Saturday, January 22, 2011


The theme of this Sunday's service is "follow me," and we'll hear the story in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus begins calling his disciples away from their work to join his ministry.  As part of that theme, we'll be singing the hymn "Come, Follow Me, the Savior Spake."  I was reading the text tonight and realized just what a downer it is:

"Come follow me," the Savior spake,
"All in my way a biding;
Deny yourselves, the world foresake,
Obey my call and guiding.
Oh, bear the cross, whate'er betide;
Take my example for your guide."

Sometimes there is a tension in the church's message between the Good News and the theme of suffering and self-abnegation embodied in this hymn.  (The hymn only gets more explicit in verse four: "in suffering be undaunted.")  That's a tough message to sell to the world at large (and it's certainly not the kind of message to bring new singers to a choir!).

Instead of focusing on the sacrifices of faith, I wish that we as a congregation and a broader church would think about where we are leading and the example we are setting.  Are we living in such a way that anyone would want to follow us?  Are our lives made any better from our church attendance?  Are we making joyful noise and embodying the good news of God's love?

One of my favorite books is titled "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" about working creatively within bureaucracies, as both a leader and a follower.  One of my favorite analogies in the book is when the author compares the role of following to a water skiier.  The best water skiiers are active, with a great deal of flexibility and freedom of movement, yet they are always cooperating and communicating with the driver of the boat.  I like to think that Jesus similarly prefers us to be fully participating followers with a great deal of independence to find our own way behind his leadership and to enjoy and celebrate the experience.  Rather than a slow trod in single-file, doesn't water skiing seem like a more joyful and free way to follow?

Jesus' call to his disciples is not to an easy life, and the path of the righteous is narrow, I know.  But I also believe that the community of faith and God's love can make even the difficult times joyful.  Different churches and different people place a different level of emphasis on the struggles and the joy of the Christian faith.  We'll try to find a balance this week, but we will close on an upbeat note with the hymn "Rise, Shine, You People!"  I hope it sends us all out of the church as joyous followers.

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