Follow Me

lonely_footsteps_in_the_sand_by_daila0701-d3ncbfdOur reading from Matthew chapter 4 this morning tells us how Jesus called his first four disciples – all fishermen; saying to them, “Follow Me.”

This puzzles me, because the first chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus will be called “Emmanuel” – “God with us.” This speaks to how we see God as always right here, alongside us. Through Jesus-Emmanuel, we know God experiences what we experience. God feels what we feel. God knows birth and death just as we are born, and will someday die. “Emmanuel” is a statement of our equality before God. We are one of the many children of God standing alongside the first child of God, Jesus Christ.

So, how can the same Gospel teach that we are following behind Jesus (as the disciples were and at the same time walking with Jesus, our sibling, at the same time? Is Jesus our leader or our companion?

Now, how some interpret the idea that we “follow” Jesus troubles me. “Following Jesus” does not mean that we are desperately clutching at the hem of his robe to be dragged into Paradise. “Following Jesus” does not mean that we must adhere to some very specific interpretation of God’s Word or risk eternal damnation. “Following Jesus” does not mean we check our brains, or our hearts, at the door.

On the other hand, some people go a bit too far with the idea of Jesus as a companion. Yes, Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” But, this does not mean that Jesus goes everywhere that we want to go. Jesus is our companion. But companions walk together. They support each other.

We do not slavishly follow Christ. But then again, we cannot expect Christ to follow us just because we want him to! And yet many, Fundamentalists and Progressives alike, believe exactly that: justifying their own particular perspectives as the only one that is blessed by God. (Well, except atheists, who just want you to believe their particular perspective!)  Many go further, claiming we’ll be blessed only if we have enough faith in what they believe. Really?

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Fish in the Wilderness

We are those who followed Jesus and the Disciples out into that Wilderness: a wilderness in a country of Gentiles, a place where people have not yet heard or embraced the Gospel; and, a place where we will experience that renewal and that deepening of relationship with God we all need to fulfill the call upon our lives. So, why feed us bread and fish?

"The Miracle of the Bread and Fish" by Giovanni Lanfranco, 1620-23
“The Miracle of the Bread and Fish” by Giovanni Lanfranco, 1620-23

Sermon: “Fish in the Wilderness”
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA
7th Sunday after Pentecost: August 3, 2014.

Scripture readings:
Isaiah 55:1-5 (from “The Message”)
Matthew 14:13-23 (from “The Message”)

Podcast: 

The “Feeding of the Five Thousand” is the only miraculous sign found in all four Gospels. What’s more, Mark and Matthew each have two variations, for a total of 6 versions in the Four Gospels.

Clearly, the early church saw this story as central to their faith, and therefore it is central to ours. Many ask “How did this Miracle come about?” And there are a number of explanations as to the “How” of this story. Some claim it is a true miracle, others say it isn’t, many say it doesn’t really matter whether it was a miracle or not.

But for me, the central question is not how (or if) this miracle happened, but “Why is it important?”

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A Meditation on John 21:1-9

We aren’t called to be passive in our faith, but to be active, to look for Christ’s presence at all times, for it is always there. We are to employ our hands in the service of the Body of Christ, for it is then that we will enjoy the fullness of all he has set before us. Christianity is not just a faith of introspection and meditation, it is also a faith of service and action, of making a difference.

The last chapter in the last of the four Gospels, the Gospel of John, is the final statement in the narratives of Jesus’ walk among us here on earth.  And so, as such, we can imagine that it has much to tell as we voyage forth into the world, leaving behind the physical presence of Jesus, just as a child ventures forth from home, eagerly heading to school on their own for the first time.

John is unique among the four Gospels.  It was written a few decades after the others and has a great deal of material not shared with the other three.  And unlike the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John is very much focused on the future of the community of believers.

John 21 focuses on our role as believers living and working in the world: Are we to be active or passive agents of the Body of Christ?  How will Christ be present in us in this role?  How will our own strength and faith be sustained as we do so?

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Love

I often ponder, why do I feel a call to Ministry?  Frankly, why would anyone?  Why become a Pastor in a society where Christianity is losing influence and is declining in the face of shrinking and aging congregations, often in buildings that are also aging and located in less than ideal locations?  Why be in a profession where many congregations struggle just to keep the doors open, let alone provide a livable salary for their pastor?  Why become a pastor in a society where many people have little (if any) knowledge of the Bible and what it contains, who have little or no idea of what Christianity really is about?  Why be a religious leader in a society where many (if not most) in the society we live in believe religion is obsolete and irrelevant?

The answer to all these questions is Love.

Love is an inescapable part of what makes us human.  Without love, we would loose that which makes life a journey of hope rather than of despair.  Without love, we would cease to be human.  Paul said it best (of course) in First Corinthians 13:2, “…and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Love is an outgrowth of relationship: our relationships with each other, even our relationship with ourselves, and especially our relationship with Christ.

After many years of exploring many different varieties of Christianity and some other faiths, I have found that the place for me that best expresses and supports these three sets of relationships (with self, man and the Eternal) is Christianity, and especially my particular denomination, which emphasizes our individual relationship with God within the context of our relationship with our local Congregation.

So, I am seeking to become a Pastor because I am driven by love: love for others, love for my church, and love of God.  As a Pastor, I see one of my major tasks as being a conduit, or perhaps an advisor: helping others develop stronger, healthier, more vibrant relationships in all of these areas, to help them become surrounded, filled and even pouring out love. I feel this aspect of religion is very relevant in today’s world, where relationships are becoming fewer, shorter in duration, and more likely to be indirect and distant (such as through Facebook) than face to face.  Our faith in God and membership in a Community of Faith brings meaning and value to our lives; it enables us to love.  Too few people in today’s world know where to turn to fill this need we all have for relationship and love in our lives.  Too few have any idea that Faith is the answer.

In other words, being a Pastor is not about me: it’s about my faith, my congregation and my love for others.  It’s about walking together in the here and now, and in so doing, setting our feet onto the path God has set for our journey into the future; and helping others learn that this same path can be for them, too.

 

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).