Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
-Richard of Chichester
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
At a gathering last week, I was given opportunity to reflect on the spiritual path, and specifically on what it means to try to navigate that path as a follower of Jesus. That led me to think of how many times Jesus meets someone and says: “Follow me.” A bit of research indicated that there are 22 occasions described in the gospels where that happens. I can’t think of anything Jesus says more often. That means it’s probably worth paying attention to.
Jesus called the first disciples saying: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Note that the gospels never record the disciples catching any fish without Jesus’ help. In this call to follow, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take who you are and what you do, even if you’re not that great at it.” He puts those disciples to work for the Jesus movement, transforming their vocation to serve the way of love.
Jesus called Matthew the tax collector, simply saying: “Follow me.” Right after that, Jesus went to the local pub with Matthew’s creepy, seedy, duplicitous friends. The clergy of the day passed a resolution condemning such consorting. But when Jesus called Matthew, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take you where you are, no matter what you’ve done. I’ll meet you with grace.”
Jesus called an unnamed person, saying “Follow me.” The person responded by saying: “I’ll get right on it, but I have some other things I need to attend to first.” (e.g., burying a family member.) It may sound harsh, but Jesus seems to say: “Don’t let the stuff of life get in the way of following me, even the good stuff.” That’s probably something for good church folk to pay attention to, as we fill up schedules with lots of really important and noble things and find we’ve not got time or energy for the relationship of discipleship.
Jesus called a rich young ruler, saying “Follow me.” This young man had done everything right. He was deeply religious. Jesus seemed to like the guy. He commended him for his faithfulness. But Jesus also noted that there was one missing element. The young man had to give up his possessions. Apparently, that was a bridge too far. The young man went away sad, and Jesus seemed sad too. I wonder what happened to the guy.
Most of these stories come early on in the gospels, as Jesus is putting his team together. One of the stories comes at the end of the gospel of John. It’s the story of Jesus’ encounter with Peter. A mirror image of Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him. Peter affirms that he does love Jesus. He is then commissioned to care for Jesus’ sheep. The episode ends with Jesus saying: “Follow me.” It’s the way that Peter steps into a future that may be unclear. Maybe that’s the way we’re meant to step into the future as well.
If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future holds. Aspects of the pandemic and coincident crises of economic challenge and racial reckoning may not, could not have been anticipated. As we daily step into an unknown future (Who knows what will happen as soon as you stop reading this?), maybe the best thing for us to do is to hear Jesus’ call to us. He simply says: “Follow me.”
Then we get to figure out what on earth that means. It becomes a reminder that at the core, our spiritual path as part of the Jesus movement, is the truth that we are not alone. It’s an invitation to a living relationship with the Holy One. Jesus comes to us with truth and grace, truth about who we are and the challenges we face, grace to promise presence with us. That relationship, that act of following is about knowing what he teaches, practicing what he preaches. It’s about embracing his call to service, which helps us see who he is. It’s about a life of prayer, which is really conversation which involves as much listening as talking. It’s a life sustained by bread and wine, holy communion.
It’s true that we do not know what the future holds. But in this journey of faith, we claim to know who holds the future. That Holy One leads us in the way of love. All we need to do is follow.
Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys? Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…
The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.