Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Where God Lives" 2 Samuel 7: 1-10; Ephesians 2: 19-22 by David Montgomery (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

The second grade Sunday school teacher asked, “Where does God live?” and Billy quickly responded with great confidence, “God lives in my big sister's bathroom!” All the kids laughed yet being the good Sunday school teacher she followed up with, “Billy, what makes you say that?” “Well,” Billy replies, “every morning my dad goes up to the bathroom, knocks on the door and shouts, my God, are you still in there?”
While Billy may know where God lives, the rest of us still ask, “Where is God?”
Where is God? Where does God live? Where is God's presence found? These are questions with which we have wrestled for ages. Young and old ask this question. My college students really want to know, “Where is God in the midst of crisis?” The elderly ask, “Where is God in the eternal? Where can we find God’s presence?”
In a reading this morning we find King David, King of the United Israel, wanting to build God a house where God would live. David is thankful to God for all God has done in leading Israel to prosperity and peace.    
David knows that he could not have led the nation without God’s leadership, so he wants to prepare a place for God to dwell.                      
David has a lavish palace for himself and it does not seem right that God is living in a tent. God needs a proper home, a temple, one with suitable splendor, perhaps gold, marble, stained glass would be nice.
I just came back from Istanbul and saw up close and personal the Hagia Sofia which surely could house God. This magnificent structure was built 1500 years ago by Constantine to emulate God’s grandeur.
So, David tells his pastor, Nathan, his desires and Nathan’s first response is, “Go on and do it. God has been with you through it all. It sounds good to me. I'll call the session together and we will start a capital campaign immediately.” But later God comes to Nathan and tells him, “Nathan, call off the session meeting. There's not going to be a building campaign while David is king. I don't need a house of cedar or a palace of marble and gold. Don't build me a home, a temple, let me make you my home, my dwelling place. Let me live in you!”
Amazing isn't it? God could have the greatest architects, the strongest laborers, the best engineers of all time construct a house.                                
Yet God chose to dwell in the people, the nation of Israel. That is the story of King David and the Jews. God lives in God's chosen people and in the passage from Ephesians we hear that God invites us, those of us here today, to be a part of that ongoing household.
And God brings us in, adopts us, through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are brought into the one family of God and given access, direct access to God.
You have seen the cross described that way. The horizontal beams of the cross are demonstrating a common relationship with all people on earth, set with the vertical beam which illustrates our connectedness with God; that's making the cross of Jesus Christ, where God lives and dwells.
One summer as my family was traveling between Panama City, Fla and Atlanta, Ga we had to make a potty break. Traveling with three young boys, we tended to do that regularly. Well, we pulled off the interstate at LaGrange, Ga and I remembered that there was an amazing cross in front of a church in LaGrange that we needed to see. So I asked the gas station attendant. “Excuse me, could you tell me where the church with the cross is?”
I mean, think about my question. Doesn’t every church have a cross? Every church in LaGrange has a cross. But the attendant knew what I was talking about. It is that memorable. So he gave us simple directions. 
So we found this marvelous stone cross that stands out front of St Mark's Episcopal Church on North Greenwood Street in LaGrange, Georgia. It is a huge Celtic cross. It stands 20 feet high, is 15 feet wide, and at least three feet thick made of solid granite. When you drive past the church you can't help but notice. It was breathtaking.
As we faced the cross we saw the symbols of the original 12 apostles. They are engraved in the stone: St Andrew's cross, Judas’ money bags, a shell, carpenters tools, the ship... all 12 represented. And engraved in the circle was a grapevine reminding me of the communion and Jesus's words “I am The Vine, you are the branches.”
But then we walked around it and found a shocking surprise. First to catch my eyes was a set of Mickey Mouse ears. Then we saw a swing set, a speedboat, a football field, two old rotary telephones and a radio tower, a house, the Justice Department emblem of the balance, and the medical professions’ insignia.
We recognized two United States dollar signs, a canoe, an airplane, a mushroom cloud, the symbols for male and female, a rocket ship, a totem pole, Einstein's theory of relativity (E= MC2), a G-clef and a sixteenth note, a clock and more.                          
Within the circle were people joining hands. All nationalities are represented, men and women, boys and girls. And at the bottom are three questions. “Who are you? Where are you going? Why?”
Makes you think doesn't it? We come off the street to the church drawn by our own similar needs for hope, security, peace, love and understanding into the sanctuary of the church where we gather as the body of Christ, which is all entwined in the cross. The church, the people of God gathered in worship. The Book of Order describes worship in W - 1.1001 as “Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the Triune God. In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives.” That is who we are and what we are about. This is where God lives.

