Follow Me

He said to them, “Follow Me, ….”  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.      Mathew 4:19 (12-23)

The movie has reached a climactic escape scene.  The hero and the heroine come to a rickety looking rope bridge and you are made well aware of the their moment of indecision.  But their pursuers are coming closer and if they are going to risk their lives, it must be now.  And so the moment of suspense arrives, as the decision is made, and the persons in question start out over the deep ravine that would mean death should the bridge not hold them.

What an illustration of faith!  There are a few things in this illustration that are valuable to consider.

The first is that faith is not an emotion but a decision.  Unfortunately in our world, so often we treat faith like we do love, and love we treat as if it were only an emotion.  Therefore, supposedly, we love only if we feel love, and we have faith only if we FEEL faith.  The trouble is, is that if one is a novice at either of these things, he doesn’t know what to look for in order to recognize whether he has the actual emotion.  Therefore he latches on to whatever excites him as if this must be it.

However, many of us have learned that love is far greater and far deeper than that.  The fact that the marriage ceremony pivots on a vow tells us that love is more than an excited feeling.  There is an act of will involved, a determination to love regardless to the feeling of the moment: that is, to do loving things, to act in a loving manner, and to allow oneself to be involved and wrapped up in one particular other person.

Still, although we may have realized this principle in regard to love, we continue to labor under the misconception that faith is basically a feeling.  Truly, as with love, faith often does encompass feeling, still it is far greater and far deeper.  But here as well, faith is more defined by the intention and determination to believe, to deliberately take someone at his word, to live with full expectation that that word will be carried out, even to the point where any other alternative just doesn’t even come to mind.

Can that really happen?  Residents of an assisted living facility move to the dining room for supper, with no other expectation than that they will be fed at a certain time.  The customer pays the merchant with a debit card, fully expecting that the bank will immediately pay from what is in the customer’s account.  A patient adjusts her day in order to make a doctor’s appointment on time, fully expecting that a qualified doctor will be ready to deal with her health issue.  A man and his buddy agree to meet to watch a game together on a certain day and time.  Faith is practiced multiple times each day in all sorts of circumstances.

And as with love, faith may even have feelings that are contrary to the decision of faith.  The hero and the heroine as they set out over the rickety bridge most definitely have feelings that tell them that this bridge may send them to their deaths.  There Is no feeling of confidence and assurance.  Yet they decide to put one foot in front of the other, carefully making their way across the dangerous distance, if they are going to have a chance at life at all.

Of course, we know that in the movie the hero and the heroine are going to make it.  After all, there wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t.  But we recognize that the shear force of their faith will not turn a weak rickety bridge into a solid, safe bridge.  It is more than possible to put one’s faith into something that just won’t hold, and it will mean death.  We recognize that and that is what adds the suspense to the movie.

The problem we have, though, is that faith in God runs counter to our sinful nature which distrusts God completely.  It does not take much to bring to the surface our suspicions of His motivation, His power, His ability, His heart.  All it takes is resistance, hardship, disagreement, or some other challenge in our relationship with God and we falter putting out our next foot on the bridge which now appears so rickety.  That’s why to trust God’s solution to the dangers which surround us requires the active working and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel this morning, the disciples were called by Jesus to follow Him.  According to the Gospel of John [1:37-42], Peter and Andrew we know were followers of John the Baptist and had heard him proclaim Jesus as the GOD’s Bridge between man and God.  For them, however, this was still an unknown Bridge, and it would take the next three years to settle in themselves to take that step of faith, to go ahead and risk their lives to follow Jesus.  In fact, it would take a resurrection for them to at last find the unbreakable basis for their faith.

Please realize that Jesus was not the only Messiah at that time.  History tells us that this particular time period had many messiahs that had gathered all sorts of followers, who attempted to do all sorts of things, some were religious, but most were political.  And a great many of these other followers died needlessly and uselessly as they put their trust in a bridge that could not bear the weight of their lives and their sins.

But as we look in the Bible, we see that GOD’s Bridge in Jesus could more than support ALL of their weight.  Over the three years that the disciples followed Jesus, they would discover that His Bridge had strong deep foundations in all the prophecies and pictures from God that ran all the way back to Adam and Eve.  There was the strong undergirding that came from the awareness that all of mankind’s sin could be totally answered through Jesus.  These and God’s own declaration that this was His beloved Son were the anchor stones of the Bridge
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But then, as the events of Good Friday unfolded, it seemed as though the Bridge was indeed rickety after all.  This one singular event could mean the collapse of the whole structure.  Just like every other great religious leader, it was apparent that Jesus was helpless against the seemingly almighty power of death.

