In an episode of The Simpsons,
Homer Simpson is visited by his guardian angel.
Understanding that Homer needs to begin a NEW learning process
guided by someone known or familiar,
the angel assumes the identity of Oscar Wilde.
When Homer doesn’t recognize him,
he tries again…and this time appears as Vincent Van Gogh. Still no luck.
Finally, the guardian angel appears to Homer as the image of Colonel Klink
from the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”.
Homer instantly recognizes him, and follows his directions.
We’re NOT going to follow anyone we don’t recognize.
The PROBLEM is…sometimes, those we RECOGNIZE
in our culture…have NOTHING worth following.
Jesus uttered these words, NOT once, but many many times.
–To Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee;
–To Levi, at the seat of customs;
–To the balking inquirer, Jesus’ words were:
“Leave the dead to bury the dead, and come, follow me.”
–To the rich young ruler:
“Sell what you have, give to the poor, and come, follow me.”
…And to every person, in this time, and succeeding times:
“If anyone would come after me,
let them deny themselves,
and take up their cross..and FOLLOW me.”
These words of COMMAND are plain…and disconcertingly personal.
They cut through any maze of theology.
They don’t care about denomination or culture or language or creed.
They do not bow to rank or privilege.
They are tall enough,
and deep enough,
and sturdy enough…
…to guide ALL of us through the hardest times.
This is what we get, basically, in the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus says follow me…and people follow.
–And teaching happens,
–and healing happens,
–and hope is offered,
–and expectations are overturned,
–and the REIGN of GOD is made manifest in Jesus’ presence.
You see it all through out this gospel, as the pace picks up
Jesus…he moves from place to place
he calls on people to follow
and not only do people recognize Jesus as he passes by
but people RUSH to him.
What is it about Jesus that compels people to RUSH to him?
We, you and I, rush for lots of reasons
–to make the stop light,
–to get the errands done,
–to return the seemingly urgent phone call.
There are LOTS of VOICES out there…
There are so many important things
competing for your time, attention, loyalty, and money.
Why rush? And why Jesus?
We live in a time where MORE than just JESUS
is begging you to “follow me.”
Jesus says “follow me”
and you are listening to a voice that is life giving.
The pain of addiction says “follow me” and your life is taken away.
Jesus says “follow me” and you have before you, this very day,
a worthy challenge for living.
Sick, abusive relationships say “follow me”
and you die a bit more and more, each day.
Jesus says “follow me” and we get to be co-workers with God!
Affluenza says “follow me” and you spend the day
worrying that you don’t have the most up-to-date STUFF
and we just get more stuff that gets in the way.
So, it’s NOT just HOW do we follow…but WHO do we follow…
How do we sort out the maze and figure out WHO is worth RUSHING to at all?
What was it about JESUS that cut through all of this?
That made it clear that HE was compelling?
But then again, NOT EVERYBODY rushed to Jesus.
Take our Rich Young Ruler today, who, after all of this, sorrowfully went away.
Once, Søren Kierkegaard observed:
“Christ has many admirers, but few followers.”
That’s the Rich Young Ruler…
What made the difference between RUSHING…
…or sorrowfully walking away?
What makes the difference for YOU?
Well, for one thing: anybody who says “follow me” is going someplace—
—and we need direction.
These words may strike us as unwelcome and intrusive, even threatening.
But ponder them longer, and maybe you will find that part of their appeal
lies in the fact that they connect us with one who is going someplace.
It often seems easier to HIBERNATE than it is to face
the tough challenges of living.
“Automatic pilot” could be another way to put it.
It is easier, more socially acceptable, to talk about the weather, or football (go Chiefs!)
or about how Paula Dean is still on Dancing with the Stars…
…than it is to expose…or seek to heal…the hurts and lapses
that are buried deep within us all.
It is easier to re-live the past we know—
–than it is to embrace an unknown future that we FEAR.
But…Jesus had a PLAN. You see.
He had work to do,
a purpose to achieve,
a self to become—and we’re invited to get in on the action!
The word that is translated “follow” in most instances in the gospel
is rooted in the Greek word for “ROAD”.
To follow, is to share the same road.