Almost every Christian family is asked three questions at sometime or another. “Do you go to church? Where is your church? What does your church do?” The typical answer goes something like this:                                                                  
         Q: Do you go to church?
         A: Yes, at least twice a month I go to the Village Church.
         Q: Where is your church?
         A: We meet in the Maumee Theatre on the corner of Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant.
         Q: What does your church do?
1. We welcome a community of gay/lesbian/transgender people who are not welcome in other churches;
2.  We are a church that, with Cheri Holdridge's leadership, was able to get chartered by the United Church of Christ and the Methodist Church even though we regularly have only about 50 active members;
3.  Our pastor is active not only in leading our church and performing pastoral care, but also takes an active role in social justice through Equality Toledo and Equality Ohio and in church planting activities.
4. We have active volunteer members who make sure worship runs smoothly each Sunday:  greeting attendees, teaching Sunday school, helping to lead the music, videotaping and blogging the service and sharing it through social media; making announcements, assisting with communion, preparing and running a powerpoint, purchasing and serving coffee and snacks every Sunday, setting up the worship space and tearing it down after every service.
You ought to come join us.

But in reading the Ephesians passage with its definition of church, perhaps we should answer these three questions quite differently. 

         Q: Do you go to church?
         A: I am part of the church. But the church does meet together if that's what you're asking.         
Q: Where is your church?
         A: Well, let's see, about this time of day on a Monday morning, many are at work. We have teachers in public schools, computer/software technicians, social workers out in the community. We have lawyers in courtrooms and librarians in libraries. There is a veterinarian working with animals as well as a factory worker and even a child care facility inspector keeping kids safe.

Some are retired but very active in clubs and chores and living. During the fall some are travelling.

They are all over the place. You see the church is infiltrating the whole county right now. 

         Q: What does your church do? 

         A: I've already told you. It’s spread all through the town involved in all sorts of work. My church is doing their work in such a way and talking in such a way as to let others know what is already true: that Jesus Christ is the boss of the city and all that goes on in it. This is the church's work. And then, one day a week, we rest from our church work and gather together to hear again our Lord speaking to us, that we may go back renewed to the tasks God has set before us.

If we define the church as the writer to the Ephesians does, we see that no walls can contain such a church.  No building of marble, or gold, or brick, or straw can contain God.     
Recently I was at the Montreat Youth Conference in Montreat NC where I saw a young man standing in line at the checkout in Kroger’s. He had a bright attractive shirt that had blazoned across the front in big letters, “Don’t go to church…”

I am not known to be very shy, so I went up to him and said, “Excuse me sir, but I couldn’t help noticing your shirt. I am a Presbyterian minister and I am trying to get people to go to church and your shirt says just the opposite. Can I ask you ‘Why?’”

He looked at me with a big grin on his face and turned around pointing at the back which read, “…Be the church!” He said, “Get it?” Don’t go to church, be the church.” I gave him a big hug and I said, “I’m going to remember that. Thanks.”

Pretty good. Huh? So when your next pastor comes tell her or him, “Pastor Friend, I’m not going to church anymore. I’m going to be the church forevermore!”

I’ve heard it said, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you an automobile. I believe it. Don’t go to church…be the church.   
Ephesians says, we are God's household, a holy temple, a dwelling place for God. This means that the presence and power of God, God's Holy Spirit, infuses us so that we become God's own family, God's abode. God reconciles our flesh and blood and claims it as God's own, so that we are those among whom and through whom God moves and works in the world. It’s not enough that we come to church. When we are fed here, we are to go out into the world, because God dwells in you.

