Archive for November 2011

Revival Sunday: Music by the Blue Iguanas

November 13, 2011

We were very honored and grateful to have the Blue Iguanas (minus Lauren the female vocalist and guitarist) lead our music on our Revival Sunday in October.

 

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Follow Me: Matthew 16:21-28

November 2, 2011

preached by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden on Sunday, October 23–Revival Sunday at Wesley Memorial UMC, Columbia, SC

I was surprised by our scripture text today. They are probably verses we have all read and heard, but not usually on some ordinary Sunday in October. These are more Lent and Easter verses perhaps, but surprises are good and it is good to remember on an ordinary Sunday in October that every Sunday is a little Easter, or as Paul Smith shared with us on this Revival Sunday—we all are in need of a little revival from time to time, and these verses certainly are verses of revival. What struck me this time in these verses was Jesus’ call to “follow me.” Today I hear “follow me” more in the context of, “Hey follow me on twitter” more than thinking about these words Jesus says to his disciples and others throughout Matthew’s Gospel. In our verses today however Jesus says “follow me” after he just said that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be killed, and then he gave his disciples a choice; he did not command them, but said, “If…if anyone wants to become one of my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This is not Jesus’ beautiful invitation in Matthew 4 when Jesus calls his disciples saying, “Follow me and I will make you fisher of men.” Although it is still Jesus calling disciples to follow him; it is a very different sounding “follow me.”

I don’t know if you remember that Uncle Kracker song “Follow Me.” I didn’t know the words to that song, but as I was writing my sermon I kept humming the tune of the chorus, and soon I began to just made up words to the chorus like, “Follow me and I will make you see that you are strong and able to come with me,” or “Follow me and I can guarantee that life will get hard but there’s eternity.” I’m not the greatest singer, but I am sure you can imagine the kind of lyrics that ran through my head as I crossed Uncle Kracker with our verses from Matthew 16 today. I finally looked up the real words to “Follow me,” and I decided that I really don’t like the message of the song, but the chorus goes like this: “Follow me everything is alright, I’ll be the one to tuck you in at night; and if you want to leave I can guarantee you won’t find nobody else like me.” I decided that the first part of the chorus is what Peter wanted to hear, but didn’t hear. Peter wanted to hear: “Follow me, Peter, everything will be alright.” But that’s not what Jesus said…at first. I think the second part of the chorus is what Jesus said. Jesus said, “If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” or to paraphrase Uncle Kracker: “If you want to leave, that’ll be ok, but I guarantee you won’t find another savior like me.”

My old high school coach told me once that “Following Christ is the hardest thing in the world.” He told me that when I was in high school and said that as I got older I would understand what his years of experience taught him. That was more than 12 years ago, but I think I am starting to really understand what he means. I have grown in many ways since then, but with growth I have new struggles, new challenges, and new thorns in my side, and the road does not get easier following Christ; actually I think it gets harder because there are more distractions, more commitments, more things to do, more, more, more. Matthew 16 and Romans 8 tells us that the path Christ invites us to follow him on is no walk in the park. Everything will not always be alright as Uncle Kracker says. I hear one pastor say that the “The road to Jerusalem is paved with nails.” Following Christ is not easy; there will be struggle, challenges, temptations, times that test our faithfulness, ups, downs, fatigue, and expectations of sacrifice and self-denial.

