A few years ago, to supplement a sermon, I handed out cards the size of a small bumper sticker. On the card were two words from the gospel du jour: Follow Me. I asked folks to carry those signs with them, to put them to work in a place of prominence in their home, office, car. I imagined it was a clever way to foster the intersection of Sunday and Monday. That night, I went to a party at the home of a parishioner. I was greeted at the door by the host, who asked if I’d like a drink. When I said that I would, without a word he held up the sign which I had handed out: Follow Me. I followed him to the bar. Not quite what I had in mind.
What would you do with the two words: Follow me?
This morning, this beach person finds himself in the mountains. I’m part of a conference called “Discipleship Matters.” In the Bible, when people wanted to get clear, they moved to the mountains. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, they all did it. So we’ve come to a beautiful place to get clarity about what discipleship means, what it means to follow Jesus. Part of the work I’ve been doing, part of the reason I write weekly messages is to consider what it means to be a disciple these days, what it means to embrace those words: Follow me.
We’re blessed at the conference with two presenters who have been my teachers. One is the Rev. Carol Anderson, who served as rector of All Saints Beverly Hills for a couple decades. Imagine what the challenges of bringing discipleship to that part of the world must be like. She did it with wit and wisdom, power and conviction, grace and faith and spirit. Over the years, she built a vibrant community with this mission: disciples making disciples. More than any priest I know, she has helped me think about what renewal means in the church and in my own spiritual life. She helped me focus on what it means to meet Jesus. I’m so grateful for that ministry.
The other presenter is Dr. Dwight Zscheile, who I came to know through his book. People of the Way. His book takes its title from first Christians. Before they were called Christians, they were called “people of the way”. I wish we could go back to that name. First, because so many faith traditions in the world speak about the way. Second, the name implies movement, transformation, change. Sometimes the word Christian suggests arrival, destination, club. I’m not all that interested in a faith or religious system that leaves me the same, that doesn’t include the experience of growth, challenge, change, redemption.
I commend Dwight’s book to you (I’ve got to get a new copy because I’ve underlined everything.) In the introduction, he asks questions which stick with me, questions I’d ask you to consider:
- What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world?
- What does it mean to be a church member?
- Are they the same thing?
How would you answer those questions this Monday morning, as you think about how your church membership/affiliation (or perhaps lack thereof) intersects with your own commitment to following Jesus? Use the question as a chance to reflect honestly on what the heck it means to follow Jesus today.
When you’re done with those questions, consider these questions asked by Dwight:
- How does the shape of life in the Episcopal Church (or your respective denomination) foster depth and commitment to the way of Christ?
- How does it undermine it?
The questions don’t assume that hanging around a church, being a member, whatever, will deepen the spiritual life. The questions admit that church can get in the way. Imagine! I’m shocked! But also deeply pleased to be challenged to think about what we do with what we’ve been given. This Monday morning, what will you do with those two words: Follow me?
And if you’re so inclined, say a prayer for our conference in the mountains, that we might increase in clarity. Wish you were here.
– Jay Sidebotham
We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.