Sermon preached in Bishopton Parish Church, on 23rd January 2011, Third Sunday after Epiphany
Many of you have kindly asked me if I enjoyed my holiday. Well, probably the best thing about taking a holiday, besides the rest and relaxation bit, is that you have the chance to put a complete stop to all the ‘doing’ and focus much more intensely on the ‘being’. I make a point on my holidays of doing absolutely nothing significant. That’s why we say ‘I am on holiday’, not ‘I am doing a holiday’. Also, I usually stay away from Facebook during my holidays, because I just can’t bring myself to make trivial status updates. If you have no idea what I just said, you are probably a much happier person than most of us!
For active people like me doing nothing significant can be a very difficult and uncomfortable undertaking. Usually when I am very busy I tend to focus on the activities I am involved in and hardly have any time or energy left to think about who I am and why I am doing all the things that I’m doing. For this reason, perhaps, I have a really tough time resting. I am not sure I know how to do that, because my sense is that resting should not be so much about doing, but rather about just being. I’m not sure how that works exactly, and I’m not sure I know how to do that very well. So, to answer your question, yes, I did enjoy my holiday, and I’m very happy to be back to work! Let the doing begin!
It does occur to me that, to a large extent, we come to church every Sunday to reflect on who God is and on who we are and why we are doing whatever we are doing during the week. Coming to church every Sunday is more about being than doing. We come here to BE in God’s presence, to receive the grace that comes with his Word, and to reflect on how his truth connects with who we are as human beings.
There are other reasons for coming to church, of course, but I feel very strongly that a church service should always focus on this kind of introspection. This is very important to grasp, because the energy we need during the week comes from a healthy dose of introspection in the presence of God and his beloved. This is what makes church so unique and irreplaceable.
So, today we are challenged to think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. This is what our Gospel passage is about. We can probably speculate what it meant to be a follower of Jesus to Peter, Andrew, James and John, but what does it mean to us? What does it mean to you personally? You know, there are many Christians today who prefer to call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, rather than Christians. Much too often declaring yourself as a Christian is perceived as the opposite of being a Muslim, or something like that. Increasingly people resist to define themselves in opposition to others.
So what does it mean to you to be a follower of Jesus? If we stopped for a few seconds and just think about what we feel about that idea, what emotions would we feel? I’m not talking about intellectual connections, but how that feels.
Does it make us feel important, valued, accepted or perhaps inadequate, demanding or even uncomfortable? Let’s think about that for few seconds…
What are some of the images that came to mind when you were thinking about being a follower of Jesus? Did you perhaps think about being a church member? Is that what it means to be a follower of Jesus? I would venture to say that for many people this is exactly what it means to follow Jesus. If that is true, then we need to really take a close look at what that means for each of us. What does it mean to you to be a church member? Do you find that being a church member is the same as being a follower of Jesus?
You see, if we accept this parallel, than we are invited to see the connection between an institutional concept – that of formal membership – and the dynamic idea of following. The very idea of following Jesus emplies a journey – it is not a static or a one time thing or decision, but rather an ongoing process. So it’s not about a formal status, but rather about a way of life. Following Jesus is about walking on a journey in the same way that Jesus walked and hopefully in the same direction. This idea, I think, places church membership into a very different light to what we usually perceive.
It is quite common, I find, for people to think that becoming church members is something they have to do so that the church or minister would take care of them. So, for instance, I may want to be a church member so that the minister will give me a Christian burial.
We have to understand that God’s love is not conditional upon any membership, and neither should our love for people be. We are loved by God regardless of what we do. This is essential. The minister will bury you if you’re a member or not. We are members because we answered a call to follow Jesus and to use our talents, time and money to minister to the world and to each-other.
What does that mean for you personally? What is your ministry? What is your talent? How do you use it? How would you like to use it? These are very important questions.
Being asked to serve others and use your talents, time and money may sound a bit demanding, and we all know the notorious fear of commitment. This usually comes from the idea that you have to give something in order to get something – it’s a trade kind of thing.
But being a follower of Jesus is not a form of payment for love and acceptance. Giving of ourselves in ministry is not a condition to being loved or accepted by God. We are accepted and loved by God if we are church members or not. Rather it is about a way of life that is both personally fulfilling and useful for the world around us. Because, you see, those two cannot be separated – you cannot be happy and useless at the same time.
One cannot be happy while the people around them are suffering. Some deal with this by choosing to keep their eyes shut and ignore the suffering around them, but it can only take them so far. Eventually they will notice it, especially when it hits their own lives.
We don’t have to go to the Bible to know that being fulfilled is closely linked to feeling that you are useful – that you make a difference. This fact cannot be avoided. It has to do with feeling wanted and appreciated. It’s not enough to tell someone: “You are loved by God!” People also need to hear that they are useful in the eyes of God – that they have something to offer to the world.
Jesus could have said to Peter, Andrew, James and John: “You are all loved by God! That is enough for you. Now I will go off and do ministry on my own.” He did not say that. For these four fishermen following Jesus meant that everything in their lives was going to change. Nothing would be the same for them. Their whole identities would change from working with fish all day long to working with human beings all day long. This was not a job change for them. It was an identity change. Leaving their nets behind and following Jesus was going to be a journey of becoming for them. They were becoming disciples.
And what it meant for them personally may be very different to what it means for us today. Not all of us are called to leave our jobs and become full time ministers, but that doesn’t mean we are not all disciples. Paul the Apostle used the image of the body to illustrate the variety of ministries that are needed in the church. Being a follower of Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus means something different to each and every one of us.
What does it mean to you? This is perhaps one of the most important questions for us as Christians. In order to explore and unpack this question, we need sometimes to stop our doing, and think about who we are. Think about what makes you happy, what gets you out of bed in the morning, what gives you joy of life. Often these things are connected to what makes us who we are in our uniqueness.
It is in those times of personal reflection, and it is in these times of introspection in the presence of God and his beloved that we discover who we are and what we were made to be and do with our lives.
So let us take time, so that we are able to give of our time. Let us reflect on our talents, so that we can share them with others.
May the Holy Spirit inspire us to take enough time and space to rediscover our identity as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.