July 30, 2017: Following

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Matthew 7: 24-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Jesus said, “Come follow me.”

What does that mean, “follow Jesus?”

Sounds simple enough but there are so many contradictory and confusing responses to the question, how do I know how to follow Jesus?

I say one thing, the preacher down the street says something else, the “Christian” leaders who claim to speak for us say something else. Books, magazine articles, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, posts and tweets all answer the question differently.

Some of us grew up believing that we followed Jesus by walking forward at the time of Invitation at the end of a church service, by saying some version of the sinner’s prayer and by being baptized. That is what we were taught is required to follow Jesus.

Others learned that if they went through some instructional classes, they would be following Jesus.

Some of us are encouraged to follow Jesus by going to church regularly, giving tithes, being moral sexually, not using taboo words, refusing intoxicating beverages, and avoiding sin (however sin is defined by our church).

Some of us are told that if you avoid certain things things you are following Jesus.
Don't drink.
Don’t play cards.
Don't gamble.
Don't dance.
Don't go to bars.
Don't go to movies.

Still others are told they are following Jesus when they reject people who are different than them- people who practice other religions, people whose sexuality is defined differently, people who break the sin rules, and people who have made mistakes in their lives. These people are to be avoided and excluded if we want to follow Jesus.

Wear the right clothes.
Say the right words.
Pray the right prayers.
Listen to the right music.
Exclude the right people.
Attend the right church.
And you will be followers of Jesus, some say.

Of course different leaders will discern differently which clothes are right, which words are wrong, which prayers are true, which music is godly, which church is bible-based and spirit-filled.

It can leave us confused.

I wonder what Jesus says is the way we follow him?

Listening to final words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Hearing Jesus and putting what we hear into practice is the working definition of what is means to follow Jesus.

For the last seven months we have been looking at the core of Jesus’ teaching as it has been preserved for us in the Sermon on the Mount.

Every Sunday, except a couple, you have been confronted with Jesus words. We have dissected them and put them back together and sought life applications from them.

These words, comprising three chapters in Matthew’s gospel, were not spoken by Jesus as idealistically unachievable aphorisms. They weren't given as unreachable goals. I believe Jesus spoke the word so that we might hear them and then put into practice. They become the foundation for a life lived in the grace of God.

I don’t believe that the Sermon on the Mount was a once delivered speech. I believe that it was basically Jesus’ stump speech and that over Jesus’ three year ministry, the words of the sermon are repeated over and over again by Jesus, perhaps with modification, but still largely intact, as Jesus would confront people with the reality of following him.

So I would declare that if you want to follow Jesus, you should listen to Jesus and practice what you hear. And the Sermon on the Mount is an amazing capsulation of Jesus’ teaching.

I share with you these take-always from the sermon.

1) Choose. There is a gate to enter, a path to walk, a way to live. We choose love over hate, grace over judgement, inclusion over exclusion. We choose to follow Jesus by living lives defined by love.

2) Seek. God’s kingdom is in-breaking. We follow Jesus as we seek the Kingdom over which Jesus is Lord. The kingdom is defined by love, grace, graciousness, mercy, justice and kindness.

3) Trust. Big picture, we have little control over our lives. Stuff happens. We can plan, and build, and save, and discover our plans are fruitless, what we build rots, what we save is taken from us. The thing that we can ultimately do is trust. Trust God to be God. Trust and chill. After all, tomorrow will have enough problems of its own.

4) Love. Your God, your neighbor, yourself, your enemy. In love, turn the other cheek. In love, walk the extra mile. In love, be generous. Remember that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

5) Be authentic. Don’t be religious for show. Don’t be kind just because people are watching. Don’t give and expect a plaque. Be who you are - and who you are becoming.

6) Forgive. Seems like a requirement to receive the wholeness that comes with being forgiven. Forgive because it frees you from your self imposed exile of bitterness and lostness.

7) Be blessed. Seriously- feeling poor in spirit, struggling, striving, serving, hurting, helping, running on empty? Then you are blessed because God can work in and through you. Celebrate your blessedness.

8) Accept. Quit judging people over things you don’t know, or don’t understand, or don’t like. Quit judging people over things you fear or have been taught to fear. See each person you encounter, Rich, Poor, Homeless, White, Brown, Black, Gay, Trans, Straight, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, as a beloved child of God. Accept them and love them.

9) Do. “Do to others as you would desire others to do to you.” Proactively and without thought of reward and recognition. Treat others kindly, with respect, with understanding. Just do it!!

10) Shine. Let it shine, baby!!! God’s love shines through you. God’s grace is manifest through you. God’s mercy comes through you. For some people, the only evidence they may have of God’s love, and grace and mercy is you. Don’t mess it up!!! Shine!

Jesus said, Come Follow Me.
Choose
Seek
Trust
Love
Be authentic
Forgive
Be blessed
Accept
Do
Shine.

And above all things, put on love, which fulfills the law and the prophets.

Amen.


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