          Here again God's Word to us. “In Christ you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by God's Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22). May we fulfill our calling and be where God lives. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Other Great Commission by Rae Lynn Schleif (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I listen to MSNBC on my half hour drive to and from the office.  I don’t enjoy listening to the news because too much of it is violent—the violence is more than the shootings on campuses, the bombings on Syria, the killings in Israel and the West Bank, the violence includes the rhetoric of name calling and candidate bashing that is currently a part of our presidential candidate weeding out process.  

In the midst of ALL this, I feel as like a very small person, as if I have little or no power to change the massive violence in the world.  Yet, I am Christian which means I have to believe that the power of God in Christ is greater than any violence in this world.  I am Christian which means every day I must get up and remind myself that I live in Christ and Christ lives in me.  

Every Gospel, and there are four of them, ends with commissioning words. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”  

The harder one, the other great commission is found in the gospels of Luke and John there is this shift in the commissioning message. In Luke Jesus tells his disciples, “. . .  repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in my name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.  In John’s gospel the words of commissioning, which are hidden a little, are “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retained the sins of any, they are retained.”

I read these words and I realize that Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue the work of forgiving.  And I believe that we too are commissioned to this same work. Forgiveness has power to change the world, not just change our personal lives, but change the world.  

In the most critical moments in Jesus’ life the subject of forgiveness comes up:  “Lord, teach us to pray . . .”  and  Jesus then says these words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . .”   Peter’s question, “If someone sins against me, how many times should I forgive, seven?”   And from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”  We believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Before I continue with this message, I highly recommend the book, Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.  The outline of this sermon is borrowed from the author, Brian Zahnd.  I share this with you so as not to be guilty of plagiarism and then need forgiveness for such a sin.  

Zanhd writes, “Forgiveness is that which alone has the capacity to achieve peace and reconciliation within relationships whether personal or global.  Whatever else may be said about Christian people, it must be said of us that we are a people who believe in forgiveness of sins as much as we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Did you hear that?  We must believe in the forgiveness of sins as much as we believe in the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus pushes us to the extreme when he teaches on forgiveness.”

Indeed Jesus pushes us to the extreme.  In Matthew 18, “Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  As many as seven times?  In his answering his own question, Peter believed that seven times was a generous amount of times to  forgive someone who consistently sins against us.  Let’s be honest, many of us might forgive twice, three times, perhaps, (many of us struggle to forgive even once.)  So seven times is gracious.  But Jesus responded to Peter saying, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”  For many of us, it’s hard to get to three or even one.  

Brian Zahnd writes that Jesus challenges our limited idea regarding the extent of forgiveness.  In this conversation between Jesus and Peter, Jesus is suggesting the possibility of endless forgiveness and it goes beyond what we think is reasonable.  Christian forgiveness is to be limitless.  To follow Jesus is to become a practitioner of radical forgiveness.

Oh, I know, we immediately begin to think about all the exceptions to this.
·        Isn’t there a point at which to forgive so many times becomes acceptance of what the person is doing?  Such as, how often are we to forgive the serial liar, murder or rapist?
·        Aren’t there some crimes that go beyond the capacity of forgiveness?  Such as all the murderous killing that Isis is doing every day?

·        At what point is it justifiable to retaliate against our enemies? 

·        This kind of forgiveness is not humanly possible.  True, but that’s why Jesus said receive the Holy Spirit.

We justify our anger and hatred of those who hurt us, especially those who hurt us deeply or repeatedly.  We point out that they intended harm, are not remorseful and they will continue to harm. “Why should we forgive these?”

When our anger seethes out of us and we feel justified in returning hurt for hurt all we are doing is continuing the cycle of revenge.  That is not the way of Christ.  Our personal conflicts are nothing more than a microcosm of the larger world conflicts, a microcosm of the MSNBC daily news, if we are honest.  We can stop the cycle of harm, the cycle of conflict when we choose to forgive. Hear those words, it is a choice.  And it is a choice.

But forgiveness is the hardest thing for us to choose!  When I was nine my parents made a decision to loan my uncle $3000.  In 1967 that was a lot of money.  An equivalent loan today would be slightly over $21,000.  My uncle was to make monthly payments over three years of time.  The first three checks bounced.  Within six months, my mother and my uncle had this horrible argument and stopped talking to one another—a silence that lasted 11 years, until the death of my grandfather.  My uncle never paid back the money.  My mother forgave him the loan, forgave the hurtful words and they were reconciled.  

