Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Come, Follow, Abide--Day Three

I have friends on two different service projects at the same time: in impoverished Appalachia, and in flood-devastated Iowa. I wrote some devotional readings for the Appalachia trip, and I'm posting them here as an act of solidarity for them. Here's day three.

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Christianity has always been ambitious. From the first public sermon of Jesus’ first disciple, Peter, to the televised campaigns of people like Billy Graham, Christians have stepped in front of crowds and made bold claims: Jesus is God, Jesus died for your sins, Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus is coming back, Jesus wants you in his kingdom. Christianity—at its best—has never hid from the world; rather, Christians have—at their best—demanded that the world notice and respond to the bold claims of Jesus.

This tradition of going out into the world, of inviting people into the family of God, begins with Jesus himself. Having just endured forty days of testing by the devil in the desert, having just learned of the death of his cousin and forerunner John the Baptist, Jesus went out into the world to invite people into his family. And he began with a couple of fishermen by the Sea of Galilee.

Now, in the days of Jesus, going around talking about God was not all that unusual. Rabbis were often itinerant—many would travel from town to town, teaching the people theology, debating other religious scholars and living off the hospitality of the townspeople. They would recruit disciples as they traveled; to follow a rabbi was a privilege reserved for the best and brightest.

What following a rabbi didn’t entail was fishing—for fish or for men. Rabbis were building schools; they wanted good students who would eventually graduate and become rabbis themselves. Jesus approached discipleship differently. He wasn’t populating a school but a kingdom, with God the Father as king and himself as prince. No wonder the best and the brightest weren’t lining up to follow him.

“Follow me,” the lonely rabbi with no school said to modest fishermen with nothing to commend them to discipleship, “and I will make you fishers of men.” And they dropped their nets and went fishing.

The world was meant to be Jesus’ kingdom. Until Jesus is set at the center of creation and God sits on the throne of the world—until his kingdom is established—the world will continue to suffer its kingless, uncentered existence. Jesus didn’t say as much, but those two fishermen somehow figured it out. And instead of chasing an ambitious dream of becoming rabbis themselves, they followed Jesus to the ends of the earth, inviting everyone they met to drop their nets.

The place you find yourself today is likely beautiful in its own way, but like other beautiful places, it also shows evidence of a world that isn’t working right. That’s why Jesus invited you to follow him here: The people you meet, like the people of every culture and every age, need to hear the good news that Jesus is God, that Jesus died for their sins, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Jesus is coming back, that Jesus wants them in his kingdom. If you really follow Jesus, you’ll hear that very good news coming out of your own mouth.

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