Following Jesus by Serving

Following Jesus by Serving

John 12:12-16 and John 13:1-20 For almost 40 days, we’ve been following Jesus.  We’ve seen how he prayed, healed, taught, forgave, and went – and we’ve worked to follow that example in our everyday lives. Today, we follow Jesus into Jerusalem… which means joining a parade. This particular parade was fit for a king.  Literally.  In the first-century Roman world, it was typical for a conqueror or king to come into a city with a big procession.  When Jesus organizes his own parade into Jerusalem, he’s making a statement:  I am your king! And the people agree with Jesus; we know by the way they respond.  They wave palm branches – “symbols of national triumph and victory” (according to Bible scholar Gail O’Day).  Waving them was a way to say, “You’re the man!”  Then, in their cheers they name explicitly what kind of man they thought Jesus was:  “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13). On Palm Sunday we join in this parade.  We wave palm branches.  We sing “hosanna” (a kind of religious “hurrah” that originally meant something like, “Save us!”).  As we follow behind Jesus, it looks like we’re following a big celebrity – the kind of guy who rolls out his own red carpet and then struts down it, smiling and waving for the crowds. But look closer, followers of Christ.  There’s more going on here; Jesus doesn’t completely act the part. Check out Jesus’ mode of transportation.  When first-century kings rode into their cities on an animal, they typically chose an impressive warhorse.  What did Jesus pick for himself? A young donkey. It’s laughable. ...
Following Jesus by Going

Following Jesus by Going

We are followers of Christ.  Always – but especially this Lent.  Week by week we’re working on sticking close to Christ through Scripture, through the body of Christ (the church), and through the Holy Spirit.  And week by week we’re trying to better follow the example he set. Today, we take that almost literally.  We follow Christ by going. Jesus makes it clear that we’re supposed to “go” through his last words to his disciples, what we in the church often call the “Great Commission.”  The timing of these instructions reminds me of when my mom would leave me in charge of my younger brothers for a few hours.  With her body halfway out the door, she’d lean back in just far enough to deliver some most-important final instructions, like, “DO NOT jump off the dock into the bay,” or, “DO NOT eat all the ice cream.”  Here, in Matthew 28:16-20, we might picture Jesus as though he’s already halfway out the door of this world but is leaning back in for his own most-important final instructions. Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These final...

Following Jesus in Forgiveness

We are followers of Christ.  That means we follow Jesus closely:  reading about him through Scripture, experiencing him through the body of Christ we call “church,” and walking daily with him thanks to the Holy Spirit. But following Christ doesn’t end there.  It also means following his example in our own lives by living and acting the way that he did. This week, we attempt to follow Jesus into tough territory:  forgiveness.  Jesus talked the talk about forgiveness, saying things like “forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37) and that we ought to forgive the same repentant person as much as seven times in one day (Luke 17:4).  Even when he taught about prayer, it included forgiveness:  “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive those indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). That was the talk he talked.  Jesus also walked the walk – but in that, he went the extra mile.  Jesus forgave others to a radical extent. No moment embodies that quite like today’s Scripture.  So follow me into this scene:  imagine yourself a disciple who ran away, terrified, while Jesus was betrayed and handed over and tortured and sentenced to death.  Now, as Jesus is crucified, you come back to him – trying to avoid recognition by blending into the crowd.  And this is what you see (Luke 17:32-38): Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.  When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, “Father,...
Following Jesus in Teaching

