Last week we introduced the sermon series based on the book, Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman. We began the process of looking carefully at our walk with Jesus where we had to make the determination: Am I a fan or a follower of Jesus Christ? I hope you spent some time considering that question this past week, and if not I invite you to do so in the weeks to come. Today we are focusing on a message from Jesus that is repeated in three of the four gospels. Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As we were defining the difference between a fan or follower of Jesus, we touched on a fan-favorite scripture (by that I mean this one shows up at a lot of sporting events.) John 3:16 offers a promise of God fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [Read scripture] John 3:16 holds an emphasis on believing in Jesus, while Luke 9:23 focuses on following Jesus. “There is no John 3:16 without Luke 9:23.” It is not enough to believe, we are called to follow. There are several parts to this scripture that were carried out in the passage that was read for us, as we see Jesus sending out his disciples to do ministry in Jesus’ name. As we pull apart this Luke 9:23 scripture, we find Jesus’ expectations of his followers.
First, Jesus invites anyone – “If ANYONE would come after me….” Anyone means everyone – no one is excluded from this invitation. No matter how good or bad we perceive ourselves to be; no matter how many times we have stumbled in the past; no matter how many times we have failed to the point where we don’t even try to hide our flaws anymore; Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and follow him. When Jesus chose his disciples, he did not screen applicants, check references, or require letters of recommendation. He simply extended an invitation, and a group of lowly tradesmen accepted and followed.
Perhaps we are sitting here today, hearing the call to follow Jesus, but we are waiting for the catch. You know what I mean. There’s always some fine print or some very fast-spoken exclusions or conditions that have to be met first. Maybe we feel we have to improve ourselves on our own before we can make Jesus’ calling our main priority.
Or perhaps we are standing as a barrier for others to follow Jesus because we seem to place conditions where Jesus was unconditional. I appreciate the attitude of welcome here at Mayo. I have gotten to know some of our regular AA attendees, and one thing they mention time and again is our willingness to not only accommodate them, but encourage them on their road to recovery. I hope you add these folks to your daily prayers because I believe strongly that prayer changes things. We are welcoming our neighbors in need with unconditional love and support – we are following Jesus. I pray we remind ourselves daily to not put conditions on Jesus’ invitation to follow. Make no mistake about it Jesus is still in the calling business, and we all must choose to follow or not.
I shared a story a while ago about a family gathering in the days when pictures were taken on rolls of film. The father got down to his last picture on the roll and said, “OK, let’s get everyone in this one.” His son proceeded outside and down the street to include everyone, because to him, ‘everyone’ meant everyone! So be it!
This open invitation requires action – a response. And if we RSVP saying we will follow, then we need to do just that. If we send a message of a promise to be at a certain event, the hosts are expecting us at that point. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, the expectation is that we mean what we say. We don’t want to be in the position of setting up conditions, or deciding that we will follow Jesus as long as its good for us, but not when it gets hard. This is an all-or-nothing proposal – we will either passionately pursue a life of sharing kindness with others out of gratitude for our blessings or not. We will either live out the gospel in our everyday lives or not. We will either seek first the kingdom of God, stepping off the seat of highest honor and giving this over to Jesus, or not. Greed will not be our guide as followers. Deceit will not be our guide. Indulgence will not be our guide. Despair will not be our guide. Self-pity will not be our guide. A need for attention will not be our guide. The love of Jesus will encompass our very being – it will lead us to listen to our co-workers problems, sacrifice our time to help raise up the next generation of believers, set an example for our young people on the importance of visiting with the elderly. Followers are willing to put ourselves on the line – our time, our treasure, our talents.
In order to be a follower of Jesus, we offer our whole selves – our hopes, our dreams, our focus – all stem from a deep-seated love for Jesus. But understand Jesus extends an invitation – love is never a forced emotion. As parents, we bring our children to church to learn good lessons and stories of Jesus. One aspect of the confirmation class that I absolutely love is presenting a choice to our young people – whether they follow Jesus or not is their decision. Some embrace the true life of a Christ-follower, others are happy to be fans. We have to ability to choose. “Jesus wants to make it clear what you are agreeing to if you respond to his invitation. He will settle for nothing less than to be the great love and pursuit of your life.” A life of generosity stems from the one who gave nothing less than everything for us.
Perhaps you have been doing some soul-searching and realize that you are a fan who wants to be a follower but you have no passion or motivation. Perhaps like that old song says, “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.” Its not that we dislike Jesus, we are just indifferent – apathetic. I had heard recently that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Consider a situation where a husband and wife have been together for a long time, and perhaps the passion has waned a bit. Many will agree that the best thing for this couple to do is to remember some of the actions they pursued as a newlywed couple. And folks, just as a reminder, Valentine’s Day is not that far off! Maybe it means bringing flowers home just because, or watching one of his shows instead of yours. If the relationship is important enough, the couple will make the effort needed to bring and/or keep the passion alive.
Perhaps we need to do those things that we did when we first became a follower of Jesus. Maybe we need to talk to Jesus in prayer just like we would our closest friend. Maybe we need to start reading our Bibles again. Maybe we need to find a Christian radio station to try for a while, listening to the song lyrics of love for Jesus our savior and redeemer. Maybe we need to rekindle our commitment to Jesus through worship, giving, serving – truly loving God and loving our neighbors.
If we reread Luke 9:23 we will see these words – “If anyone [the open invitation] would come after me, he must ‘deny himself’ take up his cross and follow me.” Probably the hardest thing to consider is that we have to deny ourselves. Consider those of us who are fighting the battle of the bulge! I have spent my time on the couch watching workout shows! I have spent my time trying to get motivated to take that walk around the neighborhood but quickly find every excuse in the book not to! But in order to become healthier there is some effort required on our part. We have to put down the cookie and pick up the bottle of water! We have to do the exercise not just wish for a stronger body. The crossroads are before us and we have to make a choice.
Will we choose Jesus? Will we choose to deny ourselves in a society that promotes ‘Its all about me!’ Jesus may be calling us out of our comfort zones into the unknown. Maybe we are being called to share God’s love with our co-worker whom we have worked beside for years. Maybe we are being called to choose Jesus over our career goals. Maybe we are being called to choose Jesus over self-indulgences of food, spending money, alcohol, drugs, porn.
A while ago I shared a clip from the movie “War Room” where Ms. Clara was asking Elizabeth about her prayer life. Elizabeth went on to explain that it wasn’t hot or cold – it was somewhere in the middle. Ms. Clara then proceeds to serve Elizabeth a room-temperature cup of coffee. Following Jesus is similar – either we are all in or we are not. When we choose to be a follower of Jesus we are sharing in a committed love – Jesus as our one-and-only. No exceptions, no exclusions, no compartmentalization. Its all or nothing. Are you a fan or a follower of Jesus Christ? Amen.