Following the Leader – January 18, 2015
Isaiah 49:1-7, Luke 9:57-62
January 18, 2015
Did you ever play “Follow the Leader?” Maybe I should ask, do you remember playing “Follow the Leader” when you were a child? Do you even remember how to play “Follow the Leader?”
In his book “The Disappearance of Childhood,” New York University professor Neil Postman cites one man who was an historian of children’s games, saying how that man had identified hundreds of traditional children’s games, almost none of which are played any more by American Children! Think about that! Think about the games you used to play. We played “Kick the Can,” “Hide and Seek,” “Baby in the Air.” What about you?
Postman also contrasted the children’s games that used to be played and organized by children themselves, to the modern games of children that are organized by adults – and often run like professional sports teams. When I played baseball as a kid, you only played “away games” if your coach had a station wagon! Sadly, the pure and simple children’s games are becoming lost in our world!
Well, “Follow the Leader” was one of them. And just to refresh your memory, at least the way we played it, we first picked a “leader.” And of course the only way to do that was by using one of the only truly fair methods, methods such as “Eeenie Meenie miney moe, catch a tiger by the toe…” (We used fists!) And my personal favorite was, “My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes…” (Anybody remember that one?)
Well, once the leader was chosen, the game was that everyone followed that person wherever he or she went, doing whatever he or she did. I have visions of climbing up and over the swing set, crawling under cars, climbing trees, and tossing rocks over houses, saying silly words and phrases. And you know, I don’t really remember how anybody actually won the game. (Maybe that wasn’t the point!) But I do remember how much fun those games were!
Well, that’s what came to mind when I thought about this passage from Luke’s Gospel. Last week, we talked about the idea of recommitting our lives to Jesus Christ, and how that was a good thing to do at the start of each New Year. So, as we go through the next few weeks, I want us to consider what that means. What have we committed ourselves to?
Well, today’s thought is that we commit ourselves to follow. Jesus is our leader in the game. And we are called to go where he goes, and to do what he does. And notice two things about that right away. The first is that “following Jesus” is not the same thing as “believing in Jesus,” is it? And it’s not even the same as “committing our lives to him.” Think about that! And then the second thing I want to recognize is that following is not always easy!
This story from Luke is about people who “believed in” Jesus. Keep that in mind. These were people who were inspired by his words. They were taken by his personality. They believed there was something special about him, maybe even that he could be the Messiah! But when asked to follow, they made “provisions,” or “conditions.” They couldn’t quite turn the “believing” into “following.”
The first man in this story actually came to Jesus and asked to follow. He said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” (That was probably right after the “Eeenie meenie miney moe” part.) Well, Jesus called the man on it. And in doing so, he spoke to my second observation, that following is not always easy! He told the man “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And by-the-way, we’re not told what his already-called disciples thought about that, but we do have to wonder. And we’re not actually told what the man himself did about it! But the implication here is that he did not follow.
Ok. So the next person in this passage was called by Jesus himself. But when Jesus said, “Follow me,” the man gave his “provision.” He said, “Let me first go and bury my father.” Now, that may have been a longer-term provision than it first appears. It may not have been simply a matter of “I have to go to a funeral first.” It may have been that his father was still living. It may have been that he was saying, “I need to stay here and take care of my father until after he’s gone.” (With a Jewish accent, of course!) “Then I can follow!” And we might think that to be a noble thing. But in this story, it’s seen as something standing in the way of this man’s ability to follow.
Another man was called by Jesus, and he said, “Let me first go and say ‘good-bye’ to my people.” In other words, “There’s something else I need to go and do first, Jesus.” “Then I’ll follow.” So, was that just an excuse? Or was it a real concern for this man? It’s hard to know for sure. And it doesn’t sound all that bad to us, either. Does it? But contrast that to James and John. When Jesus called them to follow, they dropped everything and went with him immediately – even leaving their father still sitting in the fishing boat!
That makes this quite a challenge, doesn’t it? And if it isn’t challenging enough, listen again to these seemingly harsh words Jesus said about these “reluctant followers,” He said, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” Those are hard words to hear, aren’t they?
Well, instead of judging these people for what we may or may not think about their “provisions,” I’d like to challenge us in a different way. I’d like to challenge us simply to think about what our version of “putting our hand to the plow and looking back” might be. What are the “provisions” we might make when we hear the call of Jesus to follow?
Maybe yours are like many who say, “I’m not… enough, Jesus.” “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I don’t know enough. I’m not strong enough.” Those are easy to fall into, aren’t they? But remember that those same provisions have been used in the past by some of the best people – by people such as… say, Moses! “Please Lord, I can’t speak.” he said. “I’m not good enough! Not only will Pharaoh not listen, my people won’t even listen!”
Moses wasn’t alone! But the pattern in the Bible is not that God calls people who are strong and wise. It is that God calls people to follow, and he then gives them the strength and the wisdom! He doesn’t require those things ahead of time. All he asks is the willingness to follow. And it’s the same with us. God calls us to follow, and he only requires that we answer the call.
Maybe what would help us would be to look at the spirit of the last two people in this story. “I’ve got too many other things to do, Lord.” Maybe that’s our version of the “hand to the plow and looking back.” We lead busy lives, many of us. And I include myself in that. We have a lot on our minds. The focus and discipline it takes to follow Jesus may seem too much to add to all that other stuff. It might seem overwhelming! At times we might find ourselves thinking “I should reach out to that person. I should do what Jesus would do in this moment. But it’s too much for me right now.” “Mentally and physically, I’m just not up to it.” Our hand is to the plow, but we’re looking back!
This is challenging, I know! But at the very least I want you to think about the difference between just believing – which is a good thing – and following. Because it’s the following that makes the difference. So think about that in the weeks and months to come. Do I follow Jesus? Or do I just believe? Do I go where he goes and do what he does? Do I follow him as the leader? Do I seek to be his person, however and wherever he calls me?
Eternal God, help us to have the strength and inspiration we need to follow Jesus, our leader. Help us to know that we are continuing his ministry here on earth that he himself started two thousand years ago. Help us to see ourselves as part of that body of believers, the body of Christ here on earth. We pray this in his name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.