This is my first Sermon as Stated Supply Pastor at First Christian Church in Mahtomedi, MN.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Luke 14: 25-33
Sixteenth Sunday of Pentecost
September 8, 2013
First Christian Church
One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.
I wanted to share part of the passage again, but this time using the “Message” version. Sometimes when I’m preparing for a sermon, I like to read this version since it tries to share the Bible message in modern vernacular.
No matter what version you use, this is a hard passage to understand. Why would Jesus tell the crowd to hate their relatives? Most people think Jesus was using hyperbole to get the point across; following him is a serious matter. You had to be singularly focused on Jesus to be his disciple. This passage disturbs us because it tries to set us against those people that we care for. None of us wants to hate our parents or children or siblings.
But this passage is also troublesome because it seems to paint a rather joyless existence. Jesus was calling those gathered to give up the family, friends and possessions to follow him. We get the feeling that following Jesus means giving up everything that is good about life. It’s like going on a diet and having to give up donuts. It’s good for you, but it isn’t fun.
I don’t want to say that there aren’t some hard things that followers of Jesus have to face. Learning to be a disciple of Jesus can be a challenge.
But what if we are looking at this the wrong way? What if God isn’t calling us to give up things as much as we are being called to see things from God’s view? What if this less about a stern Jesus forcing us to give up things and more about a love story? What if we still love our family and friends, but we see those relationships blessed by God and not separate?
The late Christian writer Dallas Willard noted that discipleship is not a form of drudgery, but more like a love story. It is about entering into God’s reality in this world. It doesn’t have to mean that we sell everything and move to Tibet to tend yaks. Maybe it could mean that after entering God’s reality, we go back to the mundane world and live it differently. Willard puts it this way:
I am learning from Jesus how to lead my life, my whole life, my real life. Note, please, I am not learning from him how to lead his life. His life on earth was a transcendently wonderful one. But it has now been led. Neither I nor anyone else, even himself, will ever lead it again. And he is, in any case, interested in my life, that very existence that is me. There lies my need. I need to be able to lead my life as he would lead it if he were I.
So as his disciple I am not necessarily learning how to do special religious things, either as a part of “full-time service” or as a part of “part-time service.” My discipleship to Jesus is, within, clearly definable limits, not a matter of what I do, but of how I do it. And it covers everything, “religious” or not.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that every aspect of our lives is God-infused. What we do matters and that means our whole lives matter, not just the hour or so we are at church on Sunday. Discipleship becomes a journey where you will never know where you will end up.
I have to say I never expected myself to be here this morning. When I started seminary 16 years ago, I wasn’t sure about this whole pastor thing. I’ve always been shy and I didn’t see myself being the outgoing person that I thought pastors needed to be. I decided to go to seminary, but I expected to be teaching theology, not getting involved a local church. Then I did an internship and realized that this pastoring a church wasn’t so bad.
Fast forward a few years later. I was now working as the Associate Pastor at First Christian-Minneapolis. I enjoyed what I was doing. At the time I was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s a mild form of autism and being the Associate played to my stregnths. I thought that because of the Aspergers that I was destined to be an Associate. I couldn’t possibly lead a church as the sole pastor.
Yeah. God had other plans as you all know now. Discipleship is a journey. If we are willing to follow Jesus, we will end up in places we never imagined doing God’s work.
This Sunday is the beginning of a journey that all of you and I will take together. First-Mahtomedi is finding out what to do next, where God will lead us. If all of us are willing to be led by Jesus, we just might end up in places we never imagined, tell everyone that God’s kingdom is here.
I like to give my sermon titles and the one I have for this one was “Oh, The Place You’ll Go!” This was the last book published by Dr. Suess while he was still alive. It came out in early 1990 and Suess died in 1991. The book has acheived fame not just because it was the last book by Theodore Geisel, but because it tends to be purchased as graduation presents. It’s a book about setting off on a new adventure and seeing it with wonder and awe. I want to share a few lines:
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
Yes, discipleship is hard. But learning to follow Jesus isn’t about giving up things. It’s about setting out on a journey with God and “Oh, the places you’ll go!”
So, here we are at this beginning. Today is the day. With Jesus we are off to Great Places. Oh, the places we’ll go!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Wonderful sermon! I’m Karen, Jan Paulson’s sister. The vitality expressed in your message is moving and wishing you God’s blessings as you begin this new journey.