The follower of Jesus prays NOT for a longer STAY with God,
but for a closer WALK with God.
That…is different and compelling—worth recognizing…and rushing to!
Moreover, anyone who says “follow me” is obviously MORE interested
in the FUTURE than in the PAST.
Presumably, these words of Jesus fell upon the ears of
-the old and the young alike;
-the newly married, the freshly widowed
-those who were raising children, or who had just fallen in love,
-those in the middle of school,
-those recovering from an illness,
-and those training for some great competition;
These words were a command to those at the END of life,
no less than those at the beginning—
–to MOVE FORWARD
–to ENGAGE creation
–to FOLLOW GOD.
Its always been fascinating to me:
With Jesus, its NOT where you’ve BEEN that seems to matter so much,
but where you are GOING;
NOT whether you’ve fallen, but whether you will get up;
NOT whom you have hurt in the past, but whom you will help in the future.
Fan through the pages of the gospels,
and you will be startled to discover how LITTLE time Jesus spent
allowing people to expand on a burdened past.
When a woman, taken in adultery, was thrust into his presence,
he DIDN’T try to explore the circumstances
that had pushed her to fall—
–He simply took her by the hand and said,
“Go on your way and sin no more…”
When Nicodemus came to him, under the cover of night,
shackled by an impossible legalism—
–Jesus didn’t ask him HOW he got that way, but simply said:
“You must be born again.”
The younger brother, suffering in that far country,
laboring with the pigs who ate better than he did,
NEVER got to recite before his father
that speech he had so carefully memorized.
Instead, his words rehearsing the good, the bad, the ugly of the past
were SMOTHERED by his father’s LOVE.
Such prodigal love:
He was given a ring for his finger
a robe for his back
and shoes for his feet—RESTORED to FULL status as a son.
Lavish unconditional love.
I’d follow THAT if I saw it lived out in a person—I’d RUSH to it!
One biblical scholar has put it this way:
“The living Christ still has two hands:
ONE to point the way,
and the OTHER held out to help us along.
So, the Christian ideal lies before us,
NOT as a remote and austere mountain peak—
–an ethical EVEREST which we must scale
by our own skill and endurance—
–but as a ROAD on which we may walk boldly with Jesus
as guide and friend.
And we are assured, as we set out on the journey,
that he is with us always, ‘even unto the end of the world.’
With God, all things are possible.
THAT is the conviction that the Rich Young Ruler lacked,
that all those who RUSHED to Jesus seemed to EXPERIENCE.
Of the Rich Young Ruler,
the late Harvard Chaplain Peter Gomes has said:
“The rich young ruler is not merely rich, he is also good.
He is spiritually ambitious, as well as materially well off.
He is what each of us aspires to be, and that is not good enough.
“…The point of the story is that he lacked sufficient trust
in either himself, or in Jesus, to follow his heart.
He was, as they would say in business school, ‘risk averse,’
and thus he lost the big one.
‘You lack one thing,” says Jesus.
‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”
“He was NOT invited to philanthropy, [Gomes continues]
although the poor would have benefited from his divestment.
He was invited to DISCIPLESHIP—
–and it was that invitation to discipleship
that he was AFRAID to accept.
“It would have been easy to give away his possessions.
It was the ultimate difficulty to give away himself.
And so he went away, sorrowfully, with all his possessions
and with nothing that he sought for or needed or wanted,
because he knew that he had made the wrong decision.
His was NOT the road not taken—his was the wrong road.”
In the end, there is NO time or place or circumstance
…where people like you or I cannot follow.
–This is the word that ought to monitor what we DO
and what we SAY
and what we THINK
and what we FEEL…
…as parents and children,
…as partners and spouses,
…as citizens and neighbors,
…as friends and colleagues,
…as healers and forgivers,
…as justice-seekers and peace-makers…
…as stewards of all good gifts.
In this act, this thought
this word, this attitude,
this check, this gift, this decision, this pledge…
are our lives going in the direction that Jesus is going?
That road, is sometimes a challenging road.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here, as we continue reading
how Jesus answers those disciples who were perplexed by this.
This summer I went to Dallas for a few days for a meeting, early July sometime.
