A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on September 16, 2018, called “Followers of Jesus.” The sermon is the second in a series exploring our church vision and mission statements.
Here is a written excerpt:
Following a living person, of course, suggests walking a particular path, walking in a particular way. As I said before, that’s actually how the first Christians thought of themselves—they called themselves “The Way,” meaning, “Those who follow the Way of Jesus, the Way which is Jesus.”
And what is this “way of Jesus”? It is, in its essence, the way of love.
Jesus’ way of love is receiving God’s devoted, compassionate, merciful love for us as the free gift that it is: God is passionately committed to our flourishing, and the flourishing of all creation.
Jesus’ way of love, then, is responding to God’s love with a devoted love for God, heart, soul, mind, and strength: committed to seeking God, to knowing God, to trusting in God, to living out God’s will in this, God’s world, among all God’s children, all created in God’s image.
Which means Jesus’ way of love is a compassionate love of neighbour, anyone we meet along the journey, as much as we love ourselves: committed to the well-being of others just as much as we are committed to our own well-being.
Which means Jesus’ way of love is also a merciful love of both stranger and enemy: committed to welcoming anyone who is not from among us or who is different from us, and forgiving, even blessing, anyone who sins against us, who seeks to oppose us or even to harm us.
This is simply the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. It’s also the way of life Jesus lived—right to the cross.
This way of love is, to use Jesus’ words, “the narrow way that leads to life”—real life for ourselves and for all people. This way of love gives comfort to the troubled and strength to the weary. It gives hope the hopeless and purpose to the wandering. This way of love, lived out fully, will even bring about true justice and lasting peace in our world.
I like the way our church vision statement describes this way of life, Jesus’ way of love: we “seek to express the reconciling and transforming love of God, through Jesus Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit.”
God’s love is “reconciling.” It always seeks to tear down walls, not build them, to build bridges, not divide, to heal the ruptures between us and the wounds we inflict on each other.
God’s love is “transforming.” It accepts us where we’re at, but it never leaves us the same. It changes us, making us more and more like Jesus in his way of love.
And so, devoted to God, following Jesus, moved by his Spirit, we strive to bring this reconciling and transforming love of God to the world.
All this sounds wonderful—and it is! As I said—as Jesus says—this is the only way to real life, to true justice and lasting peace. It is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, the way God’s kingdom comes on earth down from heaven.
But following Jesus in this way of love is not easy. Jesus was killed for it, remember! We’re not following @Comfy_Jesus on Twitter—we’re following the Suffering Servant and Crucified Christ.
For some, Jesus’ way of love wasn’t holy enough. Jesus was soft on Sabbath, they said. He was too cozy with “sinners,” they said. He didn’t keep the strictest requirements of the Law the way they thought he should.
For others, Jesus’ way of love was too political. Free healing for the sick! Good news for the poor! Sharp rebukes for the rich! And all this talk of “God’s kingdom near at hand”—right under the noses of the ruling Romans!
Things haven’t changed all that much. Jesus’ way of love is just as counter-cultural as ever. The Really Religious and the Privileged Powerful have never liked it. They have always been willing to condemn and crucify anyone who comes in the name of the Lord, loving in the way of Jesus.
Which is why Jesus calls on those who would be his followers to count the cost.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Here’s what it means: you need to deny yourself and take up your cross every day. You need to lose your life if you want to find it.” That’s our passage today, Luke 9:23-24.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Just so you know: I don’t have any possessions to my name, no place even to lay my head.” That’s just a few verses later in the same chapter, Luke 9:57-58.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Then be prepared for some animosity: your own family might even turn against you.” That’s Matthew 10:34-39.
Sometimes I hear people say that Jesus would never have been crucified simply for teaching the way of love and living a life of love. I can’t help but think that these people have never really known the radical love of God revealed in Jesus.
The gospel comforts the disturbed, but it also disturbs the comfortable. Before we can receive the healing love of the Great Physician, we need first to recognize that we ourselves are among the sick. Like Nicodemus—as a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, he was the epitome of both the Really Religious and the Privileged Powerful—like Nicodemus, we need to be born again.
Here, then, is our mission, should we choose to accept it: to live out the reconciling and transforming love of God, through Jesus Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit, and so to become a nurturing community of peace, witness, and service to one another and the world.
In other words, to be true followers of Jesus Christ.