Following Jesus in Teaching

This Lent we’re following Jesus.  We’re following him by getting close to him:  carefully listening to the stories about what he did, imagining we were there with him.  Then, we’re following the example we’ve seen – putting his actions into our everyday lives. Today, we follow Jesus as he teaches. A few of you brave souls are living into this part of Jesus’ example by your profession.  You prepare lessons and head into a classroom full of students every day.  And some of you brave souls are teachers by volunteerism:  you come to a classroom full of students here at church once a week.  The rest of us don’t carry the official title, but that doesn’t mean we’re not teachers, too.  Teaching is the act of helping someone else learn something, and that’s something we all do. We teach our children how to walk and talk and use a Kleenex instead of picking their noses.  We teach our friends about the book we just read; we teach our relatives about great-grandma’s chicken casserole; we teach our buddy a new grip to try for his golf swing; we teach our coworkers about a shortcut to the office.  As we gain information, we want to share it – especially the information we find most important. Yes, we are all teachers.  Whether or not we are effective teachers – that is debatable. I bet you’ve been on the receiving end of some ineffective “teaching” moments.  Like: …you’re not in a classroom, but you’re being lectured as though you were a student… …you know you’re right but you’re being told you’re wrong anyway…...

Following Jesus in Healing

During this season of Lent, we are following Christ. Well, we should always be following Christ:  following him by staying close to him, and following him by following his example.  In the first century the disciples did this by walking with Jesus, seeing what he did, and then mimicking his behaviors.  Here in the twenty-first century we can’t literally follow Jesus around, so we do it by reading about him through Scripture and experiencing him through the Holy Spirit.  Then, like good disciples, we can mimic the behaviors we’ve “seen.” This Lent we at Andrews UMC are taking our role as followers of Christ very seriously.  We’re following Jesus through a careful look at the things he frequently did and we’re discovering ways to mimic those behaviors. On this second Sunday of Lent we look at something Jesus did a lot: Healing. Wanna see for yourself?  Open up the gospel of Mark.  You’ll find the first healing at 1:21, then another starting at 1:29, and others at 1:32, and 1:40, and 2:1… I think you get the drift. Today we follow Jesus as he heals a leper and a paralytic.  We watch closely to see what he did… so we can act similarly. First, Mark 1:40 – 45:  Jesus heals a leper.  A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to...
Following Jesus in Prayer

Following Jesus in Prayer

Mark 1:35-39 “Follow me.” That’s how Jesus invites people to be his disciples.  Open up a gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and you’ll see Jesus asking people to “follow me” all over the place.  That’s why we Christians also call ourselves “followers of Christ.” But Jesus wasn’t the first one to ask his disciples to “follow me.” This expression was in common use in the first century Jewish world.  Rob Bell has explained it like this:  Rabbis were teachers who took on a large part of the male Jewish population as students, starting at a young age.  As those students grew older, some would be weeded out; only the best would continue their studies until the age of 13 or 14.  At that point, just the cream of the crop would be left – and those exemplary students would seek to become a “disciple” of a rabbi.  A young man would present himself to a rabbi and say, “I want to follow you.”  And if the young man passed mustard, the rabbi would invite him: “Come, follow me.” And it was a very literal invitation. The rabbi’s disciples followed him everywhere.  Through the streets, into the synagogue, into homes – everywhere.  A good disciple would aim to follow his rabbi so closely, Bell says, that he’d be covered with the dust that the rabbi kicked up while walking.  All this close-following had a purpose:  to see and mimic everything the rabbi did. So when Jesus invites his disciples to “follow me,” it’s with that same intention:  follow and mimic.  And for us, as well:  follow and mimic. This...
Shine

Shine

Exodus 34:29-35 “Moses came down from Mount Sinai” (Exod 34:29). This sentence sounds like an everyday thing… at least where I live.  Here in far-western North Carolina we talk about how someone went “down the mountain” from Nantahala into Andrews, just like we say we went “up to Happy Top” when we go to the neighborhood on the upper end of town, or that we went “through the gorge” when we travel through the Ocoee to Chattanooga.  These opening words look much the same:  Moses is simply going “down the mountain” from Mount Sinai to the Israelite camp. But this isn’t simple.  This is far from everyday. Moses wasn’t just coming down from a mountain – he was coming down from an experience with God.  When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, God spoke to him “face to face,” “like a friend” (Exod 33:11).  Moses even got a rare glimpse of God’s glory (Exod 33:22-23).  Sure, it was just a glimpse; but that’s more than my two eyes have ever seen. Moses’ descent isn’t so much topographical as it is spiritual.  Moses is returning after a close encounter with our Creator God. And it shows. “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exod 34:29). Moses has a very important delivery for the Israelites:  the “two tablets of the covenant,” i.e., the Ten Commandments.  This would be special, anyway, but this is actually the second time Moses...