Forgiveness always comes with a cost.  First, they lost 11 years of relationship, 11 years is a terrible price to pay.  For my parents, there was the cost of a huge amount of money, money they needed to raise their children.  My parents were not wealthy, just frugal and loving.  In forgiving, my parents had to let go of ever seeing this loan repaid had to let go of the anger, the disappointment, the pain, the betrayal, the loss of what would have been a half year of income.  Forgiveness is costly.

This is similar to the gospel story in Matthew that follows right after Jesus told Peter that we are called to forgive 70 times 7.  The story is of the king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.  When the king began the reckoning, one who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him.  This slave could not pay and the king ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions so that payment could be made.  The slave fell on his knees and begged the king to have patience, he would pay the king everything.  Out of pity for him, out of grace, the king released the slave and forgave him the debt.

The king released him, that is the root of the word forgiveness, this is what forgiveness does; it releases the other person from a personal debt.  Forgive us our sins, our debts.  We let go of what the other has done to us.  It came with a cost, 10,000 talents, and EXORBITANT amount of lost income, exorbitant, about 2000 years of lost income.  The point is this, when the king forgave he was willing to suffer an incredible financial loss, to let it go.  He released the slave from his past!  Forgiving the slave came with a cost. 

We often incorrectly spout off that we only forgive when we are able to forget, which is far from the truth.  Christ does not expect us to have spiritual amnesia.  

Again, Brian Zahnd writes, “Forgetting is not the same as forgiving.  Amnesia is not the answer to a world stuck in the endless cycle of revenge.  Memory is an essential part of forming our identity and if certain events were forgotten entirely, we would not be fully ourselves.  We can forgive while the scar of memory remains—not as a memory that causes the pain to be relived but as a memory that forms identity and has healing and has defined us.” Hear that again, forgiving is not amnesia.   Memory is a part of identity.  Memory to be used not as a source of pain, but forms our identity and as healing and definition. 

To use the example of my family again, my mother has never forgotten the default on the loan, or the 11 years of no communication with her brother.  She has not forgotten that history.  The healing that happened formed a new relationship; one based upon an understanding of who they each are, one that redefined their relationship.  Years after, my mother began to send monthly financial assistance to her brother as a gift, as a gift.  She still does.  She knows of their need.  She wants to help.  She has forgiven, not forgotten the events from 1967 to 1978.  The experience and the forgiveness redefined their relationship.

We can forgive those who have wounded us, but we never forget the wounding.  Hear this:  To forgive means that the power of pain that was caused no longer holds power over us.  To forgive means that we are no longer stuck in the past allowing the hurt and pain to debilitate our lives in the present.  To forgive means that we have let go of the hurt and the pain of the brokenness in the past and become aware of how all of it has shaped our identity today.  

Zahnd then gets personal with questions:  What is your story?  Who has been cruel to you?  Perhaps bitterly cruel.  What injustices have you suffered?  How have you been mistreated?  Perhaps miserably so.  Who has cheated you?  Abused you?  Lied to you or lied about you?  Maybe it was last week, maybe it was 20 years ago.  How does it impact you right now?  And then he shifts the questioning; how does this mistreatment you/we have been holding onto affect our view of the future?  Or let me put it another way:  What are we waiting for?  A chance to get even?  A chance for payback?  Revenge?  

If so, when we harbor these feelings, we become prisoners to the old event, prisoners to the emotions. We become enslaved to thoughts of retribution, and this leads us to having no future.  No future beyond how to get back at another from our past.

The past too often can hold us back and too often powerfully shapes us in a negative way.  When we haven’t decided and taken steps to let go of a deep past wound, when the emotions continue to easily upset us, we are in danger of forming an identity around our brokenness.  Holding onto the wound will begin to shape and change our personality and it will shape our future.

When we allow cruelty or bitterness to overtake our identity, lifestyle and character, we will become the thing, the person we don’t want to be.  When we are cruel to the one who was cruel to us, we become the cruel person.  Such behaviors are not justice, instead they are our own mini-wars.  Zahnd writes, “This is how evil takes over, moves from person to person until . . .  too much of the world lies in the power of the evil one.  Forgiveness puts a stop to such evil!  Forgiveness is not weakness.  Forgiveness is not acquiescence to injustice.  Forgiveness is giving ourselves to the power of God.”  And I would add forgiveness conquers all Good Fridays and ushers in many Easter mornings.

Consider with me the last conversation between Jesus and Peter.  It happened on the beach at the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus needed to take care of some “forgiving business” with Peter who on a night ten days earlier denied knowing Jesus.  That was a horrific night for both Peter and Jesus.  Peter had turned his back on Jesus.  If any of our friends had done this to us, we would be mad, hurt and would probably disown them in return.  We would spout off, “I’m done, finished with that relationship!”  We might even find a way to hurt them back.  And to consider forgiveness . . . . mmmgrrhh!  

Don’t believe for a moment that Jesus’ heart wasn’t hurting when Peter disowned him. That night could have been the final exchange between Peter and Jesus and if it had been, the growing guilt within Peter would have left him a broken disciple, impacting his life forever.  And so we come to that moment on the beach.  The conversation could have gone like this:  “Peter, I told you that you would deny me three times.  I knew you weren’t as strong as you said you were.  I’m hurt by what you did.  You are exactly as I thought you to be, a weak coward.  I’m disappointed and I don’t know if I can trust you ever again.”  A conversation like this one, similar to many that we have when we are angry and upset, would have continued the humiliation and shame Peter already felt. Jesus knew this.  Jesus wanted healing for Peter, and that healing would come only through forgiveness and reconciliation.  

And so the cadence of the story, “When they had finished eating, Jesus took Peter aside and said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Jesus offers Peter a way to affirm his love for him.  He doesn’t beat him up with a rehashing of the past.  He knows that Peter is struggling with his own personal defeat of having let himself and Jesus down when it really mattered.  “Peter, do you love me?”       “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.” And Jesus responds with a word of trust.  “Feed my lambs.”

Two more times a similar exchange happens between them each time Peter speaking of his love for Jesus.  In forgiving Peter, Jesus released Peter from his sin and opened to him the future.  This was/is reconciliation, not payback, not retribution for having been hurt by Peter.  This was grace, restoration, and this is the way of Jesus. 

I want to share one more personal story.  When I was 8 my oldest sister had been to the county fair and bought each of the three younger of us a little plastic toy dog.  I played with mine and then I lost it somewhere.  One afternoon my sister, Kathy was playing with hers and I took it from her.  She chased me around the house yelling “Give it back.  Give it back!” I didn’t want her to have it because I didn’t have mine.  So, I put it on the floor and jumped on it and crushed it and in the same moment I crushed her heart.  

Not my finest moment in childhood, even hard to admit to all of you yet today.  It was a violent and selfish act and I knew it was wrong.  My sister cried and cried.  When my mom discovered what had been going on and what I had done she quickly and very firmly began my punishment.  I was sent to bed, not just to my room, but to bed.  I was not to come out of my room, and she would be up to deal with me later.  And so, shaking with fear, I went to my room, put on my pajamas and waited. . . . waited.

An hour later she came in and the lecture began.  Like an angry judge delivering the sentence on a hardened callous criminal she lectured me for over an hour.  I was shamed and humiliated.  Once the lecture was over the sentence was given.  I would stay in bed the rest of the day, receive no dinner, be grounded for a week, would not go outside to play with friends for that week, she would have chores for me to do, and I was to talk with no one, not even the family unless spoken to first.  Then she said she was going to bring in my sister, Kathy and I was to apologize to her and pay her one dollar for the toy dog.  

By this time I was exhausted by tears and believed my relationship with my family was over.  She brought in my sister, I apologized and I gave her the dollar.  My sister and I both cried.  My sister tried to give the dollar back, my mother said, “No.”  They left and I sat broken in my bed.  It could have ended there.

