this, “As we stand with the disciples, we share with them their ignorance for fully comprehending these events. Yet we are not left purely baffled. The voice of God gives us definite insight and directions: Jesus Christ is God’s beloved son, and we are to heed his words. Under the authority of Christ and in obedience to his teaching, we are called to live our lives.”[2]

Or in my own words, when we walk with the disciples we realize that we also are confused by what we have seen.

But we also hear the voice of God telling us that our primary job as a follower is to listen to Christ, to experience his resurrection from the dead and then to be witnesses to what we have seen.

Listening to him is not just hearing his words. When someone commands us to listen to them, they aren’t asking us simply to hear them, but they usually want us to actually heed their words. It is more than using our ears, but also our hearts, minds and hands. We must absorb his words into ourselves so that they are our very way of life. Listening to Christ means living out his teachings.

Experiencing his resurrection is not just arguing about the historical accuracy of the biblical account, but it is seeing how Christ continues to bring life to the world around us today. It is understanding that he is able to overcome hatred and death with the power of God’s eternal love – not just for himself, but that he leads us all to that victorious place. It isn’t just reading about it, but it is seeing it as it happens, in our lives and in the lives of others.

Witnessing to what we have seen is not simply seeing it and recording it in our memories, but it means being willing to tell others about our experiences. A court witness who had seen the crime but could not testify about it would be no use. To be witnesses to Christ means striving to tell the truth about our experiences of him in our lives. It means sharing what we have learned: the good, the bad and the ugly. It means passing on what we have heard and what we have experienced.

That’s really a summary of our job as followers. Listen, experience and witness. Or in words that are closer to our church vision statement: See, love, serve. Use your eyes, your hearts and your hands.

So as we follow Christ, we realize that what is possible with God is miraculous, and mind-stretching. It can leave us feeling ignorant and foolish. Despite that, God’s expectation of those of us who witness such miracles is relatively simple. Sit at the feet of Christ, learn from him, discover the death-challenging power of resurrection, and then show and tell others the good news.

[1] CSS Publishing Company, Which Way to Jesus?, by Harry N. Huxhold
[2] Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary by Soards, Dozeman and McCabe

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