Sermon: Follow Me

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Preached on 15th January 2017
by Revd Elaine Lindridge

Follow me

Living in Newcastle means we need to check when the football matches are on & make sure we avoid certain roads. One Sunday last year we got it wrong.  There was a football derby– Newcastle & Sunderland were playing.

Me & husband Stephen were on the main road out of Newcastle but a police van stopped in front of us and a police van hemmed us in behind. We then realized the police were walking the Sunderland supporters towards St. James’s Park. So we sat in the car with Newcastle supporters on our left and Sunderland supporters on our right – shouting at each other, each fan convinced they were following the best team.

You may well have heard it asked…are you a fan or a follower of Jesus? Actually I think I’m both.  Those early disciples who responded to his call to follow…they must have been fans too. There’s something attractive/compelling about Jesus that makes us want to follow.

In Luke’s gospel we hear the calling of Levi. I’d like to focus on the end of v.27. Us preachers all have favorite Bible translation…..but sometimes we look at others to find a particular nuance or wording. So I looked at different translations:

New Revised Standard Version

New International Version

Good News

International Children’s Bible

King James Version

Common English Bible

The Youth Bible’

All say ‘follow me’

The call to follow is clear…but what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

So what did being a follower mean for those who JC called;

  • In this passage from Luke – following Jesus meant Levi had to leave everything behind
  • For Simon & Andrew, the call to follow meant leaving their nets because Jesus was going to make them fish for people.
  • To the Would-Be Followers of Jesus, Jesus said,  ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’
  • To the Rich Young Ruler Jesus said ‘follow me’ but he was also told to sell his possessions, and give the money to the poor.
  • The call to follow Jesus was given to Nathanael – but he had to leave his prejudices behind in order to hear it.
  • The disciples were told that to follow Jesus meant they had to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Jesus, as always, related to these people as individuals….whilst there was a generic call ‘follow me’… there was also the more specific explanation of what that might mean for each of them.

Sometimes it's hard to connect with these stories because they're so condensed. The gospel writers don’t give us a lot of background information. Was there a sense of inner struggle for Levi?  I mean this was a huge decision…to leave everything.  Luke leaves out the process of deciding, discerning, choosing, struggling.  Maybe we don’t need to know what Levi was thinking or the process he went through to make 

his decision. Because in the end, the process is not the point. The point is that Jesus saw him & called him, ‘follow me’.

"Jesus was not a Christian”

Don Everts – Jesus With Dirty Feet.

"Jesus was not a Christian.

He never asked anyone to become a Christian,

never built a steepled building,

never drew up a theological treatise,

never took up an offering,

never wore religious garments,

never incorporated for tax purposes.

He simply called people to follow him.

That’s it.

That, despite its simplicity, is it.

He called people to follow him…

It is never more than Jesus’ call: “Follow me”

and a response: dropping familiar nets and following,

In faith, this sandaled Jewish man.

It is never more than that.

Two thousand years of words can do nothing to the simple,

basic reality of Christianity:

Those first steps taken by those two brothers

Peter and Andrew’s theology was as pure as it gets:

Jesus said, “Follow me.” And they did."

I wonder what we hear & understand when the call of Jesus, ‘follow me’ comes today.

Just like for Levi - this is about committing to the person of Jesus Christ. It's not a cerebral response - committing to a doctrinal statement or to the Creeds, or to what others say we should believe. Jesus never said--"Come, be a Christian" or "Come, believe everything about me". He said, ‘follow me.’

I used to think that being a ‘follower of Jesus’ was mainly about what I believed. Thinking that somehow if I believed in Jesus and accepted him as my Lord and Saviour then I was a Christian and therefore a follower. I’m just not convinced that’s true. As followers of Christ it’s not enough to just believe…it’s not just about what we think, but about what we do.

If we're followers, then what do we do? To Follow is a verb, or maybe you remember from school it being called a ‘doing’ word (what a great phrase).  It's not thinking about following, it’s not believing in following, - it's about what we do. Jesus didn’t go around just being good, he went around doing good. Being a 'good' Christian, even believing the right things, just isn't enough.

You see I can think about going jogging, I might even be deluded enough to believe I'm a jogger because I've done it once or twice in the past and because I own some running shoes.  But those shoes are dusty and my muscles are not in shape because I simply don't do it. I look out the window and on a fine day I think 'it would be lovely to go for a jog across the moor behind our house'. I believe it's good for me, I kind of want to do it, I believe I can, but unless I do it I am not a jogger, I'm just not! My lack of action shows my belief to be a lie.

So what do we do? Start by look at what JC did.

Those good old wristbands shout out ‘what would Jesus do?’ – if you read gospels then you see that turning over tables & chasing people with a whip is within the realms of possibilities. As is having dinner with a prostitute & going to lots of parties. WWJD – accept the people we hold at arms length, listen to the unworthy, clean up the dirty, challenge the status quo, get angry with the religious elite, notice those about to fall of the edge of society. WWJD – risk his own reputation, create controversy, love the unlovely.

WWJD – I might be very wrong, I’m sure someone will tell me later, but I don’t think Jesus would get as upset as we do about certain things. As church we get very heated about certain issues don’t we….you & I know what they are. We spend a lot of time arguing about these things & trying to work out the truth. If we’re thinking WWJD then I think Jesus would be more concerned with those who’ve had their benefits sanctioned, those who use foodbanks, those who sleep on streets, those who are lost & weary with life, then how we interpret a couple of verses of scripture.

So, if we’re going to follow Jesus then we need to treat others in the same way as he did, including all manner of people but especially those who were overlooked by society. This, I think, is at the heart of what it means to be a follower: to try to live and treat others as Jesus did.

Think for a moment about when you became a follower. I became a follower when I was 13, by the grace of God who reached out to me in love. By grace we are saved….not through any merit of our own. I became a follower then….….hopefully I’m being a follower today.

And as such we ought…to walk (that is, behave) just as Jesus walked during his earthly life and ministry. Jesus sets the standard and example of behavior for the Christian.

Last year I went to a community art exhibition at The Holy Biscuit (a fresh expression of church in our district). Reflected on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, Called ‘Your Deeds Don't Define You’– a partnership between artists and a project called Junction 42 which works with offenders. So some of the exhibits were created by local artists whilst others were from women in custody at Low Newton young offenders. It was very thought provoking.

Some reflections were written to accompany the art – one was entitled ‘Your deeds don’t define you….or do they?

'Talk is cheap and I want to see what you do, not merely listen to what you say.'

I believe that reflects what society says to the church…. ‘talk is cheap and I want to see what you do, not merely listen to what you say.' You see to a degree our deeds do define us…..our deeds are the proof of our faith. And where individuals & churches are showing that they follow Jesus by the things they do, it declares loudly that God loves….and we love.

Love has a face.

‘they’ll know we are Christians by our love.’

Called By The Son

Being authentic followers of Jesus means we keep close by Jesus – all the time. Close enough to exhibit that hallmark of love. In the same way that someone says, you have eyes just like your dad, your hair….just like your mum, when we live in ways that show that hallmark of love, a love that doesn’t leave anyone out, people will look at us & see the family resemblance with our Father in heaven. 

Jesus calls to each of us ‘follow me’. His voice echoes out through eternity into this very moment…

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