Monday, September 17, 2012

Going with Jesus: In His Steps

Preached on Sunday, September 16, 2012
Scripture readings: 1 Peter 2:9-25; 3:15-17; Matthew 28:16-20

When I was ordained, I moved to a small church on the Oregon coast. One of the first things I did was visit as many people as possible, right at the start, to get acquainted. On one such visit, one of my members told me, “Dennis, I hope you have big feet.”

The Rabbit in My Back Yard
I asked him what he meant, and he said, “A lot of people are going to expect you to fill Mickey Moffett’s shoes.” Mickey Moffett was my predecessor. He had pastored that church, in that small town, for more than twenty years. He was legendary in his community. He was one of those people who seem to be larger than life, and he had served his church until he died.

The verses at the end of the Gospel of Matthew are often called “The Great Commission” and they speak to us about our spiritual feet. They are the “marching orders” given by Jesus to his disciples, to the church, to us. They give us our mission, and they tell us how we are to proceed to our destination. Jesus tells us to go, and how to go, and that he will go with us.

Peter tells us that, as we follow Jesus, we are to go “in his steps”. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you and example that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

I remember childhood trips to the mountains in winter, when there was snow on the ground. I remember my dad making footprints in the snow and me trying to follow “in his steps”. When Peter puts the suffering of Jesus as part of the pattern for our walking in his steps, we realize that Jesus has a pretty big stride; and big shoes (or big sandals) to fill.

The word “go” is a big word. It can be as exciting as saying “let’s go”!

Yet it was not always an exciting word to the first disciples. They may have found it scary.

There was a time when Jesus said “go” to a large group of seventy-two disciples. He sent them to provide a preview of what he would say and do in the towns where he planned to go next. He sent them to heal and to teach.

So they went when Jesus said “go”, and they came back completely surprised. They experienced the unexpected, and they were glad that Jesus had told them to go. They were glad they went. The fact that they came back so surprised and glad tells us that they did not set out that way when Jesus sent them. (Luke 10:17-20) Now they seemed to catch on.
Is That the Same Rabbit by the Church Basement Widow?

But, strangely, after all the excitement of the resurrection, when Jesus was preparing to return to his throne in heaven, when Jesus told the disciples to “go”, they didn’t go. Or they certainly took their time about it.

Jesus had to arrange the events of history to force them into the habit of going. Jesus practically drove them to it. The Book of Acts tells us a little bit about this story.

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Some of Jesus’ disciples were goers and some were not. It has been this way ever since. Because of the goers, the good news of Jesus has become known all around the world, so that the Christians in North America and Europe are only a drop in a very large bucket of disciples.

Today, if you want to meet your average disciple, you have to go to Africa, or India, or China, or Latin America to find one. But there are still unreached people around the world, and there are still plenty of places to go; even in Washtucna and Kahlotus and Hooper.

Nation, as Jesus puts it, has very little to do with our idea of nation (in the sense of a nation with borders and a single government). Galilee, the land where Jesus grew up, was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” and that really means “Galilee of the Nations”. (Isaiah 9:1; King James Version)

Gentiles and nations only refer to all of the ethnic groups that exist outside the people of Israel. Galilee was full of these different nationalities, or groups: Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and others, living side by side, or in neighboring neighborhoods and villages.

I essentially grew up in a small town of many nations. You could list the local nations as: Anglo (that’s us), Mexican, East Indian Hindu, East Indian Sikh, Filipino, Japanese, and others.

But you could list the nations of my town another way: farmers, townies, Okies and Arkies, old-timers, and newcomers. The old-timers, themselves, were divided into at least two nations that didn’t speak to each other or agree on anything.

It could be just as hard to go and talk to someone you don’t know in India as it is to go and talk to someone you do know (all too well) who lives down the road from you. It could be just as hard to go and talk to someone who doesn’t know you in Haiti as it is to go and talk to someone who does know you (all too well), who lives down the road from you.

A Big Yellow Rose by My Back Porch
Most disciples give the command to “go” positive lip service, but most of us don’t want to go. We would like other people to “come” and to stay; but only if they are not too different from us, and if their staying wouldn’t require any change in us. If we do go to others, it is often with the assumption that we will change them to suit us, because we don’t need to change.

Perhaps (for those of us who are rooted in one place) going means receiving those who come to us. Their coming to us requires us to make the long journey of faith that is called change. The going that Jesus calls us to is meant to change us. Being a disciple is all about change, and about our abiding willingness to change. It is a part of living by faith.

How can you be a person of faith and not be willing to change? How can you listen to Jesus and do what he wants you to do without changing? Walking in Jesus’ sandals means either going to someone around the world, or next door, in a way that will change you forever. Or else it means receiving those whom God has sent to you and taking that journey without going anywhere.

I have described this command to “go” as something that applies to individual disciples. It is much bigger than that. It applies to the church as well. It applies to every single congregation.

Congregations are called by The Great Commission to go, and take the faith-journey called change. And what are they worth to Jesus if they never do it? Aren’t such churches in danger of becoming a private club? Jesus did not come to establish a club. What will become of the church that will not make the faith-journey of change? Jesus commands us to go and to move out.

Jesus says, “Go and make disciples.” The command to go is clear. The command to make disciples is odd, when you think about what it means.

Jesus gives us a big job, but it is the big job of little things. The big job of the big things belongs to Jesus. Jesus is the one with “all authority in heaven and on earth”. Jesus, the ruler of the universe, grabs people and conquers their hearts and minds. Jesus the King converts people and makes them a new creation. Jesus the Lord leads people throughrepentance and the crisis of decision. Those are the big things.