About an hour later, my sister Kathy snuck into my room.  I had great fear in my heart because I knew we would both be in trouble if mom knew that she was in my room.  She came in and sat on my bed and hugged me, held me and cried with me.  She should have been angry at me.  She should have wanted payback, revenge.  She should have reveled in my punishment, I was getting what I deserved, but she came into my room, my eleven year old sister, eleven, came into my room and she hugged me and cried with me and said these words to me, “I forgive you and I love you.”  And then she handed the dollar back to me.  I refused to take the dollar.  I just couldn’t.

 That day, my sister Kathy was Jesus to me.  She gave me back my future, a healed place in the family.  Without forgiveness there is no future.  I believe in my heart that what happened that day when my sister snuck in to see me profoundly shaped me for the rest of my life. When she came in and forgave me, God’s grace through her turned me into a forgiven forgiver.  My sister was Jesus to me.

Forgiveness is how God saves the sinner.  The practice of forgiveness is how God heals the world.  Forgiveness is an act obedience, an act of the Holy Spirit working through us and we make a choice about allowing this work to happen through us. 

I realize this leaves us with many questions and many emotions. Where do we each need to pursue healing, forgiveness and reconciliation in our own lives?  Who has been Jesus to you and to whom do you need to be Jesus?   Christ’s way is the road of loving and forgiving.  And we can begin to embrace it again in this act of Holy Communion.  Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Follow Me - 2 Simple Words that Changed Millions by Rev. Scot Ocke (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

2 Simple Words - 2 simple words changed their lives.  Four fisher types are working their nets on the Sea of Galilee.  Everyone knows fishermen are not the brightest bunch, it was not a prestigious profession, not all that trustworthy or reputable.  You know fishermen - the fish is this... big!  But Jesus calls them – ‘Follow Me.’ Somehow, some way, Peter and Andrew do.  They drop their nets, get out of their boat, leave it all and follow Him, because of these two simple words.  Then Jesus encounters 2 more fisher types, they are mending their nets with their dad.   Fishing was family business, passed down through the generations.  They have probably been doing this a long time.  Besides, these two guys have a reputation – screamers, bar room brawlers, ‘Sons of Thunder’ they were called.  Like father like sons.   But Jesus calls them – ‘Follow Me.’ Somehow, some way, James and John do.  They drop their nets, say adios to their dad, get out of the boat, leave it all and follow Him.  

I wonder how this works.  A counselor would say you really have to be high on the ADD scale to just forget what you are doing and suddenly have a major brain shift to something totally different.  Huge doses of medication needed, they would say.  Ever have your kids come up to you and say, ‘I want this, I need that…’ and you say, ‘I can’t just drop everything and do that!’  Who just drops everything because someone walks by and says 2 simple words?  Why did these four fishermen do it?

Maybe a better question is, ‘Would I do it?  Would we do it?’  If Jesus came by and said 2 simple words, ‘Follow Me’, would we just stop everything and follow Him?  I have a feeling we would at least have to think about it.   I confess it took me two years after hearing my call to ministry, to follow it.  We would ponder the consequences, think about our families, wonder about our reputation for such a knee jerk action.  Would we lose the house, would our relatives think we were crazy, how would we live without our job?  What about my stuff?  Would we follow?  Would I follow?  I’m not sure about this.   But I’m pretty sure it’s -

1.  Not About Me   There was this guy Ptolemy, he was an Egyptian-born Roman scientist who lived in the 2nd century.  Ptolemy concluded Earth was the center of the world.  All the planets, all the stars rotated Earth at its command.  The Sun rotated earth.   So we became the center of the universe.   Do you know some people who think the world revolves around them?  We call them egocentric, selfish, full of themselves, narcissistic.  (Turn to your neighbor and say, ‘I know who he’s talking about.’)  So if it’s all about me, my hang-ups, my questions, my fears, my stuff, I’ll never follow Him.

Thank God for a 16th century astronomer named Copernicus.  Copernicus discovered Earth is not the center of the world; the Sun is the center - of at least our universe.  Earth and the other 8 planets revolve around the Sun.   Remember how you name the planets?  My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.  

