Follow Me

Take them where you have been and lead them where you are going.

Take the journey with someone in the congregation. What do you think of first? baptismal font, lectern, pulpit, altar, Holy Communion.

But then he left me standing at the end holding the cross after he had symbolically baptized it. Holding it aloft. With the words, "Follow Me." written on a piece of paper, whose ink was now running, dripping red drops because the baptismal waters were now running down.

some folks said afterwards that it was a shame that that had happened, where you couldn't read it, save it for a momento, but instead I told them it was a powerful image, a powerful picture of just what Pastor Steve was charging me to do. Eye to eye for 15 - 20 minutes.

He said, take them where you have been and lead them where you are going.

And I began to think. Where I have been? No, no, they wouldn' want to go everywhere I have been. Because when you dig back into my life, the past has been far from exemplary. I was no saint. I was a normal, curious, outspoken little kid, a typical teenager growing and stretching to discover my own identity and learn for myself the wisdom of my elders. My early adult years were far from God's desires.

I wanted to say at the reception that if my first pastor would reflect back, he would say that I was the least likely kid that he would ever have consider going into the ministry. Why? Because like most people I was lost. Life's circumstances and my own genetic make-up led me down paths that I would not necessarily want you to follow.

Yet, that is what Christ did for me. He accompanied me down every path that I ever went. He would call to me, Joan - Follow Me. And, I didn't. He called to me, Joan - Follow Me. And he picked up the pieces of my life that were broken and carried them on his shoulders until I was willing and able to turn around and see him there bearing my mistakes, dripping red from the disappointment, the hurt, the anger, the sadness I had caused others.

And, I saw standing there with him all the people who had listened to him and followed, patiently echoing the words, Follow Jesus. When I finally understood, I could remember all the times folks had shared the gospel with me, the folks who had invited me to see Jesus as they could see him. To walk his path not my own. How many here were who had loved me, cared for me, and then quietly watched me walk away knowing they would never see the finished product.

And, isn't that the curious thing. I was always in church busily doing the things that church members do and yet totally missing the message of the gospel…take up the cross and follow me.

The cross. Jesus carried everyone's mistakes everyone's stupid decisions that hurt and maimed everyone's painful words, everyone's deceit… he walked with sinners and ate dinner with sinners and invited sinners into his midst.

And we are called to do the same…to bear one another's burdens, to be patient with one another's sins. to invite them into this church, to bring them into God's house. To enter into lives so woven with sin and walk with them, and talk with them. To patiently walk beside them sharing the Good news that God love them, that Jesus died for them. and bear the hurt and insult with absolute patience and love when they continue unseeing and unknowing

Why? Because we too are sinners. We confess it every time we say the words on page 56. Or, … we say those words so many times that we really don't understand what it means…we just say them. In one of the churches in which I have served a woman made the comment in a bible study that she couldn't see where she had sinned that day. Afterall she had not killed anyone, she had not stolen anything, she did not swear, or lie. She had put her offering in the plate to help feed the hungry

I told her that as long as she did not have the mind of Christ, the mind of God she would forever be "quote" a sinner. For the mind of Jesus Christ is focused on those suffering from oppression, violence and hunger. Those who are lonely and sick and haunted by addictions and abuse. Those who suffer from the ravages of war. Pray, I said, for the Holy Spirit to give you the insight to find a cure for human desire for destruction and war, for the desire to pile up false security - amounting wealth and not using it to eliminate starving people around the world. As long as one person dies anywhere in this world from abuse, neglect, or violence you and I have sinned.

For example….let me show you just one example of a vast cavern of discrepancy over how we view different sins. For those who consider homosexuality a sin, there are programs that attempt with varying degrees of success to help a person change their orientation through intense Bible study, mentoring, visual and physical stimuli both positive and negative. YET, what do we have in place to change the orientation of humans who find pleasure in violence. Think about many of you watch TV shows and movies that make killing an exciting adventure. Oh, sure it is couched in the guise of defense, protection, and bringing the lawbreaker to justice. But nevertheless it is presented as exciting, challenging, thrilling. Videos, virtual reality games, war reenactments. WHERE is the remorse of a life lost to sin. WHERE are your tears for the mother who spent the long nights up worrying over that baby she had brought into the world. WHERE is your guilt over not having been able to save that person from such a life. NO. Pastor Joan don't take away our fun. Sorry - but we are deluded into thinking that sin is okay.