My dad likes to tease me that one of my potential great strengths can sometimes be my greatest weakness. I am a perfectionist and I can be slightly obsessed with perfection—an understatement I am sure by Hiram’s, my friends’ and families’ standards. Tim McClendon, our DS here in Columbia, likes to remind me to “unwind;” he says I am wound too tight, and he is probably right. I like to do everything perfectly, correctly, and by the rules. I hated and refused to turn in substandard homework, papers and projects in high school and college. Yes, I can be kind of intense, driven and yes, sometimes rigid—maybe even more than sometimes, but very rigid, and yet…and even yet in all my discipline, ambition, goal-setting and perfectionism I am not perfect. I know that might come as a shock to some of you, but believe it or not I am not perfect. That confession I need to make more often! There was only one perfect man who walked the earth and that man was Jesus, so despite what I might think or how I might act sometimes I am not called to be a second savior. And when I think of my perfectionism I think about the one thing that I really cannot claim to have ever done perfectly, the one consistent thing that I am wayward in is following Christ. I say with Paul in Romans 7, “What I don’t understand about myself—what aggravates me to no end about myself, what trips me up over and over—is that I decide one way, but act another, doing the very things I absolutely despise.”

Maybe you can empathize with me and Paul. However hard I try I let my anger, my pride, my rigidness, my need to control, my desire to please and conform to the world as our verses from Romans 12 say overcome me. Once again those distractions that pull and tug at me, I think we all have them. Yes, as a good Methodist I believe I am growing and going on to perfection in the here and now. As I said before I am growing; I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, but the following Christ hasn’t gotten easier.

Peter didn’t get that. When Jesus tells his disciples the road he will have to walk to Jerusalem is a road of great suffering, a road that will lead to his death, Peter doesn’t understand. After all just before today’s verses in Matthew 16, in verses 16 through 20 Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And it is Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” It is Peter who Jesus called first to drop his nets and follow him. It is Peter who Jesus calls the “rock” on which he will build his church. It is Peter who Jesus promises to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And now this Son of the Living God is telling Peter and the other disciples that he is a dead man walking.

I think if I had been Peter, following Jesus, watching him do miracles, healing the blind, lame, deaf, dumb and sick, hearing him preach to crowds of people, watching people go out of their way to touch even the hem of his cloak—I think, I too, would have responded like Peter. How can this be? How can the Messiah, the promised and anointed one of God die at the hands of humans?! Jesus, you must be mistaken! We your disciples will never let that happen to you! But Jesus rebukes Peter because Peter doesn’t quite understand because Peter couldn’t get past Jesus telling them that he would suffer and be killed, so Peter did hear what else Jesus said; Peter didn’t hear the Good News of that road paved with nails.
Jesus didn’t stop with his suffering and death. If Jesus stopped there it would be easy to lose hope; it would be easy to think “I will never be able to follow him.” It would be easy to dwell on the fact that we all fall short. It would be easy to protest, resist and put our minds on earthly things like Peter did, but the Good News that Peter missed and that we too often overlook when things get hard and the last thing we want to do is follow Jesus, is that at the end of that road to Jerusalem is not a man on a cross, but an empty tomb. Jesus says in Matthew 16:21 that he would be raised on the third day. Those few little words Peter missed, but those of the words of hope. It is important to remember not only on Easter, but every day that we are Easter people.

Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Son of the Living God as Peter confessed in Matthew 16. And it is the living God who continues to love equip, nurture and prepare us for this road the very same way Jesus loved, taught, preached, and forgave his disciples in Matthew over and over. As the people of God we inherit Christ’s church which he promised to build upon Peter. And as his church, like Peter, Jesus has promised the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Yes, the road is hard, but our God’s love is unconditional and our God is mighty to save and has overcome death so that we might not only live in eternity, but that we might know full life in the here and now if we but let Jesus lead us. Jesus continues to work in and speak to our lives; and Jesus continues to prepare us to endure the long and hard road ahead. Jesus has given us each other to walk this journey of faith together. All this care and all this preparation and gathering reminds us that we are not alone; we are not left alone and abandoned on this hard road, but it is Jesus who walks with us; it is Jesus who we are following. So, I guess Uncle Kracker is right after all—everything will be alright.

I want to close with the poem “Footprints in the Sand” that I think embodies the message I want you to leave with today. I invite you to close your eyes and hear with your heart the promises Jesus has for each one of us.

“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, ‘You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?’ The Lord replied, ‘The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.’”

Amen.