So guess what?  I’m not the center either.  Someone bigger than me created me.   Someone smarter than me knows all about me.  Someone more lovable than me loves me.  This is hard because I still want to be the center, for it to all be about me.  Copernicus convinced the world it’s not about us.  The Sun does not rotate earth, earth rotates Sun.  So whose it about?  It’s all –

2.  About Jesus.   It is about the Son – the Son of God.   The Son is the center, it’s all about Him.  What was it about Jesus that caused these 4 fisher dudes to follow?  If it’s not about them, with their hang-ups, their reputations - our stuff, our questions and consequences, it must be about Him.  What is it about Him that would make me want to leave what I am doing and follow Him? 

Was it His charisma?   But that scares us.   Would we maybe sell the farm and give Him everything?  Would we eventually drink the blue Kool Aid?  What is it that makes people follow?  Could it be His passion for life?  His piercing brown eyes that can see through to my heart?  His drive to make the world right?  His ability to do what no one can do?  Could it be His unconditional love?  Could it be His ability to fulfill what we, what I could never  hope to fulfill in myself?

The video, ‘In Remebrance’ is shown the starting night of the Walk to Emmaus.  Tens of thousands of modern day pilgrims worldwide have been part of this great ministry to build Christian leaders.  The Walk to Emmaus is held in this area out in Bryan, OH and also in Toledo several times a year.  If you have not experienced the Walk to Emmaus I highly recommend it to you.  These 3 days with the Lord may be the best you ever experience. 

A part of the video portrays the Apostle Philip discussing his decision to follow Jesus with the beautiful young girl he loves, Rebecca.  She says, ‘I was afraid you would go back, but didn’t think it would be so soon.’  Philip says, ‘I love everything about this place.  I miss it so much when I am gone.  But I think Jesus needs me, I know I need Him.’  She says, ‘If your happiness is here, if our happiness is here, is that not more important than traveling around Galilee with some itinerate rabbi?'  Philip says, ‘I thought so.  Some nights I have been so lonely I thought I would die.  Everywhere I look I see this house, and think about you and all the good times we have had and our happiness.’  Rebecca says, ‘I wake up in the morning and say the world is good, but then I think Philip is gone, the world isn’t good and Capernaum is so far away…’   It’s about –Phi
lip  2 minutes)                                                              
3.  Life Change   Jesus said 2 simple words, Follow Me, but these words changed millions.   Jesus’ purpose in calling us is making us His disciples. A disciple is one under the discipline of a Master.   The purpose is for the disciple to become exactly like the master.  So if we are His disciples, we are to become like Him in every way possible.

This is where many of us get really nervous.  We feel like those fishermen; not too bright, reputable or trustworthy; we have reputations.   This is why Jesus is all about changing our lives.  Discipleship is our job, life change is His job.   Imagine Jesus getting this memo 2000 years ago:
            To: Jesus of Nazareth
            From: Jordan River Management Consultants
            Dear Sir:
            Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial        positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we         have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for            each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all           tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
            As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor         will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes      without any additional fee.  It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in    background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.       They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for          persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

            Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no     qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, tend to     undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by             the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus            definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive                    scale.  One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and       resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He         is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller             and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.  We wish you every success in         your new venture.                                 Sincerely, Jordan River Management Consultants

We look at that and say, ‘That’s me, that’s us!  Jesus would be foolish to use me.’   But this is the point – the disciples are us!  They are, were the same as us.  They followed Him and He changed their lives for the better.  He turned them into great preachers, writers, leaders, miracle workers that changed the lives of hundreds, thousands of people around them.  So dare not think that because we don’t exhibit the greatest strengths or offer the greatest examples of Godly living that Jesus can’t or won’t use us.  We are exactly the kind of folks Jesus is looking for. 

The Bible says, Did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change (Romans 2:4).

‘Follow Me I will make you fishers of men. These men changed their lives, their lifestyles, their occupations and even their names.  From Simon to Peter, from Saul to Paul, and many others.   Peter and Andrew, James and John leaving their nets, their father, their little towns where they grew up, following Jesus, were all symbols of life change.