But even if I wanted to, how can I - one person - solve all of that…..And that my friends is the reality of sin. Its all pervasive nature. YOU cannot free others - Neither YOU or I can even free ourselves. ONLY GOD can working through me, working through you. But we have to stop pointing the fingers at others and lift up our own sin onto the altar. Our own sin of self deception, our haughty attitudes, our unwillingness to share our fears, our sadness, our depression, our confusion, our unwillingness to walk close to the fire of others who are lost.

Walk with me where I have been. Those words can haunt. They can instill fear. I don't necessarily want to go where you have been. Yet, Jesus asks me to listen to the stories and hear the heart. I refuse to participate in the hub bub of the civil war reenactments where I live in Gettysburg. I lived in a house in which hundreds upon hundreds died from wounds to garrish to describe. The blood that spilled from their wounds still stains the floorboards. I can visualize the agony. I don't want to go there. But as one claimed by Christ, as one who calls oneself a Christian I - WE - go there.

We don't stand as the Pharisees did and quote the law and just say, quit sinning. We recognize sinful acts as symptoms of deeper, hidden pain and confusion. Hidden sometimes even from the participants. There are men and women who return from combat whose lives are haunted by memories and guilt that long for someone - someone to bear their cross with them. And we go there with them and patiently wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and help us discover how to minister to the deep wounds that have produced whatever behavior it is that is offensive. We take them gently to the cross, to the table, to the waters of regeneration and redemption. The waters of new life.

WE take them where we have been and where we are going. We have all been through hell in some form in our lives. But somehow, someway, through someone, we have been claimed and stamped by the Holy Spirit. We were carried through those doors by our parents as infants and had water splashed on our foreheads. Words spoken and a community took us as their own. Our parents believed in the unexplainable power of he Spirit and we are still here. Some friend perhaps invited us to come to worship and we are still here. It is the power of the Spirit that calls us to remain.

And it is that power that is seeking to be sent forth into all the world to shine through us and bring glory to God - bring Glory to Jesus. And to call others to come so they too may experience the saving grace and forgiveness that we have received. The story of Jesus' transfiguration has been told every year at this time in our church calendar. We recognize as the three disciples did that Jesus is Lord…Jesus is favored by God…Jesus was joined by great prophets of old…Moses and Elijah. But how does all of that play itself out in our lives? What does this story mean for us?

At baptism, we are given a tremendous gift. We as Lutherans are different than the rest of the Christian world. We not only look at baptism as a statement of our repentance and sole reliance on Jesus as our savior. We know it as more, so much more. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us to enter into us and transform us even when we are not conscious of it. And, as that spirit seeks to mature us and make us holy, it seeks to shine forth from within us. It motivates us to come to church. It motivates us to seek guidance from the scriptures, to pray, to seek the company of other Christians. To share. To draw others to the light that we have. To glorify God in our bodies, our speech, and our behavior. To take others where we have been and lead them where we are going.

We know intellectually at least that we have been reclaimed, that we have been forgiven of our sins. But too often it stops there. Too often it is for us personally that Christ died. Too often we are afraid to tell others what it means to us. Too often we are afraid for others to know our sinful past and our sin-filled present and how God's power entered in to change all that. too often we are afraid people will laugh and call us holy rollers. Perhaps they will be afraid to see the glory of God reflected in us because it might change the way they are, the way they live, the fun they are having.

And so we hide the light of Christ. We keep it for ourselves. We put a wall between God and them - and guess what that wall is made up of? US. Because we don't share the good news with everyone we meet - we actually become a road block a hindrance to God's work and our sin-filled nature is thrown back into our faces.

When we hide God's glory from shining through our eyes. When we veil the power of the Holy Spirit it will consume us until we allow the gospel to take the reins of our lives.

Observe those who live by law alone. Look at the Israelites. When Moses veiled the glory of God because they were afraid…they got so caught up in obeying the law that they forgot it was meant to show them how to be a unique people claimed by God to be an example for the blessing not oppression of other nations. Second, take a look at our own Martin Luther was one of those in his early years as a priest. He agonized about whether he had purged all his sinful ways out of his life. Had he repented sufficiently. He could tell you how everyone else had sinned as well. He combed the scriptures for every law he could possibly break to make sure he wouldn't break one of them. Until one day, after years of counseling, mentoring, prayer, meditation, he saw that the law pointed to its future fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Humans cannot fulfill the law - we cannot obey the Law completely….only Jesus….only God.

He recognized that all the sins he had participated actually magnified God's glory for the changes that had been wrought in Martin's life once he was freed of the burden of his sin. WE cannot glorify God until we know and truly believe what a great work has been done FOR us.

And in so doing you shine with the glory of Christ, the glory of God.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan