What it means to follow

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming today.

Last week we talked about the difference between inheriting our religion, and being called by Christ. Back in Jesus’ day, almost everybody was a Jew, because their parents were Jews. And their grandparents, and all the rest of their ancestors.

You had to obey God’s laws, but the laws were an inherited thing, too. God gave the laws to you ancestors, 14 generations back. And your neighbors were all the same.

You kept the sabbath, because everybody in town kept the sabbath. You didn’t eat certain things, because nobody would come to your house if you ate them. You celebrated the holidays, because that’s just what everybody did.

People tried to put their heart into it, but it was easy just to go through the motions. It was an inherited thing.

Jesus changed all that. He called people. In last week’s reading, Jesus called Peter, and Andrew, and James and John.

They were fishermen. Jesus found them, down by the beach, getting ready for another day of work. And Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll send you out to fish for people!”

They got out of their boats, left everything, and followed Jesus.

Today, we’re going to push that idea a little farther. What did Jesus actually tell the people that he called? What did Jesus tell them to do? Let’s read and find out.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and he gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Don’t go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.

Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.

But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Matthew 10:1-20

That’s a slightly different version of what we usually think about, when we think about what it means to follow Jesus.

Most people think that being a Christian means you go to church on Sunday. You sing a few songs. You put a few dollars in the plate. You listen to the preacher. Then you shake hands, and go home.

You do that every Sunday. Or maybe every other Sunday. Or maybe just once in a while, when you feel like it.

If you really want to be a Christian, some people say you need to go to a church where they sing louder songs. Maybe hold your hands up in the air, when you sing. Maybe put a few more dollars in the plate.

If you really want to feel dedicated, you might – gasp! – join a committee. In a lot of churches, the people on committees are the real Christians.

Actually, this is all unfair. Some people do enjoy louder music, or new tunes, or a preacher who pounds the pulpit now and then. But that’s more a matter of personal preference. It’s nothing that Jesus ever said.

What Jesus told his friends to do, was something completely different. It’s almost not even in the same universe. Jesus said:

  • drive out impure spirits
  • heal diseases
  • go find the lost sheep
  • everywhere you go, tell people that God’s kingdom is very near
  • heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who are untouchable, drive out demons

These are things that Jesus actually told us to do.

Coming to church is good. I’m not knocking church on Sunday! From the earliest days of the church, people got together on the first day of the week. They came to pray together, to listen to the Scriptures, to share a meal and feel that Jesus was with them.

People came on Sunday, and they brought whatever they had that was extra, to feed the poor. (Collecting food for COAT at worship is probably the most biblical thing we actually do!)

In the early church, on Sunday, some people would pray. Some people would speak from the Spirit. Some people would sing a hymn or a song. It varied.

Coming to church on Sunday gave them strength. It gave them hope. It helped their faith.

But doing the things Jesus told them, was what made them Christians.

Jesus said, “Love one another, just as I have loved you. . .”

Loving people is following Christ. Hating people is the opposite of following Christ. Hating people seems to be a really popular alternative today.

But hating people, spreading hate, feeding hate, has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel, or with Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “Love one another. Forgive each other. Even forgive your enemies. Forgive, because God has forgiven you. Forgive as many times as it takes.”

“Love your neighbor.” Jesus said. And he told a story about a guy who got beaten and robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. Two very religious guys came down the road, saw him, and walked on by. A third guy came down the road, stopped, and helped him. Gave him first aid. Took him for help. Paid his motel bill. Took care of his every need.

That third guy, Jesus said, belonged to a religious group that everybody else hated. Nobody would talk to them, or trade with them, or eat the food that they’d touched. But he was the guy that stopped.

“Which one of those three was the good neighbor?” Jesus asked. The two religious guys, or the good Samaritan? You tell me. . .”

In today’s reading, Jesus says something interesting. “When you come into town, find a good family, and stay with them. When you come into a house, greet everybody who lives there, and share your peace with the whole family. If they accept your peace, great! If they don’t accept your peace, just move on.”

This is really a cool idea! It assumes that Christians are people who go into homes, or who open their homes to others. But then there’s this really cool idea, that when we visit people, a big part of what we do is to share the peace of Christ with them.

I know people who can share the peace of Christ, with a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. I know people who can share the peace of Christ with tomatoes from their garden, or by showing a picture of their family.

It’s not just what we say. It’s sharing the peace that’s in our heart with people. Quakers have a special way of talking about that. One of the old Quaker questions for spiritual growth asks, “Do you make your home a place of friendliness, refreshment, and peace, where God becomes more real to those who live there and to all who visit there?”

Jesus also shared some cautions in today’s reading. He said, “I’m sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves. . .”

Jesus knew that his followers wouldn’t have it easy. Not everybody is innocent or good. There’s times we all have, when somebody doesn’t like us, or wants to take advantage of us, or treat us badly, or get rid of us.

Jesus said, “You’ll find yourself in court. You’ll face hostility. They’ll beat you up. They’ll drag you in front of the authorities. Don’t worry ahead of time, what to say. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the moment comes. It won’t be you speaking, but your Father speaking through you.”

That’s quite a promise! God can speak through ordinary people like us. Jesus said that.

Jesus seems to think that coming to church is only part of being one of his disciples. It’s important. But there’s a lot more!

Jesus said, “Treat everyone the same way that you’d like to be treated. . .” That’s the Golden Rule.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. . .” That’s the Great Commandment.

Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. . .” That’s the Great Commission.

Jesus said to the crowd who wanted to kill a woman who’d been caught in adultery, “Whoever is without sin among you, throw the first stone.” And then he told the woman, “Go home, and sin no more. . .”

Do you see what I’m saying here? There’s more to being a Christian, than coming to church. Don’t get me wrong. Coming to church is good! It helps make you stronger. You see your friends. You get a lift.

But when we leave here – that’s when the real work starts. Going out, and doing what Jesus said – that’s when we all start to follow.

Just like there’s a difference, between inheriting our faith, and hearing Jesus call us, there’s a difference between coming to church, and living up to what Jesus says. That’s what we all need to do.

Nobody’s perfect. We all fall short. Me as much as anyone. I’m not perfect, either! We forgive each other. We lift each other up. We help each other to get straightened out. We try again. We pray for each other. We try to build each other up. We share each others’ burdens. Wash, rinse, repeat – it never ends.

But day by day, we try to do better. Week by week, we try to reach out and build. Generation by generation, we tell people about the love of Christ.

That love was showed to us. We know that love in our hearts, and we’re aware of that love of Christ, whenever we stop and pray. We try to find the words and the means to share that love, in Jesus’ name, with everyone we meet.

That’s what it’s all about.

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