Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon: Luke 6: 12-26 Following Jesus


On just one occasion, I was chosen to represent my school on the football team. I was the third choice substitute, and spent a wet and windswept afternoon in Rathfriland getting foundered on the touchline. I didn’t get a touch of the ball. I didn’t even get to play the last two minutes. My football career ended on the minibus on the way home when I decided I wouldn’t bother any more.

I wonder do you remember school days and sports teams - trying out, hoping to get picked, getting in to the team. It might not even have been a team - maybe it was just the breaktime games where you line up and the best are picked. It was more likely for the team captains to fight to not have me on their side...

As we begin the Bible reading today, we find that Jesus is making a decision; picking his team. It’s so important that he spends the night in prayer, up the mountain, talking with his Father. Now, if you were to hear that it was a fifteen he was selecting, you’d probably think of a rugby union team; an eleven would be football or cricket; three or four would be a bowls triple or rink. But Jesus calls his disciples to him - the people who are following him - and he chooses twelve of them. They’re still disciples - followers, learners - but they are also named as ‘apostles’ - sent ones.

But why twelve? Is it a football team with a substitute? This isn’t a sports team, rather Jesus is beginning again - he’s starting the new Israel, the people of God. If you’ve ever seen Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat you’ll remember that Jacob had twelve sons - who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus begins with a new twelve, the new people of God, made up of the people who follow Jesus. These twelve will be the sent ones, to carry on the work of Jesus after he is crucified, risen and ascended.

There wasn’t anything special about the twelve. Some of them were fishermen, one was a tax collector, some of them we don’t really know much about at all. But Jesus has chosen and sent them. He calls and chooses us as well to be part of his team, to follow him.

Having chosen his team, Jesus returns down the mountain to ‘a level place’. Surrounding him is a big crowd - made up of two different types of people: ‘a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people’ from all around. Some are his followers, some are just a crowd of people. They have come, Luke tells us, ‘to hear him and to be healed of their diseases’ They’ve heard about Jesus - they want to see for themselves, to hear what he’s talking about, but also to get healed. Imagine it - if Jesus arrived in Enniskillen they would push all the hospital beds out of the South West Acute Hospital (the SWAH). Everyone would be cured. There’d be no queue at the doctor’s surgery - in fact, there’d be no need for the doctors.

The word would quickly spread, wouldn’t it? People in Enniskillen would text their friends and relatives; it’d be on Facebook. The traffic in the town would be even worse than it normally is. A big crowd would gather to see what it was all about. But they’re there for the spectacle. They just want to see what the fuss is about. They’re not really interested in following Jesus.

I wonder which of those two categories you’re in today? Perhaps you’re here because you’re connected to baby Ben. You’ve come along for the occasion and the party, but you’re not fussed about following Jesus. Or maybe you’re here because you wouldn’t know what else to do on a Sunday. It’s part of your routine. You rarely miss - but are you here out of habit, or out of a desire to listen to Jesus and follow him?

Before Christmas, we were on holiday, when we discovered that a movie was being filmed in our hotel. The actors had been busy all day, but while we were eating, the lead actor (Vince Vaughan) walked past us in the bar and said hello. It was quite exciting, seeing someone famous - but that’s as far as it goes. I was part of the crowd of people who saw him, but I haven’t become a fan. I haven’t devoted my life to watching every film he’s been in.

Are you just part of the people, or are you a disciple, a follower? If someone asked you tomorrow what you did at the weekend, would the Baptism be something nice to mention, and then eventually forgotten? Or could this be a step in the journey of following Jesus?

You see, Jesus begins to teach. Earlier we noticed that his choosing twelve apostles is the beginning of the new people of God. So now, Jesus is echoing what Moses did as he brought the people out of Egypt towards the promised land. He went up a mountain, spoke with God, and came down, bringing the Ten Commandments. What has Jesus done today? He was up a mountain, spoke with God, and has come down to the people, and now opens his mouth to speak. And who does he speak to? It isn’t to everyone. Look at v 20: ‘Then he looked up at his disciples and said:’

What does he say? What is it all about? ‘Blessed are you...’ Jesus says what it’s like to follow him. It’s about being blessed - but it’s blessing in surprising ways. If we were to take a moment and write down who we think the people who are blessed are, what would you write? My guess is that the people we think are blessed are those who are successful or famous or rich or beautiful (or all four combined!).

But Jesus speaks of blessing for those who are poor; hungry; weeping. And you might think - what? How are they blessed? But the values of the kingdom of Jesus aren’t the same as the values of the world. Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom - just as his mother Mary had sung about in her song. You see, this world isn’t all there is. There’s a forward focus to what Jesus says. Hungry now, but you will be filled. Weeping now, but you will laugh. Poor now, but the kingdom of God is yours.

Jesus shows us what it is to be his follower in verse 22. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s not a welcome message: ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.’ So we’re connected to Jesus, the Son of Man, but other people won’t like it. The crowd will get nasty. They’ll not like you - but even then, you are blessed. Why? Because ‘surely your reward is great in heaven.’

The way the world thinks is that so long as we have everything we need, we’re grand. Money, food, fun, what more would we need? But to those who are rich, full and laughing, Jesus pronounces woes - the opposite of blessing. You might be all those things now, but they won’t last. They won’t count. As Jesus will go on to say much later, ‘what will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?’

To be a disciple of Jesus means to follow him, to listen and learn from him; to be identified and connected with Jesus - even when it’s painful and unpleasant - because in this way there is blessing now and a future kingdom. If you’re following Jesus today, take heart, and find the grace of Jesus to keep going when it’s hard. Our prayer is that each of us will move from the crowd to be a disciple, and follow Jesus for the rest of our life, to know the blessing that comes from knowing Jesus, both now and into eternity.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th January 2014.

1 comment:

  1. In Lk. 6:22,26 Jesus contrasts prophets who were persecuted with false prophets whom all people will praise (prophets who, in 6:24-26, enjoy the fruitful profits of being false prophets). True disciples of Jesus are true prophets who speak about turning from sin to God's righteousness, and refuse to flatter the rich--who keep so much wealth for their own enjoyment and refuse to be generous to the poor.

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