May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who was the first person on twitter to get twenty million followers?
It was Lady Ga Ga.
And who has the largest following on Face Book?
With 123 million followers, it is Christiano Ronaldo.
We are familiar with the concept of being a follower. Men and women follow football teams; or politicians. Bands, film stars, soap operas and even shops have their followers. Most people have heroes whom they follow. Christians over the centuries have become ‘followers’ of Reformers like Luther, Puritans like Bunyan, or evangelical leaders like John Wesley. There are certain preachers and writers today, who have helped us by their sermons and books and we know one quite well. We gently follow them while not giving them our hearts and lives.
In the first century there were wandering preachers who gathered disciples around them, followers who chose for a while to put themselves under the teaching of these rabbis and learn from them. So it became natural and usual for people to come under the influence of others – like students going off to college for a few years today.
People at the time of Jesus saw his life and heard his teaching and decided, “Yes. I need to follow him.” They thought in terms of leaving their homes and jobs for a while and walking with Jesus around Galilee and going to Jerusalem with him. They would sit at his feet as he was teaching, asking him questions, watching his life, how he lived. Then, after a time, they returned to their wives and their family life.
In the passage we heard this morning we meet three such men who were on the verge of making this decision. They were thinking, “I’ll become a follower of Jesus.” You notice the theme word this morning is ‘follow’; it’s found three times about three different men; “I will follow you,” “Follow me.” “I will follow you, Lord, but …”.
Let us look at each of them, and see what it means to become a real follower of the Jesus Christ.
As they were walking along a dusty middle-east road they met a man who said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go”. Thinking, “Jesus, you have a dedicated new disciple in me. I will stick to you through thick and thin. In whatever weather, I’ll be there. Whatever you give me to do, I will do it, fetching and carrying water, anything nothing will dent my ego. However hard it gets, you can rely on me. I’ll never be shaken.”
We have no reason to think this man was anything but sincere. He was not out to get an easy life, giving up his home responsibilities to wander on a magical mystery tour with Jesus. He volunteered publicly to serve Jesus. We would love to have him sitting in a pew on Sundays as one of our congregation. Our Churchwardens would welcome him, as he walked into church and he’d be given a special smile with the hymnbook. If he came back regularly he’d be a real asset to the church. This man is an evangelist’s dream. He would agree to everything, needing very little instruction. Just six meetings, climaxed in trip to Launde Abbey. This man is a candidate for leadership in the church.
That’s how it is done in the world today – everywhere. It is not hard to become known as a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s relatively easy. While joining a golf club or other organisation makes demands on attendance and financial support, becoming a follower of Jesus requires only the words, “I will follow you,” and you’re in!
How did Jesus respond to this man? He replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” How could Jesus use such an insensitive approach in dealing with an inquiring sinner? His first words to him were saying, “You don’t realise who you’d be following. I don’t have a home to call my own; I cannot guarantee one for you. I am utterly dependent day by day on people giving me a place to sleep; so will you be.” Jesus was stopping this man in his tracks in the first flush of his enthusiasm to join the other disciples in following him.
Jesus was not trying to humiliate this man, or to throw cold water in his face and dampen his zeal to become a disciple. Jesus loved him, as Jesus loves all who are moved to follow him through thick and thin. But he also speaks words of truth to make us all face up to the cost of discipleship. Jesus wanted people to follow him, but primarily he was motivated by a longing to glorify his Father. In every conversation his concern was to do the will of God, be faithful to him, and make his glory known to the world.
In the second case Jesus takes the initiative. He approaches a man and he says to him, “Follow me.” He already knows that this man will make an excuse why he can’t begin to follow him then and there. This is a man who is interested in Christianity, he is a man who has his own agenda; he has admiration for Jesus and some serious thoughts of one day following him, but he wants to put off the invitation just then. We are told that, “the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father’”. He thought it inconvenient just at that time to follow Jesus. It would be better later after the funeral.
However, we can see that this man had the wrong end of the stick about what following Jesus meant. He didn’t see it as entirely following Jesus as Lord forever. The essence of following Christ was not actually walking in a group of disciples with him throughout Galilee, and beyond. Following Jesus is a spiritual change of heart and life, brought about by the Holy Spirit, in which inwardly we do his will. If we are going to follow Jesus we can’t wait for a more convenient time.
A third man came to Jesus and said the same as the first, “I will follow you”. He even called Jesus ‘Lord.” There was respect and courtesy as well as a deep interest in Jesus, but again it was qualified; “I will follow you, Lord, but …” When Augustine began to see his sin and need of salvation he prayed, “Lord, convert me, but not yet.” And it is the same thing for many people today. They believe in God, but … and generally they add something like this, ‘they don’t want to be extreme or they don’t want to be fanatical about their faith.’ They know ‘God made the world?” and “God is the one they turn to in a crisis”. This was a man who called Jesus ‘Lord’ and he said out loud that he wanted to follow him, but first, before he began to follow him, he wanted to say good-bye to his family.
Here was a man who wanted to dictate the time and the way in which he was prepared to follow the Jesus. His family came first. Now when we begin to follow Jesus we are to give everything to him. I suppose what we treasure the most are our family, our parents, our children, our husbands and wives – God’s greatest and most enriching gifts to us. But to follow Jesus is to hand over everything to him. Put simply he teaches us how to enjoy those good gifts without them becoming our God. These pictures of life following Jesus can be summed up in the words of Francis Ridley Havergal.
Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take myself and I will be ever only, all for Thee.
(Francis Ridley Havergal 1836-1879)
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 30/06/19