Sunday, May 24, 2020

Fan or Follower? Seeking to Follow the Way, Truth and Light

John 14: 1 - 13

Have I mentioned that I am from Indiana?

Specifically, I am a graduate of Indiana University – a graduate from Indiana University in the years when Bobbie Knight was still coaching the Hoosiers’ men’s basketball team.  My hometown high school basketball team played in the Final Four of the state tournament in 1985, just one year before the movie Hoosiers hit the theater.

The movie Hoosiers captured Indiana’s state wide LOVE for basketball. It captured the scrappy aspirations of rural teams playing big city teams – because there was no “class basketball” in Indiana back then – the tiny teams DID play the big well-resourced schools.

And on March 20, 1987 as we prepared to go onstage in my high school auditorium for the closing mass choir performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Indiana went toe to toe with Duke in a Sweet Sixteen game, ultimately winning and going on to be national champions that year.

I would arrive on campus that fall as a college freshman and wait in line for HOURS for season tickets – 8 precious, loud, raucous games.  Every student had at least one courtside seat in their collection of 8 tickets back then. 

By my senior year, I may have hit two games. The Hoosiers were struggling, although Damon Bailey was the local kid made good who seemed to show promise for future tournament wins.  My IU custom license plate as I graduated was IU 26 – his jersey number, snagged because I was working for the alumni association, a darling student assistant who could bat her eyes at the program manager.

I was a fan of IU basketball.
It was fun. I learned a lot.
Today, I get excited about tournament season – I still love March Madness. My husband is a Duke grad, and my long-standing commitment was that I am ABD – Anyone But Duke, but this year, I had decided that life was short and circumstances hard so I was going to even cheer for Duke!
I would put on the Duke cap and play along if the opportunity presented itself.

I have been a “fan” of college hoops.
Like I said, it was fun.  I learned some things.  Like the importance of zone defense…

But I can’t say I am committed to basketball. I can’t say it has shaped me.  I can’t say it is central to how I live my life.

I’m a fan. That’s all.

This week we are stepping deeper into the work of becoming a disciple. A disciple of Jesus.  Not just a fan….but a true follower – one who follows the life and teachings of Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

I think that there are a lot of folks who are “fans” of Jesus.  Folks who can tell you who Jesus was and what he said.  They might even be able to tell you what he stood for and why he matters. 

But how does that knowledge shape how they act each day? Do they actually let what they know and love about Jesus become part of who they seek to be in the world?

I think there are lots of fans.
I think there are significantly fewer “followers”.

By follower, I mean folks who live moment to moment knowing that Jesus is the Way, Truth and Light who guides their footsteps.

Following requires seeking. It requires some knowing.  It requires lots of discipline. It requires some regular checking in. It requires trust. It requires faith. It requires learning and growing and acting from that learning and that growth. It requires finding accountability with others.

Last week, we explored Jesus’ question “Who do YOU say that I am?” This week, we are looking at John’s gospel.

It is important to set our reading for today in context. This is part of a long “farewell” conversation that Jesus is having with his disciples. Gathered together, Jesus is calling the disciples into the next way of being with him…even if he won’t be “WITH” them in the way to which they have grown accustomed. But the disciples are struggling to understand what it is that Jesus is saying.

Just before the verses we read for today, Jesus has insisted on washing their feet, told them that they would betray him in all sorts of ways, told them that he would be with them a little longer and where he is going they cannot come, and given them a new commandment – to love one another.

..Just as I have loved you (remember that foot washing thing we just did and that lesson about serving?).

Because I am not going to be around much longer…at least not this way. Not walking and talking and showing you how in the flesh.

Imagine how disorienting that might have been.

And so this is the backdrop – lots of hard and disorienting information from Jesus to his followers - as we enter into today’s text.

Imagine for yourself…
Here’s Jesus, standing before you, having just told you that something bad is going to happen and that as a result, he’s not going to be around,
but…hey friends, you know me. You’ve heard what I have to say.
You’ve seen how I have treated people.
We’ve done this work together.
You’ve grown to trust me in the flesh. 
I will go before you and prepare a place for you.

