April 25, 2021
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
YOU ARE WHO YOU FOLLOW
The third in a series of four.
We are in the season of Easter. Most people think Easter is a day. Really Easter is a season – it’s 50 days. Pentecost Sunday is the official ending to the season of Easter. This year that’s going to fall on May 23rd. But we are in a series right now called Resurrection Life that reminds us that Easter really never ends. “As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). That new life does not expire on May 23rd. That new life goes on and on and on.
We’ve been looking at what this Resurrection Life looks like. In the first sermon we saw that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means we don’t conform to everyone else. We don’t conform to the person we used to be. Because of the resurrection, we are a new creation in Christ. Last week we talked about what we are paying attention to. If we pay attention to the wrong things, we won’t notice the right things. What we pay attention to defines who we are. We are who we watch.
“As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life.” This series is about living that new life. And here is something important to keep in mind about this new life. It’s not all or nothing. It’s a process. It takes time. From the first two sermons, you may have concluded that what we are talking about is something you have not yet experienced. That might have made you feel inferior. Or you may have concluded that what we are talking about is something you experience every single day. That might have made you feel superior.
I don’t think God wants us to have an inferiority complex or a superiority complex, because we are all really in the same boat. We all are on the same journey. We are all becoming less and less the person we used to be and more and more the person we can become. Someone said it like this: “I may not be the person I want to be, but thank God I’m not the person I used to be.”
Chances are someone invited you to embark on this faith journey. You are a rare person if you decided to follow Jesus all on your own. There was a person, probably several people, who influenced you. Maybe the reason you are in church today or watching online is because there is a specific person who invited you.
Let’s just take a moment and think about this question: “Who invited you?” Who do you have to thank for introducing you to Jesus? Who do you have to thank for the adventure of a lifetime of following him? Whisper that name right now. And say, “Thank you. I wouldn’t be here if not for you.”
Our scripture today is a series of invitations. John the Baptist sees Jesus walking by and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Two of his disciples hear this. They look up and see Jesus. Not only do they see him, they follow him. They were disciples of John the Baptist before. Now they are disciples of Jesus. Just like that. All because John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” That was an invitation.
Jesus is aware that he is being followed. He turns around and says, “What do you want?” They say, “Where are you staying?” That’s an odd exchange. If I am being followed and ask the person following me, “What do you want?” I would not expect to be asked where I am staying. That’s getting into stalker territory. But Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. He says, “Come and see.” In other words, he invites them to his home. So we have a second invitation.
These two unnamed disciples go with Jesus to his home. Or at least to the place where he is staying. There is debate about whether Jesus actually had a home of his own. They spend the day with him. I wonder what they talked about. There is a lot the Bible leaves out and leaves to our imagination. The next thing we are told is that one of these two disciples leaves Jesus and goes to find his brother.
At this point we are given the name of one of the two disciples. His name is Andrew. We are never given the name of the other disciple. Andrew goes to his brother whose name is Simon. He says, “We have found the Messiah.” You can almost hear the excitement in his voice.
Faithful Jews had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah for hundreds of years. It was a promise God had made through his prophets. Many times. But would it ever actually happen? Yes, it has now happened. Andrew has seen the Messiah with his own eyes. He has spent a day talking to him. I imagine Jesus told him things that removed any of his lingering doubts.
He is beside himself. He has to tell someone. He has to tell his brother. He has to extend the invitation. So here we have a third invitation. This is actually kind of an aggressive invitation. He doesn’t just plant the thought. He grabs his brother by the arm and pulls him all the way there. “Then he brought Simon to Jesus.”
You may know that Simon has another name. This is the man we usually call Peter. We talked about Peter a lot in our Jesus 101 series. One of the sermons was about when and how he got his new name. John has a different version of when and how he got his new name. It is here. It is now. Jesus meets him for the first time and says, “You will be called Cephas.” Which means Peter. Which means Rock.
We keep reading and the invitations keep coming. It’s the next day. Jesus is going to Galilee. On the way he meets Philip. He says, “Follow me,” and Philip follows him. A fourth invitation.
Then Philip goes to his friend, Nathanael. Philip tells him about Jesus of Nazareth and Nathanael isn’t very impressed. He asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And what do you suppose Philip says in response? It’s the same thing Jesus said earlier. He says, “Come and see.”
So in twelve verses there are five invitations and five new followers of Jesus. Why did they follow Jesus? They were invited. That’s how it works. That’s how the church grows. These twelve verses tell the story of how the church began. They also tell us how we can keep the church going and growing.
As I think about following and followers and as I try to keep these sermons current, my mind goes to Twitter. I am on Twitter. I’m not necessarily proud to tell you that, but it’s true. You can follow me on Twitter. I have 16 followers. I don’t know why you would want to follow me, because I never tweet.
Our daughter Kelsey has 4,555 followers. Governor Little has 17,000 followers. President Trump had 89 million followers, before Twitter closed his account.
But how many followers does Jesus Christ have? Not on Twitter. He’s not there. But based on the world-wide number of those who say they are Christians, Jesus has two billion, three-hundred eighty-two million followers. And it all started with those five invitations. And also those two book-ends. “Come and see.”