Then Easter came, and the disciples realized that although the Bridge was momentarily obscured, it had never even trembled.  It was no rickety Bridge at all.  Just like in the movie, where we knew that the hero and heroine would survive, God has proved to us also that we do know the outcome of our faith.

However, there is still one thing about a bridge:  You can’t get across it if you insist on keeping one foot on one side of the ravine.   Somewhere along the way you must commit yourself totally to the bridge, it must bear your full weight.  The disciples understood that as they gave up everything to live with and to follow Jesus.  Dietrich Bonheoffer understood that when he wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship; he understood that when he was hanged by the Nazis for acting according to what he believed.

How much of the decision of faith came out of their feelings – and how much of their feelings were actually contrary to this decision?  As one faces the gallows for what he believes, at times like that does not one’s decision fly in the face of his emotions?

Yet how often do we come to church, not looking for faith, but rather for feelings?  In fact, how often are we here more preoccupied with ourselves and our emotional responses than we are even of the presence of the Lord?  So some people come away and say that they hadn’t gotten anything out of a particular service.  In other words, the whole center of evaluating the service was not on whether the Lord has stood among us as He promised and received Glory and honor, but on whether they felt what they considered was the proper emotional response.

So we run scared when we get no particular emotional excitement from a worship service or whatever the aspect of faith is which we expect.  We constantly look for ways to keep ourselves emotionally stirred up.  We find ourselves in the same situation that the movie producers are in, because their audience has become accustomed to all sorts of emotional thrills.  So the movies become more sexually or violently explicit, to keep up the emotional stir, as if that were the only thing which makes a movie worthwhile and memorable.

So now we are confused.  If I am not much emotionally stirred in church, then does that mean that I have no faith?  If I have no “heart strangely warmed,” does that mean that I am stuck with mere leftovers?  The early Corinthians from today’s epistle [I, 1:10-17] also had that problem.  In their one-upmanship over each other, they confused the feelings of prestige and power as feelings of faith, as if these feelings confirmed that each was on “the right track” for faith.

Jesus cuts through all of this with the words “Follow Me.”  He doesn’t say, “Do you FEEL like following Me?” – instead He says, “If anyone will follow Me, he must DENY himself, take up his CROSS, and follow ME.”  In the “DENY himself” part, isn’t Jesus also including the idea that my sinful human nature will scream desperately against putting my full weight on God’s Bridge?  Won’t it be more than likely that there will be terror and apprehension with the thought of taking my one foot off the ravine side?

That’s why Jesus does not call for a feeling but a decision.  But He does not demand a blind decision.  His desire is not to terrify us, as if He blindfolded us and then told us to find the Bridge on our own.  Rather His intent to get us away from making ourselves the center of our religion, from making our fickle FEELINGS the basis for our faith.

Therefore He sets before us again throughout the great drama of His life from Advent, through Lent, to the Resurrection, to the Ascension the facts of what He did and why He did them.  He lays before us again Who and what He is, in the works that He did, in the message that He preached, in the fulfillment of all the prophecies and picture language of the Old Testament, and in the declarations from God the Father Himself.  He emphasizes in Baptism and Holy Communion that this is all indeed for you, for your life, for your sins, for your forgiveness.

And now He asks, “Is this truly for you?” – not the feeling, but the decision.  Not for a feeling which may not even exist right now, but for the resolve that is this really for you;  the determination that as you leave and go back to your usual life, you will indeed put one foot after the other on this God-provided bridge; that Jesus is really with you for every step, not whether you FEEL Him or not, but because He said He would be, because He will be true to His Word to you, even when it cost Him – and you – a death and demanded a resurrection.

In love it has been recognized that if you practice love, the feelings of love will come.  In faith it works the same.  As you go about your daily life, as you practice the confidence that you KNOW you can have in His Word, suddenly you find that faith is growing.  Is it not an interesting thing that Jesus did not say to His disciples, “Believe in Me!” but rather “FOLLOW Me!”  It is the decision of faith, not the emotion, which Jesus looks for from each of us.

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