Following Jesus

Dorsey Marshall, in his blog Head First had an excellent post a few years back entitled I never even got to the question. Here is some of what he wrote:

Tony Campolo posed the question, “If there were no heaven and no hell, would you still follow Jesus?” I started to answer, but stopped. I had to admit that I’m not even sure I follow Jesus now. I’ve been a Christian for many years. I believe that Jesus is who He says He is. I invited Him into my heart (over a hundred times…and counting! Thank you, A/G youth camp!). I always cooked at the men’s fellowship breakfast. Spoke in tongues (but was never “slain in the Spirit”–I’m no wacko). I do my best to be obscenely generous. I’ve experienced immediate healing when I called together the elders of my church. I pray (for other people, not just myself). I don’t know too many orphans, but I help widows and reach out to strangers whenever I can. I go to third-world countries and help build meeting places for the Church to gather. And this little light of mine? I’m gonna…well, you know. Is that following?

The idea of following Jesus has somehow been blurred into . . . Christian activities. I’m not saying these things have no merit. I just question whether they necessarily represent an accurate definition of following. If I say I’m following Jesus, then it stands to reason that I am going somewhere that Jesus has been, or that I am doing something Jesus did. Yeah, we did the gay coffee thing, and I’ve sat in the gutter and befriended homeless guys in the city. But I still stop for a cheese steak on the way out of town and come home to my sleep-number bed (Jesus didn’t have a bad back like I do, you see). Is there a balance (as we all so desperately hope)? Or is that a cop out? Would you still follow? Do you follow?

The question of whether or not I am truly a follower of Jesus is one I ponder almost every day. The only days when I don’t struggle are the days when I allow all my church activities and business to keep me so busy I have no time for reflection. I have been a “Christian” for 38 years and a pastor for 20 and yet I still wonder at times: Do I follow Jesus?  I think it’s a question every Christian should consider often.

The question that Campolo poses at the beginning of Marshall’s post in one of my favorites to pose to new members, older children, and especially confirmation age youth. It is always amazing to see how many people “follow” Jesus in order to avoid hell and gain heaven. It just seems a little mercenary to me, but then again Paul once said “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  My desire is to follow Jesus regardless of the rewards that are forthcoming, however.  My desire is to follow him because of the great love he has shown the world and to me.

Heaven Can Wait

This is a sermon I preached after the tragedies of child sexual abuse were discovered at Penn State.  I welcome any comments and if anyone would like to contact me privately, please use the “Contact” link at the top of the blog. Please note:  some names have been changed in the sermon below for what will become obvious reasons.

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The novel and film The Color Purple is the story of a woman named Celie.
Celie grew up in a home without a mother;
in a home where she was abused physically and sexually,
eventually giving birth to two children fathered by her own dad,
who then gave them up for adoption.
Celie is then married off to Mr.,
who continues the abuse.

Aside from the love of her younger sister,
abuse is all that Celie knows in the first half of her life,
so it is not surprising that when her son-in-law Harpo complains about the uppity nature of his wife Sophia,
Celie tells him to beat her.
Harpo tries to do just that,
though he in fact gets the bigger beating from his wife.

Afterward Sophia confronts Celie:
“You told Harpo to beat me…
All my life I had to fight,
I had to fight my daddy.
I had to fight my uncles.
I had to fight my brothers.
A girlchild ain’t safe in a family of men,
But I ain’t never thought I had to to fight in my own house…
I loves Harpo, God knows I do,
but I’ll kill him dead for I let him beat me…
Now you want a dead son in law, Miss Celie?
You keep on advising him like you doing.”

Celie replies, “This side’ll be over soon; heaven lasts always.”

“Girl, you oughtta bash Mister’s head open,” Sophia says,
“and think about heaven later.”

This morning our primary scripture from Revelation (from chapter 21) talks about heaven.
All the hymns I chose for worship do the same.
I thought I would even preach about heaven today,
but given the events of the last week,
I think heaven can wait.

One of the criticisms of some forms of Christianity is that they concentrate too much on what may come after death and too little on what actually happens during life.
This is exactly the attitude that Miss Celie reflects when she says,
“This side’ll be over soon; heaven lasts always.”

The problem with such a view is captured perfectly in an old saying I heard years ago:
“He (or she) is too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.”
And so, while it may be nice to contemplate what the new heaven and new earth may look like,
and while it is wonderful to think about the fact that one day there will be no more tears or sorrow or pain and that death itself will die,
the truth is that there is too much work for us to do in the here and now to spend much time contemplating what will be in another time and place.

I invite you to look again at the words we just sang in Hymn 726.
“O holy city, seen of John,
Where Christ the Lamb, doth reign,
Within whose foursquare walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again.

“Hark, how from men whose lives are held
More cheap than merchandise,
From women struggling sore for bread,
From little children’s cries,
There swells the sobbing human plaint
That bids thy walls arise.”

This past week, above every other noise raised concerning the scandal that has unfolded at Penn State Univeristy,
I have heard the echoes of children’s cries.
Children and youth crying over their innocence violently stolen,
children and youth, at least eight and no doubt many more,
weeping because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of a man they trusted,
weeping because of the indifference shown by others,
who may have done what was legally required of them,
but who also fell far short of any decent moral response.
A 28-year old man who witnessed the abuse of a child in progress,
and who ran away without doing anything to stop it or even saying a word.
And others who were content to pass matters up the chain of command,
but in the end did nothing but say to the accused – just don’t bring kids here to Penn State anymore.
In effect saying: you can keep on doing what you are doing,
just don’t do it here.
And no one, not one person at the university, ever tried to follow up and discover who the ten-year old boy was who was raped,
let alone try to help him.
It was and is shocking.

Continue reading “Heaven Can Wait”

The Only Human-made Things in Heaven

This week’s quote is taken from a reading from the Celtic Daily Prayer (sorry I cannot find the reference as to where I found it).  In the Daily Prayer, however, there is this simple yet profound question and answer:

“Question: What are the only human-made things in heaven?
Answer: The wounds in the hands, feet and side of Christ.”