Big things can come from invitations that seem insignificant at the time. Kelsey invited her third grade teacher to church. I guess she was listening to one of my sermons when I said that’s a good thing to do. But who does that? She did. Her third grade teacher, Miss King started coming to our church. This was 28 years ago. Just the other day, Kelsey called me. Miss King is going through a health crisis right now and she needed someone to talk to. So who did she turn to? Kelsey, the 8-year-old girl who cared enough about her all those years ago to invite her to church.
About ten years ago a friend here in Nampa invited me to be part of a running group. He told me they meet at 8:30 pm Sunday evening. I said thanks but no thanks. My Sundays were too full already. And what a ridiculous time. I didn’t say that, but I thought I thought I was done with that, but my friend kept inviting me. He wouldn’t give up. Finally, I decided to give it a try. Just once. I’ve hardly missed since. Going on ten years. Every Sunday night at 8:30 pm. And I’ve invited others. Now David Healea never misses. And you are invited too. 8:30 pm tonight.
Resurrection Life is invitation only. That doesn’t mean it’s an exclusive club. It just means that somebody invited you. And it means you invite somebody else. If you care about other people, inviting comes naturally. Whether it’s your faith or your favorite restaurant or some funny YouTube video, if you have found something that brings you joy, you are not going to keep it a secret. You are going to tell others. We might call it “invitational living.” You are invited. And you invite others.
It comes naturally. Well . . . not necessarily. Especially when it comes to sharing our faith. Telling people about Jesus. That can make the most outgoing, talkative person suddenly clam up.
Why is that? There are several reasons. We don’t think we know enough. We might be asked a question we can’t answer. Or we might be afraid of rejection. They might not be in the least bit interested. Or they might be offended. We might lose a friend. Or very likely we remember being on the receiving end of an aggressive, pushy evangelist. It didn’t feel good to us, and we don’t want to be “that guy.”
I’m sure you can add to the list. We each have a list of excuses. Good ones. Like that book title – Yes Lord, I Have Sinned, But I Have Several Excellent Excuses.
But let’s go back to those five invitations in the Bible. And those two bookends – “Come and see” – at the beginning and at the end. There is nothing pushy or aggressive about these invitations. Except maybe Andrew. He’s the one who grabs his brother by the arm and pulls him to Jesus. I can see the marks in the dirt of his heels dragging. But even there, all it says is, “Then he brought Simon to Jesus.” I probably have an overactive imagination seeing those heel marks in the dirt.
Basically all we find in these five invitations is people caring about other people enough to let them see for themselves. There are no slick sales pitches. There are no high pressure tactics. There are no tacky, canned lines. Nobody even asks, “If you died tonight, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” It’s gentle. It’s subtle. It’s loving.
But it also leaves no mistake what they are getting at. And who they are pointing to. In none of the five invitations is there any doubt that it is Jesus.
I quoted Francis of Assisi a couple of weeks ago. He is supposed to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” That is one of the most popular sayings in Christian circles. But maybe the reason it’s so popular is that it lets us off the hook. We can share our faith by just being nice. People will see how nice we are – how can they miss that? – and they will be so deeply moved and touched that they will automatically become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And we don’t have to say a thing!
It’s true that we are preaching the Gospel at all times in the way we live our lives. It’s also true that words are important. If necessary, use words? It is necessary. It is important. Don’t be afraid to say the name. Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory” (Luke 9:26).
Many of us remember the day when evangelism was easy. People just showed up in church. Once they were here, we would be nice to them, learn their names, treat them well, and they would come back. Then they would join the church, we would put them on a committee, they would be so grateful to us for that, and everything would be wonderful.
That day is past. We can no longer expect people to come to us. We have to go to them. Most people are not looking for a church. They are content in their private “cocoons.” We’re going to have to give them a good reason to leave.
Leonard Sweet says that we are like frogs. Frogs sit still and wait for their food to come to them. They wait and they watch. Before long something will walk, fly, or swim close enough that they can pounce. Kind of like we pounce on those first time visitors.
But Leonard Sweet says it’s no longer a frog world. We need to become lizards. Lizards go out in search of food. It’s there. It’s abundant. But in a lizard world, you’re going to starve to death if you sit still and wait for it to come to you.
The post-modern climate is not conducive to frog ministries. “Come to” strategies no longer work. It’s a “go to” world.
Actually, I think it’s always been a “go to” world. Jesus knew that. He told us so in the Great Commission.
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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
I asked you earlier to think of the person who introduced you to Jesus and who invited you into a life of faith. We even paused for a moment so you could do that. I asked you to whisper that person’s name and say “thank you.”
Now I’m going to ask you to think of the person you know who needs Jesus. Who needs a life of faith. Who needs a simple, gentle, loving invitation. We’re going to pause right now. I invite you to close your eyes and see that person. Whisper that person’s name. You are going to go to them. You are going to say “come and see.” And now whisper a “thank you” to God for trusting you with something so important. Resurrection Life.
It’s invitation only. But it’s open to all. “As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life.”
Ultimately, God, the invitation comes from you. Sometimes we hear it. Sometimes we ignore it. You invite us into life as life is meant to be lived because you love us. Thank you for those who brought that invitation to us. Thank you for those who will get the invitation from us. Give us the courage, give us the opportunity, give us the words, give us the love that will make those words more than just words. In Jesus’ name, Amen.