You're Invited: Follow Me
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
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Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Community Mennonite Church (9-16-18)
Texts: Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Moving toward a Christ-centered life
By the grace of God we’re moving from a life of self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God’s good news for the world. I say that we’re moving; we’re on our way, but we’re not there yet. The scriptures today remind us of this movement from being self-centered to Christ-centered, from being self-absorbed to being a member of a community, from independent isolation to interdependence with one another and unity with the Spirit of God. We need this reminder from scripture because… well…this week we’ve taken our share of selfies. According to Instagram 93 million selfies are posted each day. That’s 1000 selfies every 10 seconds. Both psychologists and spiritual leaders notice this trend and ask how our society will avoid the pitfalls of self-centered living in this selfie universe.
Three Scriptures to Move Us
But being self-centered or self-absorbed is not a new problem for humanity. These beautiful little babies come into the world. They are not self-conscious, but they are certainly self-centered beings–crying out to have others meet their most basic needs for love, nourishment and care. By grace we move from self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God’s good news for the world. Infants are often a means of God’s grace moving parents toward the needs of another rather than their own.
The ancient scriptures we heard this morning address this very concern. First, Lady Wisdom this womanly aspect of God, gets in our face. She urges us to begin in our youth to seek God’s wisdom (or we’ll end up in a heap of destruction). The whole book of proverbs is intended to show us the probabilities, the usual patterns of wise living, so that we make good choices about money, family, sex, alcohol, poverty, work, sharing, debt and dozens of other topics. Perhaps some of us the youth and young adults here this morning need some wise direction in some of these areas. Being self-centered or self-absorbed in terms of money, family, sex, substances, poverty, work, sharing, debt etc usually lands us in a heap of destruction.
If Proverbs is pitched to the youth audience, then at the other end of the life spectrum (and centuries later) the wise elder James in a NT letter speaks to the church that has suffered and struggled for a generation after Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. At this time the church is tempted to abandon discipleship because life is harder than we thought and we aren’t always teaming with resurrection life and the mind of Christ. James reminds us that “all of us make many mistakes” and all of us need a personal spiritual trainer. James deals with some of the topics that are in Proverbs too. In the passage we heard he is concerned about our speech–the power of our words to bless or to wound.
We also heard one of the stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Is this passage for the young or the old or folks in between? Is it for all of us? Let’s just say in the midst of life–among disciples of any age–Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our greatest human triumphs–in our successes, insights and faithfulness. When Jesus was heading to Caesarea Philippi the general population believed that he was someone from the past–John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. (Incidentally, this is still true today. Most people who have heard of Jesus believe he was someone from the past!) Peter, however, says that Jesus is the future Messiah in the present. And he’s right! What a breakthrough for the life of faith. What wonderful knowledge. Jesus asks him to keep this good news quiet.
But then, Jesus teaches his disciples about suffering, rejection, death and resurrection and he goes too far. It is too much. Peter is the one who resists, but perhaps all of the disciples felt it. Who wants to be at odds with the entire religious establishment–the elders, the chief priests and the scribes? Who wants a Messiah who is going to suffer rejection and death? Who knows what it means to rise again? Did I say Peter resisted this teaching. He didn’t resist. He rebuked Jesus! Peter rejects the whole package. This is Peter’s worst blunder ever–a discipleship failure writ large. And Jesus is there and calls him out. Since we just heard that passage from James about taming the tongue I have to say that it seems like Jesus goes a little too far in calling Peter, Satan.
Hardly anybody can say yes right away to the spiritual life, if it includes rejection, suffering and death. But it has to include these. Because, according to Jesus, a spiritual life is also an embodied life and these are realities for all of us. Here’s the good news. Jesus is there for Peter’s spiritual breakthrough and for Peter’s spiritual disaster. And on the heels of these Jesus still makes the simple invitation: follow me.