Holly Hock
We are commanded to do the little things that surround the big things of Jesus. We make disciples. The word disciple means something like student or learner. The church is a lot like a school, and school is full of little things. School is full of seasons, and repetition, and routine.

As disciples of Jesus, we are people who go to the school of Jesus, and we invite other people to come to school with us. School is about watching and listening. It is about paying attention. Both students and their teachers have to do a lot of paying attention, or nothing will be properly learned or properly taught.

If we are going to make disciples, we have to pay attention to other people. We have to watch them, and listen to them. We have to ask them questions and try to answer their questions. We have to be patient. To make people into disciples, we have to love them first.

There was some advice that a camp counselor an old Disney show gave to a new and difficult camper. He said, “Take an interest in the others and they will take an interest in you.” The same rule holds with making disciples.

When I was a kid, a friend of mine wanted me to go to church camp with him. To get me interested, he told me all about the booby traps, and about how the cabins would raid each other.

To me this sounded far too much like school for me to be interested. I loved to learn, but I hated school. School was not full of real booby traps and raids; but every day there were kids lying in wait for me, waiting to do something to me. I saw summer as I time when I could be safe and quiet; where I could sit on the garage roof, under the spreading walnut tree, and read my books for hours.

We are called, and the church is called, to take an interest in the world and the people around us, and show them something worth being interested in.

This is why Peter lays so much stress on being an example. He give instructions on what to say. He teaches us to show respect and honor to others in the way we live among them. Peter says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12) He means that they will be one of us, praising God by our side, when God comes to earth. He means that God will use our lives, as students in the school of Jesus, to make them into the students of Jesus.
Elephant Garlic among Asparagus and Rudbekia

This is not only for us as individual disciples. This is for us as a community of believers, as the church, as the school of Jesus. If we don’t do this, then an old saying will come true: “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying.”

There is nothing big or dramatic about being disciples of Jesus, and bringing others to school with us. It takes a lot of time, and quiet, and patience. It takes learning to work well and play well with others. It takes a lot of just sitting around together with Jesus in our midst. That is what the first disciples did. That is part of what it means to be a disciple. We will look at this more, in the weeks to come.

When Peter tells us that, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example; that you should follow in his steps,” he is waking us up to the center of what it meant for him to be a disciple of Jesus. For Peter, the part of being a disciple that he could never forget was the practice of walking in Jesus’ steps.

Peter had a very definite idea of where Jesus’ steps would take any disciple. The steps of Jesus took Peter from the peace and quiet of Galilee to the risk and fear of Jerusalem. The steps of Jesus led Peter to the cross and the resurrection. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) This, too, is the road where Jesus says “go”.

Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (on the cross), so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Jesus’ wounds and Jesus’ suffering were his experience of bearing our sins, carrying our sins on his own shoulders. By faith, we enter into the world of the cross, and we hang there on the cross with Jesus, or on the cross next to him.

As Jesus dies for us, we die to ourselves. We change. The faith-journey takes us to the change of the crucifixion and then to the resurrection. The sacrifice of Jesus and the death of Jesus empower us to die to ourselves. Then we experience the healing that comes from the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of a new heart, a new life. It is like being born again.

But notice that there are two actions that go together: dying to sin and living for righteousness. Righteousness is living right, and thinking right, and speaking right, and relating right to others. This never happens just once and then we are done with it. It must go on and on.

The same is true of dying to sin. Dying to sin, and living for righteousness, and receiving the healing of the soul that comes from the wounds of Jesus is something we need every day and every hour.

Our problem is that we actually like some of our sins, and so we certainly don’t want to die to them. Other sins we don’t like. We may truly hate them. But we love to wallow in them. We are addicted to the little hells of our sins that protect us from the healing change of God in Christ, because we are afraid of his command for us to go out.

And yet this is what we need, and Jesus transforms what we need into our marching orders, and then he says “go”. He makes what we need and fear most into what will heal us.

Tropicana Rose?
If you want to be a disciple and make disciples, you will have to die and rise; perhaps over and over again. That is what being a Christian is about. Some people think that being a Christian means following a lot of rules and meeting a lot of other people’s expectations, but it is not about that. It is about dying and rising with Jesus. The church must be a fellowship of people dying and rising all the time.

In fact, if you decide to avoid the church, and try to be a disciple on your own, without the church, you will probably find a spirituality that requires very little dying and rising. And that will seem like a good thing, because dying and rising can be uncomfortable and unwelcome. But it is the glory of God. It is the way of Jesus. These are the steps of Jesus and we must walk in them.

Jesus walks a wide stride in sandals much too big for us. But he is our master, and he calls us his children; and his children love to try, with all their heart, to match his stride and wear his sandals. The vast steps of Jesus may seem much too big, but they are redemptive. They are saving. They are the very heart of mercy and forgiveness. We will grow with Jesus as we walk in his steps, and go, and make disciples.


  1. I really appreciate your description of what it means to be a disciple and the task of church, “As disciples of Jesus, we are people who go to the school of Jesus, and we invite other people to come to school with us. School is about watching and listening. It is about paying attention. Both students and their teachers have to do a lot of paying attention, or nothing will be properly learned or properly taught.”

  2. Rather than just doing what we decided to do, we pay attention and(of course) pray.

  3. A great analogy of the Great Commission. Thank you for a clear explanation.

  4. A big job of little things, pay attention, I have never heard this put this way before.
    This is such a good sermon, good writing. Thank you.