Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Cost of Following

Today, I'm serving at St. Matthias in Richmond, Maine as supply. I've used the hymn "Will you come and follow me" a number of times in sermons and it seemed to fit today's lessons too, so here's another version. As usual, the sermon is as written, not as delivered.
Picture from Wikipedia.

In his address to the Diocesan Convention on Saturday, our bishop, Steve, talked about the changing fortunes of the parishes in the Diocese of Maine over its history. Among the things he said was: We know that we are in the midst of massive change both economically and culturally. We know that 1959 (when our Sunday Schools were chock full and everybody went to church on Sunday mornings) will never come again. We know that the economies that built and supported our communities are gone or going. We know that the things that we keep trying to do aren’t really working, haven’t worked for a long time... but we keep wishing it weren’t so and keep trying to make them work. We keep thinking that if we could only do it right, then we’d get back on top of things, and our congregations would flourish again. He then spoke of the difference between tweaking things, which he called “technical change” something we all tend to do, and “adaptive change” which means working at learning new ways to be church.

When Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho with a big crowd, they encountered Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the side of the road. Bartimaeus shouted out to Jesus quite loudly asking for mercy. Now a lot of people in the crowd didn’t like this dirty beggar disturbing the order of things, but that didn’t stop Bartimaeus from shouting until Jesus took notice nor did his blindness didn’t keep him from running over to Jesus as fast as he could go.

When Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" Bartimaeus answered "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus told him it was his faith that made him regain his sight and followed him on the way. This following Jesus on the way is church. Bartimaeus joined the group of followers . Not only did he see again, he saw the path opened for him. He obviously wasn’t born blind because he said to Jesus “My teacher, let me see again.” And after his healing we hear that “he regained his sight and followed Jesus [him] on the way. The shouting until he was heard and the following were both adaptive changes. It was pretty dramatic stuff.

I don’t know if a song from the Iona Community in Scotland is familiar to you. It’s starts: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? One tune is found in Wonder, Love and Praise, the supplement to our hymnal, but most people know it with this melody.

1. Will you come and follow me if I but call your name. Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
 Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
 will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Jesus does call us by name, but often we seem reluctant to listen. Naming is important. Naming a new baby. Maybe choosing a new name as an adult, or choosing to use our middle name instead of our first, or when a woman chooses to use her husband’s name after marriage or when a couple decides to hyphenate both surnames. In some cultures real names are kept secret, because knowing someone’s name gives you power over them. Names are important. We don’t know the names of all the people Jesus healed, the gospels don’t always tell us, but we do of know the name of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus because he became one of Jesus’ followers.

2. Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
 Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
 Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
 Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

The God who created us both individually and collectively as church wants us to follow his Son. When we do that, we can see there is a way that is different from the way of the world. We, who are so often blind, see. One of the things we can see clearly is this world we live in that is so often marked by cruelty, vengeance, deceit, injustice; a world where so often people and governments alike lie about what is really going on in order to hide the truth of unfair dealings, exploitative relationships, and oppressive policies. When we follow the way and let God answer prayer in us we become like Bartimaeus unafraid to speak out. Because of God’s faithfulness that never lets go of us, we are set free to be the people we are called to be. This is the God who never turns away from us, even though we really never stop being sinners as long as we live in this world. Jesus sets us free to look at our lives and our communities with the point of view of the kingdom of God, where love is primary. Where love requires us to put everything on the line, to love those who are difficult to love just like we love those who are easily lovable, and to answer our unique call. We are called to adaptive change.

3. Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
 Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
 Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
 and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

I’ve often wondered what letting the blind see really means. Does it mean we are called to remove barriers to others seeing what God’s kingdom is about? What does that mean in a small church like this? It’s scary to admit to what Jesus means to us. If we admit to what he means we might have to go out and follow like Bartimaeus did. In discipleship, Jesus leads us down many paths of service in life, many activities, occupations, and roles, but the disciple is always playing as serious game of “follow the leader.” Our leader provides not only direction but the power and grace to persevere.

4. Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
 Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
 Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
 through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

How do we stop the fear we feel when we’re called to reshape the world around us? We’re all so much more comfortable with things when they don’t change, yet they change in spite of ourselves. Our prayers in community, our breaking bread together, our listening to God’s world will help us not to hide. Every time we take communion together, remember it is first and foremost, God’s hospitality to us present in the person of Jesus. All the inhospitality in the world is looked at straight in the face in the awesome mystery that Christ gave himself for us. It signals that in God’s kingdom there is room for everyone, even blind beggars.

5. Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
 Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
 In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
 Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Jesus calls us ordinary people to follow him and leave their old selves behind just because he called them by name. Jesus calls us to serve him no matter what our work is, whether we’ve retired, or if we’ve just started out. I know that there are events in our lives that make everything else seem trivial, at least for a time. These events can be negative such as the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, or a huge natural disaster, or a major economic crisis like we’re now in. They could be positive too, like a chance at a new opportunity or getting ready for marriage or welcoming a new baby into the family. When we think about how these events take over our lives, our minds, our feelings, we can appreciate how important being in community is. Facing these things alone is daunting, but we’re not alone. To be in community with each other, with our families and with others in this dioceses will help us live in anticipation of Christ’s coming is to live in faith and hope. It will take all of you to find out what God is calling you to become, so you can live and move and grow in Jesus as he lives and moves and grows in each of you.

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