What does it mean to follow? As individuals what does it mean to have faith, be spiritual, or simply follow? What does it mean to be a faith community, congregation, or church today? And “Why might this matter?”
I believe it is more than a question of personal faith or spirituality, what others think of you or where you or I might end up in the afterlife.
Walk our neighborhoods, engage people in coffee shops, go to community meetings, pick up the Telegram and Gazette, listen deeply to the hurts and concerns of this community, city and our world, people are hungry for hope, searching for purpose, and looking for meaningful engagement. People hunger for spiritual and relational depth; places to safely explore the big questions: “What do I believe? How should I act? And who am I?” and communities that welcome them where they are on their journey, honor difference and diversity, model authentic love and relationship. And yet in North America and Europe every day around 6,000 people leave church for good.
I believe everyone who is here for a reason. We have been gathered, prepared to follow God’s call, Spirit’s direction and Christ’s lead as we use our gifts to go where God needs us to go and be who God needs us to be. Think about that, because of who we are, the history of this congregation, our diverse experiences and gifts, we can the place for the thousands in our city who no longer see or believe that church can be the amazing community of inspiration, support and purpose that I believe GPC was raised up to be.
If we listen, respond and follow God’s call, Spirit’s direction and Christ’s lead, even when - and especially when - the path is uncertain, makes us uncomfortable and requires some kind of change.
What does it mean to follow? This morning’s readings present two pictures, Jesus encounters Simon and Andrew, James and John - they listen, drop what they are doing, and commit to follow without a clue where this journey might lead.
And then there is Jonah, the reluctant prophet who is called to bring God’s message to the people of Nineveh, the very people who invaded his homeland, oppressed his people and trashed their temple. Can you imagine! He goes, first in the opposite direction, rationalizing his half-hearted actions in order to preserve his comfort, agenda, bias, and needs. Storms brew, he is cast overboard, swallowed up and then rejected by a whale.
I don’t know what this may look like in your life, however over and over and over again my journey looks a lot more like that of Jonah, then any of the disciples who Jesus finds on the way.
With one semester remaining in seminary and months before ordination, a denominational leader asked me to go to San Antonio and serve the Metropolitan Community Church as interim pastor. For nearly two weeks I had all kinds of questions and so many fears… “What are you REALLY asking? How will I know that I am successful? What if I’m not ready?” and all kinds of excuses as well, I’m too busy, it’ll interfere with other plans, and I’m too this and not enough that and really won’t be able to lead. I resisted and she persisted. And I went to San Antonio, we began wondering together “what might God be calling us to do and be,” and over and over again I witnessed God’s Holy Spirit doing amazing things. The congregation grew from 40 to 150 members, worship attendance went from 60 to over 200, and the spirit of Love resurrected the community as we wondered “what God might be calling us to be and do?”
And I could go on and on… Chicago, Minneapolis, and dozens of other stories of reluctantly listening, responding and following this God of Love calling, preparing and sending someone like me.
What might it mean to follow?
Jonah resists. The people of Nineveh resist. And over and over again I resist. Until Spirit breaths, prophet speaks and we align ourselves with God’s greater dream of being more together once more. In other words until we are ready to truly FOLLOW…
After “following” is more than more than mending, tending, preserving or pursuing our comfortable preoccupations, presumptions, assumptions, initiatives, attitudes, and agenda. Jesus encounters the would-be-disciples where they are, in the everyday ordinary experiences. He shares the good news that God’s kingdom is near. God’s kingdom, that is the place and time and spaces where God’s love reigns and Christ rule. And they literally turn away from their comfort and safety, turn away from their inheritance and economy, turn away from tending and mending nets and traps, projects and plans that were helpful but are no longer necessary. Turn away from all that distracts and turn/return to following God’s call, spirit’s direction and Christ’s light and lead once more.
Author Richard Bolles suggests, we are all on this journey seeking our life’s purpose, wanting to connect with a deep inner joy and know “that the world is a little richer because we are present in it… and will be a little poorer upon our demise.” Our purpose is found through an ongoing process of learning and unlearning who we really are and what truly matters. It is in our challenges that we uncover hidden gifts, through conflicts we see more clearly what truly matters, and in our choices we clarify the competing priorities that we attempt to tend and mend that prevent us from listening deeply for God’s still small voice, going where Spirit is inviting us to go, and humbly following the One who calls us to feed a love starved world.
My friends, the world is hungering for a community:
Fabulous enough to embrace the radical inclusiveness of God’s love
Fierce enough to seek liberating justice like Jesus
Courageous enough to ask the tough questions, explore our fears, and find a renewed calling in the depths of uncertainties and doubts!
And the question is this: are we ready to be SOME body once more?
May God bless us and guide us on the journey.