The purpose of this Bible story is to show us this is what is to happen to us.  We hear the call of Jesus.  Something inside urges us to follow Him.  Maybe it is disillusionment with the world, un-fulfillment in the job setting, a need for love, a discontented lifestyle.   Somehow we trust this man named Jesus.  So we take a risk and follow Him.
I have done some fishing at Rice Lake, near Toronto, Canada, most recently with a couple friends named Sam and Dave.  We are all Christ followers so it’s great to be together and encourage, help and support one another and pray together.  If we didn’t catch much we still enjoyed being together.  When one would catch a whopper the others of us cheered.

I remember going to Rice Lake with another friend.   I will call him Dan, though that is not his real name.  Dan’s family came to church each week, but Dan never did.  He said the church only wanted his money.  He had never read the Bible, never learned what the church was really about, and had several bad experiences in his church history.  But his wife kept inviting him. 

The first time he came was in mid November - when we were asking people how they would financially support our ministries!  I heard him cynically whisper to his wife when they were leaving, ‘I told you they only want my money.’  But somehow his wife kept encouraging him to come and for some reason he listened.  He came again and started coming every week. 

We developed a friendship. He got into a Sunday school class, attended a Walk to Emmaus, started teaching Disciple Bible study and helped with our youth ministry.  Despite some obstacles and setbacks, Dan was on the way to making Christ the center of his life.

For most of us, myself included, change happens gradually, it happens slowly, but it happens.  Look at this graphic of stages of our faith life.  We begin by exploring Christ – wondering if what is said about Him is really true.  We test those who already follow to see if they are authentic or crazy. Then something happens – for the disciples it was 2 simple words.  For us it might be a dream, a sickness, a need no human can fulfill, we go to a concert or someone speaks and we hear the words of Jesus and feel His presence.  There are all kinds of catalysts.  We throw it all down and follow Him. 

But this is only the beginning.  We then grow in our relationship with Christ; our spiritual life is enhanced and embodied.  It is a lifelong pursuit, but we grow closer to Him and keep growing to become more like the Master, Jesus, until He is the very center of all we think, say, and do.    We move from the Simon in us to the Peter we can be; from the Saul in us to the Paul we can be, from Scot in us to who Scot was really created and called to be.  Put your name here.   It’s –

4. About Unity   Seems everyone wants unity today.  Get the arguing, politicking, fighting, and division over with and bring us unity!  So - congressmen, movie stars, music legends, coaches, entrepreneurs, business gurus, preachers say, ‘Follow me!’  We will bring the company, the church, the team, the nation, the economy, the world together.  No. It never works, it never happens.   How does it happen? 

Jesus calls us, ‘Follow Me.’ When we follow He bring us into unity with Himself and then sends us out to bring others into unity with Him.  He sends us into the world, ‘Go into all the world and make disciples…  (Matthew 28). 

Karl Barth, Swiss theologian who publically stood against Hitler said, ‘The Word became flesh--and then through theologians it became words again.’  What did he mean?  I think he meant that the world changes not by words but by our actions, by our following Jesus. He wanted Christ followers to act on their beliefs and not just talk.

The Bible says, I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  Even the church has unity problems.  The Apostle Paul knew he could not unify them.  So what does he do?  I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…  (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Think about all the places Jesus chooses to minister:  (14) that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  (15) "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-- (16) the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."  These are remote, out there places and out there people.  Places with people who have not heard or do not want to hear about God.  But Jesus takes His followers there.

Jesus could have spent His ministry around Jerusalem and all the long time Jews.  But He chose to be out in the country, out with other nations of people, people in the dark about God.   Why? Jesus wanted to bring people and nations together.  He wanted to bring the unity no one else could ever bring.  He still wants us to do it today.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about this, but I am convinced that 2 Simple Words are the beginning of life change and world unity.  He has already changed millions of lives.   I know He is calling us.  Where will He take us, who will we meet, with whom can we be in ministry?  Who will be brought into unity with us and Christ because we become His disciples?   I am not sure how the world will be changed for people we come into contact with in places we would not otherwise go.   I am not sure of all those specifics.  But I do know Jesus is calling us, I know He is still changing lives.  I know Jesus is powerful and is with us.  So will we stop at words or will we do something that changes us and the world around us?