Following Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, January 26th, 2014 || Third Sunday after the Epiphany||  Isaiah 9: 1-4; 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18; Matthew 4: 12-23  || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I’m guessing that most of us sitting in this church today self-identify as Christians.  If we were filling out a multiple choice questionnaire, and the options were to check the box marked Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, B’hai, Zoroastrian, or “other,” I’m betting most of us would put a mark next to the box that said “Christian.”

But what if there was a follow up question—a follow up question with boxes to choose from that said things like Practicing Christian, Nominal Christian, Secular Christian, Christian by Choice or Christian by Default?  I wonder how many of us are Christians by choice rather than default, or how many of us self-identify as practicing Christians? That might be a tougher question to answer, but it’s one well worth asking ourselves both as individuals and as a community of faith. Because to be a practicing Christian has to mean more than self-identifying with a particular cohort of people.  Putting a checkmark next to a box that says “Christian” on a demographic survey should say more about us than putting one next to the box that indicates gender, age group, political party, or national or ethnic origin.

Of course, neither Jesus nor his disciples ever even used the term “Christian.  At first it was just a term used by pagans (a bit of a slam really) to refer to Jesus-followers…followers like Simon and Andrew, James and John–though not all of them dropped everything they were doing to take off after Jesus immediately, and none of them was anything even close to a perfect disciple.  After all, they stumbled, they asked foolish questions, they repeatedly seemed to miss the point, and they rejected and abandoned Jesus before falling on their knees to praise him in the end.

But what is perhaps most striking about this passage is that when these early Christians responded to the invitation to follow Jesus, they had no idea whatsoever where they’d be going!  Can you imagine? There was something so compelling about Jesus that who (or what) they were following far outweighed any fear they had about where it would lead! These early Jesus-followers chose to take what by any worldly standard was an enormous and certainly fool-hearty risk by leaving behind the familiar, comfortable security of their present lives to embrace an entirely new, Christ-centered future about which they knew nothing!  They were the first practicing Christians.

Why would any rational person choose such a risky path?  “The people who sat in darkness had seen a great light,” Matthew tells us, and it was this great Light they chose to follow… this great light in which they sensed God’s light, the Kingdom light…the Light of the Christos, the Messiah, the Savior… the Light that would illumine their way and lead them in all righteousness.  The Light that said, “Follow me.  I’m going to change your priorities and your relationships and your heart and your life and you’re actually going to thank me for it!”  That is the light they stepped out in faith to follow.

That is the light we are being called to step out in faith to follow, too, as we answer Christ’s call.  Because make no mistake:  Jesus is calling each of us at St. Stephen’s as surely as he called Simon and Andrew and James and John! We are at a challenging—and frankly, exciting turning point in the life of this church. God is not about to abandon us now!  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and Christ is in our midst calling us to follow him. Always to follow him…

It’s okay that we don’t know yet where He’s leading!  All Jesus asks of us today is that we follow him. All he asks of us today is that we leave behind the familiar, comfortable security of our present lives to embrace the entirely new, Christ-centered future he has in store for us.

What that means is that as we think creatively, consider our options, and make decisions, we do it in the context of our identity as practicing Christians. It means that as we balance fiscal responsibility with the call to risky faith, we look for Christ’s light to illumine the way. It means that as we gather together to seek solutions, we do it with the best interests of Christ and Christ’s church as our measure.  And it means we do all of this prayerfully, courageously, generously, and humbly—to ensure that His will–not my will or your will but his will, is done.

I’m not saying this will be easy.  To paraphrase Paul: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  that although we won’t all be in agreement and of course there will be divisions among us—let us commit to being united in the same mind and the same purpose:  That of the one we choose to follow, Jesus Christ. Let us commit to being practicing Christians, intentional Christians, Christians by choice. Christian’s who actively seek to know and to do Christ’s will…in our lives and in the life of our church.

Because if we are true to this call, if we step out faithfully into the future to which Christ is leading us,  this church will continue to grow and to flourish and to be the source of life-giving hope and joy that it is to so many both inside and outside these walls!

No one says we have to do it perfectly.  We can stumble, ask foolish questions, miss the point, even turn away from Jesus along the way.  But if we are true to his call, Jesus will change our priorities, our relationships, our hearts, and our lives…and we will fall to our knees in gratitude to praise him in the end. Amen.

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