(Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 10:24-39)
Story: “Carl’s Garden – told by Peggy Jackson
Matthew and Judas were driving along at a good clip as they saw someone who looked like a construction worker holding up a sign. When they got close enough, they could see the sign said, “The end is near.” Matthew said, “Oh another one of those religious fanatics,” just he went around the corner. He saw, too late, that the bridge was gone.
Every road of life has bumps and other hazards, including those lived following Jesus. His arrest and execution was a huge bump for his followers, but they carried on. Like other roads, following Jesus requires keeping our thoughts on our goal, life lived well with God and each other, on route to a world of peace, and paying attention as we travel along.
A member of this congregation who was involved in leadership with young people for years told me she quit when the people preparing materials for her to use refused to listen to suggestions about changing what they were providing. They ignored the “end is near” signs, and programs for young people that were once full, crashed as changes in society washed away the bridges they were used to using.
Just as there are bumps we need to recognize and avoid, there are other bumps that are necessary parts of following Jesus. Some of these come from families and friends who are not prepared to put God’s values ahead of theirs. Families are important for growing people, and they are a source of tyranny. Many families use every measure they can to prevent members from becoming whom they want to be. Our minister trained first to be a lawyer because that is what his father wanted him to do.
He left the legal profession after a few years to pursue ministry , the place where his heart called. I had adult students who were challenged by family members who did not want them to become better than the rest of the family. In the Shafia family three girls and their aunt were murdered for refusing to follow the rules of the family. As we follow Jesus, if our eyes and ears are open, we will be aware of how that decision will make people close to us uncomfortable, and we need to be ready to meet their resistance. The mother, brothers and sisters of Jesus came to a place where he was teaching and tried to take him away and keep him someplace where he would not be a danger or embarrassment to himself or them or others. And there are bumps that come from others In society.
John the Baptizer was executed by Herod for daring to question his marriage choice. Jesus was executed by a combination of the religious hierarchy and the Roman authorities. Catholic bishops were attacked by business and political leaders for daring to challenge the priorities of our society. Churches in general and the United Church in particular have been sidelined by our current political leaders for daring to challenge their policies, and to advocate for those who do not have power.
Daring to follow Jesus can be a dangerous choice with a variety of bumps that cannot be readily avoided. But his road is the only one that leads to a world that is good for everyone, and where peace can prevail.
The toughest bumps can be those from inside of ourselves. When I finally decided to answer my call to ministry, my sister-in-law was dismayed. How could I give up the more lucrative work of teaching to become a minister with loss of status and income – how could I decide on a life that would make life tougher and less materially rewarding for her sister?
I have come to believe the number one barrier to people choosing to deepen their spiritual lives is the fear that, if they do that work, how their lives might be changed. It is hard to choose to move from the comfortable to the unknown. Many or most of us also have demons or skeletons within us that we want to leave alone, and following Jesus can bring us to a confrontation with them. The story about the Gerasene demoniac can be read as a metaphor for all those things within ourselves that we want to leave alone. But confronting them through a relationship with God and/or Jesus can bring us deep healing and new life. That process would not be easy or painless, but it can help us on a path to personal wholeness while we live for wholeness for others and the rest of creation.
While going through the painful process of packing up my stuff in the office, I went though papers I have moved a few times and came across this one which seemed to me to fit with today’s message. The title of my paper, written October 27, 1987, is “Lonergan and Spirituality: Living a Profound Sense of Integrity”. I realized this paper I had more or less forgotten about, written almost 2 years before I started ministry, influenced the path I followed in ministry. Here is my conclusion for that paper:
We are to give witness to God’s radical love for us and the rest of Creation by our radical love through a radical application of responsibility and reason to our actions and decision-making, always with a sense of radical as meaning contrary to or far beyond the normal experience in our society. This requires moral, religious and intellectual conversion, and will be seen in humility, courage and compassion arising out of a dialectical attitude and supported by a self-discipline based on a right relationship in love with God.
It is not easy but, once we have begun this way of life, our love, sense of responsibility and judgement will make it difficult for us to leave. The great need of our time is for a large number of people to enter this journey to turn around the movement of our world which seems to be currently headed away from increasing order.
To translate, our calling as followers of Jesus is to reveal God’s overwhelming, unconditional love by our own overwhelming, unconditional love shown through actions that thoughtfully fit what we believe. Doing this takes conversion from the norms of our society in every way to the norms offered by Jesus, and self-discipline in consistently living for right relationships because of love for God. While not easy, once we live this way, it will be difficult for us to leave this road. Our world today needs many people to choose to join this journey to turn our world from a self-destructive path.
The bumps on our road with Jesus can hurt, but this road is the only one I wish to follow. I wish you well on the roads you choose to follow.
Bonnie and I have come to love many of you a great deal. After the end of this week, I hope we will continue being your friends and hope you will see us as friends. I hope you will free to call upon us a friends, and only as friends, when you wish.