Loyalists; Drop-outs and Returnees
Spiritual writer Joan Borysenko uses three categories developed by Wade Clark Roof in the 1990s for describing relationship to religious traditions. I find these categories useful for reflection on our lives and on the Biblical stories. In broad strokes Borysenko refers to loyalists, drop-outs and returnees. Loyalists are those who embrace the religious traditions in which they grew up. They are loyal and stick it out, even when the tradition has some real potholes. For example, with the exposure of the widespread cover-up of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, many American Catholics nevertheless resonate with the category of loyalist. Even as they condemn the hierarchy’s pattern of secrecy, they cannot deny that they have drawn near to God through the sacraments and the liturgy of the Catholic Church and so they remain. Some of us here this morning who grew up in Mennonite families and have maintained Mennonite connections over a lifetime, who showed up today for worship with Community Mennonite Church are loyalists. We may have strong critiques of Mennonite culture or even theology, yet find a home in the tradition, a path of discipleship and way to both be nurtured in faith and share our gifts.
Drop-outs have rejected their childhood faith traditions and attempt to live their lives without spiritual guidance or spiritual community. Drop-outs have often found their religious tradition to be either irrelevant or harmful for their lives. Both loyalists and drop-outs can carry a lot of anger, resistance and spiritual wounds that need healing. Returnees, a third category, have had enough spiritual experiences after living in exile (as drop-outs) that they seek to heal from their religious wounds and return to either their childhood faith tradition or another tradition that will help them continue to grow, heal, and authentically experience God. Borysenko is Jewish by birth and perhaps striding the boundary between drop-out and returnee herself.
The categories might not fit you perfectly. For example, I'm a loyalist in that I grew up in a Christian family and have stayed in the church. But I also changed brands–I grew up Baptist, and briefly hung out with UCC folks and German evangelicals before I met Canadian Mennonites when I was 20. In light of our Gospel reading this morning, I want to emphasize that these categories don't matter to Jesus. And in general, they don't matter. But notice how they parallel Peter's experience. He is the loyalist–speaking of Jesus in the language of his Jewish faith tradition: You are the Messiah! Then Peter is the drop-out who rejects the whole cross and resurrection experience that Jesus predicts. And third, Peter is the returnee who chooses to follow Jesus as best he can, with his misgivings about the suffering and death part, with his confusion about the resurrection part. In the next verses in Mark, Jesus' general invitation to follow me gets personal and Jesus takes Peter and a couple of others to a mountain where Jesus is transfigured.
We have to take great care with divine invitations. Lady Wisdom’s invitation sounds great, as if the heap of destruction is only for those who reject her way. But remember that Proverbs is about probabilities, trends. Usually a path of Wisdom results that everyone would agree are good. But God also reveals that listening to Wisdom and following Christ will include a cross. It will mean that our self-centered attitudes will have to be shed…again and again. Following Jesus will mean that self-absorbed avoidance of justice for the poor, or loving enemies will be judged as fraudulent versions of the gospel. Following Jesus will mean losing hold of some of the things that have soothed us into complacency, and shored up our privilege.
The good news is that when we RSVP to this divine invitation we have everything to gain–love, joy, peace, hope, faith, community, life that really is life–resurrection after the many little deaths we suffer, and one great resurrection, which is our eternal hope.
By the grace of God we’re moving from our self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God’s good news for the world. Like the first disciples, we’re on the way. Who do you say that Jesus is? This is a Christian worship service and so we’ve sung together already today who Jesus is with many different names. In a minute I’m going to read these names slowly, for your reflection. Perhaps one or another name for Jesus is the one you need today, the Voice through which you can hear God’s invitation. Maybe your loyalty to Christ is wearing thin. Maybe it seems easier to just drop-out than to wrestle with your life with respect to Jesus. Perhaps your authentic return requires new names. Whether you’re a loyalist, a drop-out, a returnee or as yet uncategorized, doesn’t matter. Jesus is with us in every phase of life. Today we’re invited to a life of wisdom and a relationship of love through a question, a deep and tender question.
On the way, Jesus asked the disciples: Who do you say that I am? So take a moment to shift in your chair and roll your shoulders. The sermon is almost over. Come to a restful, but awake position. And listen for one of Jesus’ names, so that you can follow this week:
On the way, Jesus asked the disciples: Who do you say that I am?
Sun of Righteousness
[Song begins: Navajo language–I have decided to follow Jesus]
Scripture: Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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