It may surprise you to learn that the traditional seven last words of Jesus from the cross are not, in fact, the final recorded words of Jesus. The Gospel records include a number of conversations between Jesus and various disciples after his resurrection. I find it very interesting and instructive that in The Gospel According to St. John the final words of Jesus that are spoken to the Apostle Peter are exactly the same as his FIRST words to that same person as they are recorded in the New Testament. Jesus says simply, “Follow me.” Actually, those two words appear very often, continuing as a sort of refrain. These two words, Follow me, must have been very important in the mind of Jesus. They must lie close to the heart of what Jesus was trying to communicate.
“Follow me.” What does that mean? On the surface--at first blush--we may wonder if this is such an attractive invitation. Does it mean that we should be blindly obedient? That we should pull out of Reality? That we should become cult fanatics? That we should think that we’re somehow better than others?
Mistaken notions about what these two words mean has lead to senseless quarrels, divisions, persecutions, even international warfare, crusades, and inquisitions. Individuals and groups, too often throughout history, have found some path of meaning that works for them and then immediately pour it into concrete and then set out militantly seeking to impose it on others, demanding their endorsement of and conformity to that same rigid pattern of thought, behavior, dress, or speech. Instead of understanding the invitation to follow Jesus as an open road with many individual options, it gets turned into a fixed intellectual litmus test. Unless you follow in this specific way, you’re off the path--a dangerous heretic, one who is polluting the purity of our Faith. If you persist in holding those differing notions we’re just going to have to cast you out or else we’ll have to withdraw and start our own church--one in which everyone thinks exactly the same way we do. Credal statements, instead of being a uniting poetic and inclusive celebration of our shared journey, become lethally literal verbal clubs with which to attack and drive out those who cannot in conscience acquiesce to our own ideas.
This morning I want to offer four thoughts about what the words, “Follow me,” are all about. Four aspects or dimensions of what I think it might mean to be a disciple of Jesus--whether we’re talking about the First Century or the Twenty-first Century, or indeed about any Christian in every age, and of course, about you and me.
FIRST: The call of Jesus to “Follow me” is a call to “learning on the job,” not some logical process involving study, reflection, decision and then, last of all an action of response. The Christian truth is not taught, it’s caught. You can’t discover Christ by learning all about the theology and worship and then deciding that it is true. It doesn’t work that way. Rather, you feel an urge to get involved and only then are you able to catch something of the transforming miracle that others have known. Christian truth is not an idea, it’s a PERSON--one who can enter your heart and life only is you open the way.
SECOND: We choose to follow Jesus because we feel his authentic presence and that’s completely enough. Our action to be with him is not because of some promised reward--something we’ll earn or get sometime in the future if we’re very, very good. The gift of himself to us right now is the complete fulfillment of the bargain. In gratitude for that gift we choose to be faithful, committed to lives of Thanks-living.
THIRD: We follow in order to serve, not in order to replace the one we follow. Jesus has already, once-and-for-all lived a life of perfect obedience. We don’t have to repeat that. Our job is to offer ourselves warts and all--just as we are--to do and to be whatever we can as humble followers of the way. Knowing--as St Paul knew--that whatever success there may be is, “Not I, but Christ who acts in and through me.”.
follow Jesus not in the expectation that we will be led to some exotic
or exalted position or place, but rather that we will find a way to
be Christ’s own in the very where we already are. There is no
more holy place on this earth than the place where you find yourself
at any moment of any day of
As I said at the start, I find it very interesting that in John’s Gospel the first and last words from the mouth of Jesus are exactly the same. He calls Peter from the fishing business: “Follow me.” After the resurrection, Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me? Then follow me.”
the very same challenging, intriguing, empowering words to each of
us here this morning. Jesus calls us to open our hearts, to feel his
presence, to share that loving grace with everyone we meet, and as
we do that, to transform the entire world. What an amazing invitation.
All that caught up in two little words, “Follow me.” Do
you hear his voice? He’s talking to you: “Follow me.”
Copyright 2003 Calvary Episcopal Church
Gospel: Mark 5:21-23
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