Isaiah 44:1-8, Mark 8:27-38
February 15, 2009
I shared a joy a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you remember. I said that at the worship service at the Presbytery meeting in January there was a guest preacher. I didn’t know it until I got there, but the preacher was one of my favorites, Tony Campolo. And as I’ve often said about Tony, I may not always agree with him, he always makes me think. I hope I do the same for you!
Tony told a story that day which became the inspiration for this message. (So thanks, Tony!) He told us about a Christian Fellowship group that he started at Eastern College, where he was a professor. It was a group that called them selves “Red Letter Christians.” What that meant was that they were a group that paid particular attention to the red letters in the Bible. And as you may know, in certain versions of the Bible, the words in red are the words of Jesus. So, the idea was that if we are Christ-ians – Christ-followers – then we ought to be following what Christ said. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Sometimes the point of a story is so simple!!
Well, the thing is, it may be simple, but it’s not always easy. Following the words of Jesus is sometimes hard. Because sometimes the words of Jesus call us to do radical things! They call us to love our enemies, to give to the poor, to lend not expecting to get back, to worrying not about the things of this world but to seek first God’s kingdom, to speak out about God’s unconditional love, and to love that way ourselves. Those things are not easy! But if you think about it, we should all be “Red Letter Christians,” shouldn’t we?
Well, Tony told us the story about a distressed father of one of his students. And this father came to him and shared his concerns about the kind of behavior that his daughter was exhibiting – as a “Red Letter Christian.” And when Tony told this father what the group was all about, the father said, “Listen Dr. Campolo, I believe in being a Christian up to a point…”
Friends, as Tony pointed out, is that not a huge problem with those who claim to follow Christ? Are there not too many of God’s people who believe it’s fine to be a follower of Jesus Christ up to a point? That’s the thing I want you to consider for today. And as we are often called to do, I don’t want you to think about other people that might apply to, I want you to think about yourself. Do you follow Christ – up to a point? And if that’s true, which I suspect it is for all of us, I want you to think about your point. Where do you “draw the line,” so to speak, when it comes to following Jesus? What kinds of things are over that line – past that point – and “just too much” for you to follow? That’s what I want you to think about.
For instance, how good are you at loving those who don’t love you – enemies, even? Jesus said if you love only those who love you, that’s nothing! Everyone does that – even those you think are not very godly people! How about this scripture we read today. How do you feel about giving up your life for the sake of the Gospel? “For whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it,” Jesus said. (Mark 8:34) That sounds like a point many people don’t want to cross!
Friends, those thoughts are hard. And if you don’t think they are, you might not be taking them seriously enough. Many of the things Jesus said were not easy to follow. If you want to see some of the people’s reactions to his difficult sayings, read the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. That’s the place where some of the most difficult words of Jesus are found. That’s where he called himself the “bread of heaven” – a direct reference to the Manna in the wilderness. His words were so difficult to hear that day that near the end of that chapter it says this. “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:66) Now remember, that doesn’t mean “the twelve.” In that case, “disciples” referred to the large crowds of people who followed him. And for many of them, this was too much. They were willing to follow him – up to a point!
Now, what I want us to think about today is this. What is it that motivates us to follow Jesus, and to live by his teachings? What is it that makes us follow Jesus without reservations? What motivates us to follow him beyond whatever point we may have set for ourselves? I think the key to all of that is to see where our heart is. For some people, where they set that “point” – that place in their faith where they set their limits – has everything to do with the heart.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Do not treasure things of the earth.” And that’s a more accurate translation of that passage. He was speaking of the things on earth we treasure – using that word as a verb. It was not just a matter of “storing up” as some translations put it. (Yes people “store up” things because they treasure them! But this is more direct.) “Instead,” he said, “treasure the things of heaven.” And then this. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:22) I love that one verse! It is so liberating! It is so freeing for us in the way we live our faith. It’s so important in living our faith beyond any point of limitation. Where our heart is, that’s the place we will put ourselves into the most!
I want you to think about that. What is that thing in your life that really jazzes you? (We used that word a few weeks back.) What is that thing in your life that really touches you? What is it that motivates your heart the most? Is it family? Is it your marriage? Is it your job? Is it your hobby or your pastime? Is it the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, or the Sixers? What is that thing or that interest to which you give your all? What is it that you treasure? What is it that you value? Is that where your heart lies? Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!” Jesus was a pretty smart guy, wasn’t he!
While you’re thinking about that, let me ask you this. Do we have any control over what is important to us? Can we choose in our minds what it is we treasure? If you can see where I’m going with this, you will know the answer to that question! For Jesus even to say the words he said, and to give us that mandate to treasure the things of heaven, is to know that we can control that which is important to us!! We can choose what we treasure. And Jesus calls us, he appeals to our hearts, to choose to treasure the things of heaven!
Let me share a couple of thoughts with you as we wrap this up. And these are great little sayings that I think will help us to think about where our heart is, and how we are motivated to be Christians beyond any point that we may have set for ourselves – consciously or unconsciously. And I have to tell you that these may well be new thoughts. I felt the spirit saying these words to me, or at least interpreting the scripture in this way. (I don’t know which it was.) And I don’t know if anyone else has ever said anything in quite this way before. But here goes.
The first thought is this. “You can’t expect your faith to move mountains until it moves you.” Not bad, huh? “You can’t expect your faith to move mountains until it moves you.” If your heart isn’t touched by your faith in god, it won’t have much power in your life. If your heart isn’t into your faith, you probably will find yourself thinking it’s fine to be a Christian – up to a point! Instead that, choose to let your faith be something that moves you!! “You can’t expect your faith to move mountains until it moves you.”
Here’s the second thought. “You can’t expect to be “into” God until you let God get into you.” That’s not bad, either, is it! “You can’t expect to be “into” God – to have God be something you’re psyched about – until you let God get into you.” And I want you to notice that’s a choice to be made, too. Isn’t it? But it’s the next level of choice. We can choose to motivate our own hearts. We can choose to treasure the things of Gods. And that’s great. That’s part of this. But the next part, and perhaps the most important part, is to choose to be open to God. We need to let God be in us. We need to let God get into our hearts, then we can be “into” God.
I hope you will take seriously the call Jesus puts on all his followers. Jesus calls us to live radical, loving, gracious lives. And that’s not easy. He calls us to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, to forebear each other in love, to take up our cross, and to treasure the things of heaven. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!” That’s his call on us.
So what’s it going to be? Will we be “just fine” with being Christians – up to a point? Or will we put our hearts into our faith? Will we move mountains because our faith truly moves us? Will we be “into” God because we have allowed, and even invited, God to be in us? Will we be “red letter Christians?” That’s a lot of things to think about, I know. But they’re all focusing on one thing. How serious are we about this thing we say we believe, and this savior which we say we follow?
Eternal God, you have given us everything in giving us your son, Jesus Christ. Help us to follow him. Help us to listen to your voice. Help us to have the strength and the heart to seek your voice, your will, and your ways. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.