Mark 1:16-20; 3:13-19
January 24, 2016
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
There was once a young man who led a wild life. He cared little for the feelings of others, cultivating their favor when it suited his needs and casting them aside when he was ready for other pleasure. This selfish lifestyle concerned his elderly neighbor not only because the old man had to endure the noise of late night parties, and the ill tempers of the youth, but also because the neighbor truly cared about the young man’s future. He would often warn the young man that such behavior could only lead to grief, but always the youth ignored him. One day, after hearing reports of some especially horrendous activities, the neighbor marched toward the young man’s house with dire warnings on his lips, but as he knocked on the door, he heard a voice from heaven which said, “Do not touch my friend. He is under my protection.” The door opened and and the angry face of the young man glared out.
“What do you want now?” he demanded.
The elderly man hesitated. “I came to reprimand you but I have heard a voice from heaven telling me not to touch you because you are his friend,” and quietly the neighbor turned and went back down the steps.
The young man looked startled and said nothing. The story goes that a few years later the old man and the youth meet again at a soup kitchen. The boy is a deacon in his church and is serving the homeless men and women. The young man explains, “I went in search of my friend.”
Simon and his brother Andrew left their nets to follow a friend, a man unlike any friend they had known. James and his brother John left their father Zebedee, left him sitting in the boat with the hired man, left their careers, their family, left without a second thought to follow one man. These four wanted to be close to Jesus. They had felt something in him: his thoughts excited them, his commitment startled them, there was a sense of authority about Jesus, but above all else, he had named them friend and asked them to follow him. The power of that personal appeal overwhelmed Peter and Andrew and James and John and the scores of other men and women who gathered around Jesus over the next few weeks. They became his disciples — the students, the groupies, the followers. It was the desire to learn from this man which drew them after him.
It is the same desire that draws us to this church week after week, that draws us to Book group and adult studies and that pulls us to our knees in prayer. We sense something in Jesus and his teachings that promises to make sense of life and that can quench our deepest thirst and fill the emptiness of that ache in our soul.
We, the students and groupies and followers of Jesus, are his modern day disciples. While those first disciples could see Jesus face to face, our encounter with him may be more tenuous but it is still real. We see Jesus in the faces of the congregation who reach out to help us in our need. We feel his presence when the music soars and lifts us out of the gray work-a-day world to suggest a heavenly glory flirting about the edges of our senses. We know Christ in the teachings and traditions of the church that bring order out of the chaos of the world. We name him with many names and we sense him in as many different ways as there are personalities in these pews, but it is the same Jesus who inspired those first disciples to follow and who beckons to our hearts today.
One day, Jesus’ path takes him up a hill and as always, the disciples stride along behind him, listening, and learning. He stops and they sit in the grass around his feet, dozens of people whom Jesus has touched with his teaching and compassionate spirit. At his right hand, Peter kneels listening to the soft tones of Jesus’ voice, and Peter remembers the comforting words the man spoke at the bedside of Peter’s dying mother-in-law. Jesus smiled on the woman and touched her feverish brow until she was quieted and the sickness left her. Jesus, who gave to so many, always had time for his friend Peter.
“This is a man I will never leave,” thinks Peter as he listens to the gentle voice.
And see over to the left? There hidden in the thickest part of the crowd is a man who was afraid to show his face before the people. Ruined by the mistakes of his youth, branded a social outcast, he had been consigned to a lonely existence until Jesus came: Jesus, the man who dared to look him in the eye; Jesus, the man who took his hand, his sinful hand; Jesus who even invited himself to dinner, and sat at his table laughing and talking as if they were dear friends. That delightful laugh filled the man with life again and now he follows Jesus to revel in the spirit of joy surrounding him. And there to the side is a woman who had been crippled with guilt until Jesus gave her wholeness by speaking to her words of forgiveness. Next to her is a child who looks at Jesus’s strong carpenter arms, then runs his small hands down his own and remembers how they were withered until Jesus stopped him, touched him, healed him.
And so they follow: they follow because Jesus has been there at their sides making them part of his life. Jesus steps into the crowd on that hillside and with a warm look over here, with an outstretched hand to over there, with a smile and a laugh poured out on the heads of those thirsting for joy, Jesus see them not as a crowd but as individual hearts with their individual anguish and their personal triumphs. Jesus makes them each ‘friend,’ and so they follow.
Look into your life. Where has Jesus been friend to you? Maybe you felt him there beside you as you kept watch at the bedside of your dying mother? Maybe he was the one who kept you from falling into endless darkness as you staggered under the shock of grief stricken news. Maybe it was he who challenged you when you agonized over a difficult decision, encouraging you to believe in your abilities and make the tougher choice. Maybe he was sitting with you so quietly that you didn’t even see him until you thought back on it later and you knew he was always there.
We pray, “when other helpers fail, and comforts flee, help of the helpless, abide with me.” And Jesus did – Jesus, our help when we are helpless, our hope when we are without hope, our friend who challenges our minds, pushes us to be more than we were, who will never abandon us in the battle. This is why we follow him because this man has done so much for us: he has healed the leprosy of our souls and he has sealed the gaping wounds of our hearts. He has given us the power to walk when we were crippled with agony and opened our eyes when we were blind to life’s joy. He has wrenched open our minds. He has set us free. Who would not follow such a friend when he beckons?
And so we too are there on that hillside with all of the disciples, the ones who follow, but suddenly Jesus stops talking and instead begins to look around him earnestly, with such intent purpose. And now he points to faces scattered throughout the crowd: “Simon,” he says, “Bartholomew, and James, and yes Andrew …. and Thaddeus, and Thomas…”
And now Jesus points towards you and calls your name and you rise wondering with a little embarrassment and a little wonder at your selection. Jesus calls you all apart from the others, and there you stand, shuffling, waiting, uncertain of what this means until finally he speaks.
“You have been followers, my disciples, but now I give you a new name. Now I call you apostles, the ones who are sent. It is time for you to turn from following; it is time for you to go out.”
The author Graham Greene said, “There is always one moment when the door opens and lets the future in.”
Here was that moment for the 12 disciples. Jesus had given them so much, loving them into preparation for this moment when he would call them to take on the mantle of his call.
That moment comes to you too. Maybe it has come already, maybe it will come tomorrow; or maybe it is right now, this very minute. Jesus speaks your name and calls on you to turn from being just a follower to go out now as his apostle and put into practice what he has taught you. He calls you to become the fullest expression of his love to a broken world.
There’s a story of a young boy who was given a great Dane for Christmas and he turned his parents and asked, “Is he for me or am I for him?”
This is the question that we as Christians must ask ourselves everyday: “Is Jesus for me or am I for him?”
Followers plucked out of following to suddenly become apostles, ones sent out, ones given authority, and ones expected to proclaim the same message which we ourselves have received from the caring hands of Jesus – our hour has come.
Remember how this man Jesus has abided with you in your darkest hours and how he has poured out his life for you because this day, this hour, he calls you to pour your life for him. There is a world in need of knowing the power of his healing love, and he has chosen us to be the apostles of that love to others. May we respond with joy and commitment to the one who has given so much.