October 27, 2002

Matthew 10:26-39

More often than not, I find myself in a leadership role of some sort, regardless of what I am involved in. Whether it is conducting a cross-cultural trip to Jerusalem, chairing a committee, or simply driving my family somewhere, it is my role to coordinate the arrangements, prepare the agenda, or to get us where we want to go. I need to know how to do it or how to get there.

Every once in a while, however, I find myself not needing to lead. It may involved shingling a roof with Dale Wolgemuth--Dale will very capably take charge--or driving in the passenger seat of someone else's car. Rather than struggling to take over or jockeying for power, I actually find such situations to be a welcome relief. I still need to bang the hammer, help carry out the agenda, and travel to our destination. But what a wonderful feeling it is to sit back, so to speak, catch my breath, and let someone else call the shots and worry about where we are going.

That, my friends, is precisely what Jesus asks his would-be disciples to do here in Matthew 10, and it is what we are emphasizing in this portion of our new purpose statement. Rather than holding onto the reigns of our lives and insisting that we, as individuals and as a community, must control our own destinies, we seek to "follow Jesus faithfully."

That is a mouthful, to be sure, but let's unpack it for a moment. We seek, first of all, to "follow." The very idea of following, quite obviously, suggests something about our intended position. To follow means that we are not in the lead. We are not the primary directors of this wonderful production entitled "life." Someone else is orchestrating the events, determining the props, and writing the script. That someone, by sheer grace alone, invites each of us to play a meaningful role in the drama--or at time comedy!--and even allows us to adjust the flow of events and change the lines on occasion. Nevertheless, that someone else remains in charge, and we are asked to follow. In fact, we do our very best work and the overall production receives the most rousing round of applause from all of creation when we let the director do his thing and we follow.

To follow, however, implies more than just a particular position. To follow suggests a sense of movement and direction. We are not simply standing in line, nor are we as a church called to impersonate some lifeless and archaic institution. We are going somewhere. We are on a journey. We are taking the most invigorating trip of our individual and corporate lives, and none of us, regardless of age or experience, has arrived yet. As Os Guiness phrases it, "A Christian is someone who in this life is always on the road as a follower...."
Does that thought scare you? It can be intimidating, I know. Perhaps you are the type of person who prefers staying at home to traveling. You don't like riding on crowded buses, and you have never even flown before. Maybe you grow uneasy at the thought of new places, and you worry when every detail of the proposed trip is not clearly pre-planned and in place before leaving. If you are like that, it is a good thing that you were not with my wife and me on our 25th anniversary trip to Maine a few months ago. Our lives are so planned at times that we decided not to make any reservations in advance! We had a blast. If we wanted to turn right, we turned right. If we wanted to turn left, we turned left. What a sense of adventure. The words of the song "Easy
Tonight," sung by the popular contemporary band Five For Fighting, repeatedly came to my mind: "...don't know where I'm going yet, but I sure am getting there." Why, just the thought of such spontaneity and uncertainty is enough to make some of you cringe, isn't it? Rest easy. Our journey as Christians is not without direction. We are not called to wander aimlessly, but to follow someone. To complete that quote from Os Guiness, "A Christian is someone who in this life is always on the road as a follower of Christ...."
We seek, therefore, not simply to follow, but to follow Jesus. This statement constitutes the most significant and radical choice that any of us will ever make. In saying that we seek to follow Jesus, we are at the same time announcing who and what we will not follow. We are, of course, stating that we will not devote our lives to following the various and innumerable enticements set before us by the world. We will not follow the urge to accumulate wealth. We will not follow the human thirst for power and popularity. We will not follow the instructions of our government, employers, teachers, friends, or even parents if what they expect of us conflicts with the call of Jesus on our lives. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are declaring our desire to ignore and even put to death those alternate calls that would, if followed, move us away from him.

But we are also saying more than that. In announcing our intention to follow Jesus, we affirm, first and foremost, our commitment to a person. Our purpose is not so much to embrace a particular set of doctrines, as helpful as they may be. Our goal is not primarily to promote one denomination over another, nor to preserve our preferred theological tradition. To be honest, our longing is not even to make people more "religious." You can actually lose sight of Jesus in the midst of your religion, and you can certainly forget about him while performing good works. "Pray for me that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus," Mother Theresa cried, "even under the guise of ministry to the poor." Or as comedian Lenny Bruce so prophetically phrased it, "...every day people are straying from the church and going back to God."

According to our new purpose statement, we at the Grantham Church want to follow Jesus. We don't want just to be religious, nor do we want to be so caught up in our rituals and practices and structures that people have to look elsewhere to find the bread of life. Our passion is a person-Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. Christ, not "Christianity," is the hope of all of the world, and we want to follow him. We want to think like him, talk like him, act like him, and love like him.

And we want to do it "faithfully." That word "faithfully" raises some concerns, doesn't it? It conjures up images of obstacles and barriers and difficulties and struggles. The very fact that we want to follow Jesus faithfully suggests the possibility that we might trip and fall along the way. We might even give up and abandon the journey. Following Jesus is, once again, a radical and all-encompassing choice.

Jesus himself points out several potential potholes here in Matthew 10:26-39.
The fear of physical harm (vv. 26-3 1). The fear of being rejected by other people (vv. 32-33). The fear of broken relationships (vv. 34-37). Elsewhere he adds the fear of undesirable assignments--the Lord will ask me to do something that I don't want to do-- and the fear of material loss--I have to give up to much. What are your fears? What might keep you from throwing yourself completely into the hands of Jesus?

It really is a wonderful thing to be able to catch your breath and follow someone who thoroughly knows what they are doing and where they are going. I never worried about directions when I was a child and my dad was behind the wheel of our car. I trusted him. I followed. That is what Jesus asks of us.

What roadblocks are you struggling with today? In what ways might you follow Jesus more closely as you move into the coming week? Is there something he has asked you to do that you have left undone? Is there something that you are clinging to that he wants you to let go of? What fears keep standing in your way? I want each of you to take a moment and jot down on your bulletin whatever comes to your mind. At some point during the next few days, share what you wrote with someone else, and ask them to pray for you and help you. For all of us who genuinely desire to follow Jesus faithfully today, he promises to never leave us or forsake us. His grace and indwelling Spirit are more than enough to see all of us through.