The uber driver took me right next to the grassy knoll, which I hadn’t seen before.
Suddenly it was right there, and the driver
Wanted to chat…a lot, apparently, about Kennedy.
It reminded me of a story I had heard,
about how, a few days after President Kennedy was assassinated,
a member of a church in Ann Arbor, Michigan,
called the pastor to suggest that one thing the church might do
to partially REDEEM such a tragedy
would be to provide Marina Oswald
with an opportunity to improve her English.
The widow of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald,
she was Russian by birth,
had only been in the United States for a short time
and, of course, given what had happened,
was universally reviled for her husband’s deeds.
To make a long story short, with the cooperation of the FBI and others—
–Marina Oswald came to Ann Arbor.
She slipped into the community at night by TRAIN,
while a battery of reporters waited hawkishly at the airport.
She lived with a modest family that took seriously its devotion to God,
and its love of people.
The church and the university were pressed,
and finally issued a small press release—
–and the mail started to pour in.
Some were quick and hot to point out how UNPATRIOTIC this action was.
Others called the church foolish and stupid and UN-AMERICAN.
Still others suggested that this was a profoundly UNWISE action.
One woman wrote and called it UNFAIR:
“I have been a member of a church for 40 years,” she wrote,
“and in all that time, ALL that the church has done for me
I could write on the back of a postage stamp—
–YET you do THIS for the wife of that monster?”
The pastor and elders of the church undertook to answer every letter,
no matter how harsh.
In every case, for every letter, their response was the same:
“The one things that you have NOT shown us,” the church wrote,
“is that what we have done is UNLIKE Jesus Christ.”
…To follow Jesus is to follow someone who has a PLAN, who is going someplace.
…To follow Jesus is to face and embrace the FUTURE
with far more energy and attention than we cling to ANY past.
…To follow Jesus is to have a LIGHT by which to steer.
Such Amazing Grace.
No wonder people rushed to be with Jesus
No wonder people, on their own, might stumble along the way.
But with God, all things are possible.
With God, God can make all things new again
this one who makes everything right again in an instant,
renewing us and setting us free to love TODAY, this very day!
BUT…we need to RECOGNIZE that every time he comes across our way
and bids us to follow,
Jesus causes a CRISIS…
…and we can never be the same again.
Father Gregory Boyle has worked for more than 30 years with the gangs
of South-Central Los Angeles.
Boyle founded Home-Boy Industries—to create jobs and hope
for those who were trapped in the inner city.
A decade ago, Father Boyle was diagnosed with Leukemia.
And it was amazing to him
as he observed the wonder of having
gang member after gang member show up at his bedside.
These gang members, who so often either inflicted death,
or had it inflicted upon them
reacted with uncommon GRACE with Father Boyle.
One of the most memorable was “Grumpy”—
–this big, HUGE guy with “no neck and a ton of tattoos”
who appeared before Father Boyle in the hospital in tears
as he looked straight into the eyes of the priest and said:
“What do I have…that you need.”
THAT is the BOLD question those rushing to Jesus asked…
…that the Rich Young Ruler never could.
“What do I have…that you need?”
That is the question of faith
that sets us on the Path of God,
walking with Jesus
who finds his journey
by people to love and to serve.
Everytime Jesus walks by and asks us to follow,
we have a new opportunity to do so.
Now is the time.
Here is the place.
What You and I have—the World needs!
What do we have…that the world needs?
And such a calling….that is something worth rushing to.
My prayer is that we as Christ’s Kirk
might see Jesus walking by, might hear God’s call to FOLLOW
might take note of anything that is keeping us back and giving us pause
and might re-commit to walking alongside Jesus
boldly claiming Christ’s way as our way
in all we say and all we do.
May it be so.
 C.K. Barrett, An Overview of Mark’s Gospel, Theology Today, Spring 1988, p. 69
 Peter J. Gomes, Sundays at Harvard (Harvard University Press, bv2001) 43-48
 Told by Earnest T. Campbell in a sermon “Follow Me”
 Original NPR story for this lost. But see NPR Fresh Air interview with Gregory Boyle from September 10, 2004
Image: Black Friday stampede.