Drafting A Vision, Crafting A Dream
By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to ask you to participate with me in an exercise this morning; I’ll do it first, and then I’ll ask you to imitate what I have done. Here goes: “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, whoops, Johnny, whoops, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.” Now you try.
No, that’s not quite right; let me do it for you again. (Repeat.) Now you try.
Still not right, let’s do it one more time, and this time, watch very carefully. (Repeat.) Now you try. You got the fingers and the thumbs right, most of you. And you did very well on the “whoops!” But each time, after I did the “Johnny, whoops” thing, I finished by folding my hands; that’s the part you missed. How many of you figured that out? How many of you simply quit? Babies!
As I have done this rather silly exercise over the years, I have realized that, if I did it long enough, everyone in the audience would ultimately have one of two responses: that is, you would either study me long enough to get it, or out of frustration, you would give up.
The same thing was true on our high school baseball team, when one of the older players tried to teach some of us how to juggle. “Watch me!” he would say, and we would watch him toss three baseballs, magically, in a circle. When he asked us to try, nobody got it at first, and baseballs would go flying everywhere, so he would start again; “Follow me! Left hand, right hand, over, under, left hand, right hand.” And then we would try again, and again we would fail. Around the 9th or 10th time, some of the guys were picking it up, but some of the other guys walked away in frustration. For those who stayed, the more we watched, the more we learned, until finally, some of us could actually do it. We followed…we learned…we became jugglers. Bring me three baseballs and I’ll show you sometime. But not today. Not today.
This morning, I want to go on record as suggesting that everything that you and I have learned to do well, we have learned to do by following someone else’s example. If you are an excellent cook, probably you spent hours in the kitchen, watching a mom or a dad or a grandma as they cooked. If you can tune up a car or change your own oil, someone taught you how to do that along the way. If you are an artist, or an athlete, or a talented vocalist, someone was your tutor, I can virtually guarantee it. But where did you learn to be a follower of Jesus Christ? That’s the question I have for you today; who taught you how to follow Jesus?
Early each morning, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the bible tells us, fishermen would sit in their boats; mending their nets, and then casting them into the sea to gather a catch of fish. Fishing was probably a trade that had been done in their families for generations; a routine passed on from father to son through the ages. But then one day, as the fishermen were mending their nets, Jesus came walking along the shore, and he called out to them “Follow me! Follow me, and I will teach you how to fish for people.” Peter and Andrew were the first to answer that call. Then Jesus called James and John, and they followed too. And then it was Philip, and then Bartholemew, and then Matthew the tax-collector, and Judas, the numbers guy. All of them had accepted Jesus’ call upon their lives.
But Jesus never intended his disciples to simply follow him, like children might follow their parents in a crowded mall, or like spectators might follow Tiger Woods around a golf course. Jesus said “Don’t just follow me, study me…learn from me…watch the way I do things, and then imitate me.” That’s what Jesus meant when he called people to be his followers. And I expect that, at one point, there were more than just 12 who accepted his invitation. Perhaps there were dozens, maybe even hundreds who responded to Jesus’ call, but some got frustrated along the way. Some quit when they discovered that his way was hard, and the rewards seemed few. But 12 remained, learning to imitate Jesus as he cared for the humble and the powerless and the poor. And even those 12 never got it totally correct, right Peter…right James and John…and Judas…and Thomas? But this much they did learn; that to be a disciple of Jesus, one must scrutinize the life of Jesus, and be willing to pursue his path, no matter what the cost might be. That is the difference between being a mere follower, and becoming his disciple.
It has occurred to me over the past several months that Our Savior’s Lutheran Church has nearly 1200 followers, but I wonder how many disciples we have. I don’t know the answer to that question, and it would be judgmental of me to speculate. But I do suspect that some of our friends know very little about the God in whom they have placed their trust. We haven’t had the time or the opportunity to learn much about Jesus, so we settle for what others tell us. We might have started studying the bible at one point in time, but the language was too hard, or the background was too deep, so we just gave up. We have had questions about Jesus or God, but they seemed foolish to ask, so we didn’t. And after awhile, we sort of “settled” for being a follower of Jesus, instead of a disciple. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being followers, it’s okay to be a follower, but the fact is, Jesus wants so much more for us. His fondest wish is that each of us we come to be his disciples.
I have a dream for the members of Our Savior’s congregation in 2005 and beyond. I have shared it on a couple of occasions before today, but I want to briefly expand on it this morning, so that it might become your dream as well. My dream is that every person close enough to hear my voice today would desire to be, not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but to become one of his disciples. My dream is that each child of God in this church would see the Christian life, not as a destination but as a journey that lasts a lifetime. And my dream for this congregation is that as each journey unfolds, it would be reflected in the way we live our lives. I know it is a lofty dream, but I think its time has come to this Body of Christ known as Our Savior’s.
A generation ago, Christian youth groups sang a song which contained the perfect outline to the dream I have shared, and these are the words they sang:
Day by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray
To see Thee more clearly
To love Thee more dearly
To follow Thee more nearly
Day by day.
So where do we start? We start by seeing Jesus more clearly. How can we imitate Jesus’ life without examining Jesus’ life? There is no substitute for studying the Jesus of scripture. To set aside some time each day when we can read about what he said and did, and pray that God would help us understand why; it’s a little thing called “quiet time.” And then maybe to be a part of a small group of others who can help us grasp the person and the purpose of Jesus, or being a mentor to a confirmation kid; those are among the best ways I know to grow in our faith and understanding. Seeing Jesus clearly is where our journey must begin.
But the second step moves us to love Jesus more dearly. We cannot love what we do not know…but once we begin to learn about Jesus, we cannot help but love him more. And our love for him will take shape in practical, concrete ways. Then we wouldn’t have to teach Sunday School because we felt guilty, but rather, because we love Jesus. Then we wouldn’t give money to the church because we feel required to do so, but because it’s a way to express our love for Jesus. Then we don’t have to love our neighbor out of obligation, but rather, because it’s another way of loving Jesus. Serving Jesus in this world is our most tangible expression of our gratitude for his grace.
But then there is the final part of this equation, and it is perhaps the most challenging. “Day by day, Oh dear Lord, three things I pray; to SEE Thee more clearly, to LOVE Thee more dearly…and to FOLLOW Thee more nearly.” Being disciples means striving to imitate Jesus Christ. He didn’t hate people…not even his enemies, and neither should we. Jesus didn’t take advantage of those who were weak, and we shouldn’t either. He didn’t use vulgar language, or tell dirty jokes, or lie to people, or dwell on impure thoughts, nor should we. And if we desire to imitate Jesus, then we will, over time, live lives that are more kind, and more generous, and more disciplined than we were the year before. Now if you don’t hear anything else I say, please hear this; you will not get to heaven because you have become more Christ-like, you will only get to heaven because of Christ. But someone needs to say that it is not a sin to try to stop sinning. Not if you and I are trying to live like Jesus.
Well, that’s the dream. Some of you will leave this place today, thinking that it was really a nightmare! But I hold it out to you as a desire that I have for my life and for yours. To see Him more clearly, and love Him more dearly, and follow Him more dearly will make us a more mature, more compassionate, and more welcoming Body of Christ. And we can do it. Each one of us can do this. If I took the time to learn how to juggle, surely I can take the time to study, and learn, and grow. And so can you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Copyright 2005 Steven Molin. Used by permission.