How to Love (Your Enemy)

Luke 10:25-37 My first sermon of 2019 must have been for me more than my congregation… because I can’t get it off of my mind. It was about the wise men, and how they followed a star to find Jesus.  How we don’t get a star to follow but we do get clear commands to love God and love our neighbors.  Those love commands are like our star; if we keep moving closer toward love, we’ll be led closer and closer to Jesus. Normally, once I preach a sermon it leaves my brain to make room for the next one.  Not this one; it stuck with me.  It wasn’t that it was a new concept; I learned that we’re supposed to love God and neighbor in children’s Sunday School.  But it’s surprising how easily one can get distanced from the love commands.  At least this “one” can; I get buried under statistical reports and filling staff positions and an almost-finished new church website and articles for the local paper and… Well, “love” slips to the bottom of my to-do list.  It can even fall right off the page.  I can forget that my #1 responsibility is LOVE. This reminder came like a diagnosis of my spiritual health:  I need to give love more priority.  Then, as I worked my way through the gospel of Matthew during my devotional reading, I came across what felt like the prescription for treatment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute...

All About It

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 I want to tell you what I’m all about. In my teens it was music.  I’ve always liked music; I can remember spending many middle-school hours listening to the radio in my room.  But in 9th grade my relationship with music changed forever, because in 9th grade I met Michelle.  During our fourth period freshman art class my new friend would slip me CDs to try by bands I’d never heard of.  My mind was blown.  As it turns out, some of the best stuff never even gets played on the radio!  Who knew?! As the year went by our friendship grew… and so did my music collection.  Once we got our driver’s licenses Michelle started taking me to concerts in small little venues downtown.  I bought my own CDs and began listening to those bands almost exclusively.  We made friends from the music scene, and my clothing started to resemble theirs:  hooded sweatshirts and big, baggy jeans and skateboarding shoes.  I put band stickers on my car and patches on my backpack. I was all about it. I honestly thought I’d be all about music forever. But in my 20s I found another love:  the outdoors. The summer before college, I worked for a backpacking ministry for the first time.  Then, as a college freshman, I discovered that my school had an awesome outdoor club.  From then on out – through college and seminary – my world became more and more about the outdoors.  I spent my summers on the Appalachian Trail; I spent my falls and springs day hiking; and winter was for snowboarding.  When...

A Love that Doesn’t Disappoint

Romans 5:1-11 This month I want to talk about love. Because it’s February, and because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday.  Because love is already on our minds (that, or the lack thereof).  And it should be on our minds, always – but not the swooning, cupid-and-his-arrows, rom-com kind of love that dominates this month.  The kind of love that should fill our hearts is more like this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus said “all the law and the prophets” hang on those two greatest commands.  Doesn’t that sound like a sweet deal?  I mean, there used to be 10 and now there’s just 2!  And all we have to do is love! But love isn’t easy.  It’s hard.  We know this about romantic love:  once you get beyond the meet-cute and the infatuation, things get real.  The same is true for our two greatest loves.  During the retreat or the mission trip, loving God with our whole selves is easy!  But in the regular, day-in-and-day-out, loving God first and most is a challenge.  It’s not so different with loving our neighbors:  it’s easy in theory, when we’re imagining friendly Wilson-like characters waving at us from behind white picket fences.  But what about all those really annoying neighbors, the ones that walk across our yards without speaking to us after we’ve had a long, hard day at work? Loving God and loving our...