Can you imagine the confusion?

Thomas has the first “yes, but…”

How will we know how to find you?
We can’t even quite grasp what you mean when you tell us that will be with us for only a little while longer. 
If we don’t know what it means that you are going, let alone know where you are going, how will we know how and where to follow you?

And Jesus’ assurance is more of a mystery – trust that I AM the way. So long as you know me and follow me, you will know how and where.  You will follow me in this way when you stay connected to me.  Following will be natural for you because I will be the WAY.

Oh my…I don’t know that this cleared up anything for Thomas.

And then Phillip launches, asking for some proof that Jesus is who they suspect – if only you will show us the Father to which you keep referring, we will finally really “know” something about who you are.

And I suspect by now Jesus is getting frustrated – are you NOT paying attention? Have you not SEEN with your own eyes the things that I have done? Have you not heard these things I keep teaching?  Do you not understand that these actions, these teachings are GOD’s actions and God’s teachings?

In John’s gospel, Jesus is regularly encouraging his followers to pay attention to what is right in front of them right here and now. They have what they need in him, with him.

When they are thirsty, he says I AM living water. 
When they are hungry, he tells them I AM the bread of life.
What you need most is right here.
Feeling lost? I AM the good shepherd. 
I AM the gate through which you enter into safety.

Time and again Jesus reminds the disciples to pay attention to what is happening around them and witness what God is doing in their midst, even if they cannot “see” God (as they expect to see God) at work.

How often do we need a map, a set of next steps, or concrete proof that something can be different before we are willing to stretch ourselves in a different direction?

And when it comes to Jesus, do we trust that the answers that we need, the direction that we need, is really right there? In the man we know or in the Christ we claim?

To follow in the way of Jesus is to embrace being connected to Jesus in the here and now, to seek out direction moment by moment with Jesus and all of his I AM-ness in our sights. 

It would seem that Jesus is telling his friends that all they need is with them. And as long as they stay connected to Jesus, they will have what they need to know how to keep moving forward.

Last week, we explored the question that Jesus put before Peter, John and James – who do YOU say that I am? We heard some great answers, and I hope you have spent some time thinking about that question for yourself. Now that you have had time to think about what you claim about Jesus, now we look at how that claim draws us forward step by step.

I am finding, in some ways, that the disruption of a pandemic has made this way of following Jesus more plain, more understandable, more accessible and more necessary.

I mean, when everything we think we know has been turned upside down, we kind of have to show up to what is right in front of us, don’t we? On a particularly hard day this week, I was commiserating with some friends…and someone quoted the song – you can have all this world, but give me Jesus.

Yes!  In the midst of hard things. But not just in the midst of hard things. 

Because that is one of the differences, I think, between being a fan and a follower.  A follower is seeking NOT JUST when it feels good, necessary…but every single day.

Maybe we find ourselves working hard to follow SOMETHING / ANYTHING that we can know and trust right now.

So we start with last week’s question. Who do YOU say that I am?
But then daily, moment by moment…
What does this situation require of me?
Who is in front of me right now that needs service and love?
Where are the meek and the downtrodden in this situation, and how can I be the hands and feet of Jesus to them?
What does the Lord require of me? What does justice and mercy look like right now?

Our work in this lifetime is to move past being a fan – move past occasional enthusiasm for Jesus – toward being a follower who finds the way, each day and each moment, step by step, in the footsteps of Jesus.

May it be so.

And so…this week, there is work.
Because we are not just fans…there is always work in this direction of following.

Because everything we do ought to be guided by who Jesus is and how we answered last week’s question – Who do YOU say that I am?

This week, ponder this…
Where do you invest time in being “a fan” of Jesus?  How might that time be converted to following?

Source: We continue to work with the book Becoming a Disciple: A lifelong venture by Adolf Hansen & Colleagues.  We are spending 2 - 3 weeks on each chapter.  Please join us in this shared work!

No comments:

Post a Comment