By Dr. Mickey Anders
“Jesus went out again by the seaside. All the multitude came to him, and he taught them. 2:14 As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he arose and followed him.”
Today I want to use this passage from the book of Mark as one of two bookend passages that raise the question of whether we will be followers of Jesus or would-be followers of Jesus.
The location of the second passage is one of the easiest to remember in all the Bible because it is John 6:66, and it contains a message as frightening as the 666 from the book of Revelation. John 6:66 says, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
These verses remind us that Jesus called many people to follow him, but not everyone did. Remember the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus listed some of the Ten Commandments, and the young man responded that he had kept all of them from his youth. Then Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21). But the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions.
A similar scene is found in Luke 9, where the Scripture records:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I want to follow you wherever you go, Lord.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but you go and announce the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “I want to follow you, Lord, but first allow me to say good-bye to those who are at my house.” Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62).
Thus the Gospels tell us that there were followers and would-be followers. I wonder which we are, particularly on this Stewardship Sunday. This is one of two Sundays in the year that the Finance Committee asks me to preach on the subject of stewardship. And, as it was for the rich young ruler, our money may be the factor that determines whether we are willing to be followers or if we will be would-be followers.
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The kind of stewardship Jesus called his disciples to was a life of utter simplicity. Jesus and his disciples owned next to nothing. At his death, the soldiers gambled for his only possession – his cloak. How are we to respond to Jesus call to simplicity? Are we willing to live a life of simplicity or will we join those who “went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66)
Richard Foster explores the demands of following Jesus in his wonderful book entitled, “A Celebration of Discipline.” In that book, he identifies ten principles which challenge our concept of stewardship. Usually, we think we have completed the task of stewardship when we drop a few dollars in the offering plate, but Foster presents a deeper view of stewardship in the following ten principles:
1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Foster says that our cars should be bought for their utility, not their prestige. A home should be chosen for its livability rather than how much it will impress others. He calls us to stop trying to impress people with our clothes and impress them with our lives instead.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
We typically think of addictions as relating to alcohol or drugs, but Foster says an addiction is anything we feel we cannot do without. He asks if we are addicted to television, coffee, newspapers, or chocolate. We need to be careful of anything that has a grip on our hearts. We need to refuse to be a slave to anything but God.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
Foster’s word for this is, “De-accumulate.” He points out that our accumulation of things only complicates our lives. Our stuff must be sorted and stored and dusted and resorted and restored ad nauseam. Most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
Timesaving devices almost never save time. Most gadgets are built to break down and wear out and so complicate our lives rather than enhance them. Advertisers try to convince us that because the newest model has a new feature, we must sell the old one and buy the new one.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Many things in life can be enjoyed without possessing or controlling them. Share things. Enjoy the beach without feeling you have to buy a piece of it. Enjoy public parks and libraries.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Marvel in the rich colors everywhere. Simplicity means to discover once again that “the earth is Yahweh’s, with its fullness” (Psalm 24:1).
7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
They are a trap and serve to deepen our bondage. In biblical times, charging interest, any interest, was viewed as an exploitation of another’s misfortune, and therefore, a denial of Christian community. Jesus admonished His disciples to “lend . . . expecting nothing back” (Luke 6:35). Certainly prudence as well as simplicity would demand that we use extreme caution before incurring debt.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech (Matthew 5:37).
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech. A lack of simplicity in one area, such as speech, can undermine simplicity in another area.
9. Reject anything that will breed the oppression of others.
This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for today’s Christians to face, but face it we must. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others?
10. Shun whatever would distract you from your main goal.
God give us the courage, wisdom, and strength always to hold as the number one priority of our lives to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. To do so is to live in simplicity.
These principles of simplicity point to the difficult question, “How much is enough?” We all struggle with knowing just how much is really enough. Leo Tolstoy told a wonderful story on this subject that I have wanted to share with you. It’s entitled “Land Enough For One Man,” and it is about a Russian peasant named Pacum. Pacum was a man ground down by life. As he saw it, the central problem was that he didn’t have enough land. Because he didn’t have enough land he had no respect, no status, no security, no standing in the community.
One day a neighbor accidentally chopped down one of Pacum’s birch trees and Pacum took that news with bitterness. Another day a neighbor accidentally let one of his cows escape. It ate some of Pacum’s crop and Pacum took that bitterly. If only he had enough land, he thought, then he wouldn’t have to worry about neighbors ruining what he had.
One evening at the Inn, Pacum heard some travelers talking about some land in the east. It was land with beautiful rolling hills and fertile valleys. It was owned by a Friendly, but primitive tribe called the Baskires. The Baskires were so primitive that they did not yet know the wheel, they did not till the soil and they would sell their land for a song.
Pacum decided this was the place for him. At last he would have enough land. So he took off. He traveled for days and finally found the Baskires on the top of a high hill. Just as the travelers had said, they were very friendly, but very primitive.
Pacum told them he wanted to buy some land and they said, “Fine.” They had plenty of land and would be happy to sell him much land.
Pacum asked them how much it cost per acre and the Baskires replied, “Oh, we don’t sell our land by the acre – we sell it by the day! For 10 gold pieces a man can have all the land he can walk around in one day. The rule is he must start out walking from here at sunrise and return here to the top of this hill before sundown. If he is not back by the time the sun has set then he will lose both the land and the gold.” That was agreeable to Pacum, so early the next morning he started out on his walk for land. He carried with him a spade to mark out the three corners of his land. The fourth corner would be the spot where he had started and the point to which he had to return. Pacum walked briskly in the fresh morning air. But when the sun reached a point in the sky where he should turn, he said to himself, “No, I can not turn yet, for this is not enough land. Besides, there are some trees up ahead and I must have them on my land.” So he walked faster and went further than he should have.
After he made the first turn he walked on and when he saw that it was really time to turn again, he said to himself, “No, I must not turn for I do not yet have enough land. Besides there is what looks like a stream up ahead and I must have part of that stream on my land. After all what is one day’s superhuman work in exchange for so much land?” So he skipped lunch and went on.
By the time he had made his third turn he knew he had made some serious mistakes. He was an impossible distance from the hill where the Baskires were camped and the sun was falling like a rock in the western sky. Pacum threw down his spade and took off his jacket and began to run. He sprinted, panting and wheezing – racing against the sun, but when he reached the bottom of the hill, just below where the Baskires were waiting, he collapsed in despair because the sun had set.
“But wait,” he told himself, “If I hurry up the hill I may still be able to see the sun from there.” So he clawed and scratched his way up the hill and he reached the top to the cheers of the Baskires. He saw the last of the sun as he fell on the blanket where his gold coins lay. The Baskires were rejoicing for him saying, “Congratulations, Pacum, you have won much land!” But when they tried to help Pacum up they discovered that he was dead.
And the Baskires took a spade and marked out an area, 6 feet long and 3 feet wide and they dug a pit 6 feet deep. And they buried Pacum there on that hill in “land enough for one man.”
Jesus calls every one of us to follow him, and when we really follow him we have face these demands that stewardship makes on us. I wonder if we will be followers or would-be followers.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.