Sept. 7, 2008
“Take the Next Step”
Craig Barnes, Presbyterian pastor and preaching professor at Pittsburgh, told a group of us about visiting a monastery. He spent some time there, and, in the course of his visit, learned something very interesting: In each monk’s closet, along with their robes, hangs the set of street clothes that they wore before they entered the monastic life. He asked why that would be. And his monk friends told him that that set of clothes was there because each day, when they opened their closets, they were reminded that they had to decide whether or not to accept Jesus’ call to live as a monk. The other clothes were always there. Any morning, they could put them on and leave. And every day they could choose, indeed, they had to choose, to put on the robes and live the life to which they had been called. They had a choice. And each day they had to make it.
In the 16th chapter of the Gospel, after the disciples have been with Jesus, going from town to town. After they have left their fishing boats, left their tax stalls, left their families and their villages for parts unknown, after they have eaten hundreds of meals with this man from Nazareth, heard him preach and teach in the synagogues in many towns; after they have witnessed his healing power, learned that with his blessing, they themselves can feed multitudes. After all this time of being with Jesus, the disciples hear him say, “If you want to be my disciples, follow me. . . “
What do you think we’ve been doing? Chopping liver?
We’ve been following, Jesus. Haven’t you noticed?
But Jesus isn’t insulting the disciples, he is inviting them to continue the journey, or perhaps to pick up the pace, to look a little at the road ahead and see what challenges and opportunities lie there.
On this Rally Day, when we kick off our year of youth Christian Education, it’s appropriate that we think about how Jesus moves us along on the path of discipleship. Whether we are just beginning to call Jesus Lord, or we are long time active members. Whether we are first time visitors or elders or deacons who’ve served multiple terms, we share this common characteristic: We are still being called to follow. We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. And no matter where we are in our journey, we can each take another step. The Sunday School children have created reminders for us, and placed them in the church’s lot: Call them stepping stones of faith:
Some of us are just beginning to walk the stepping stones. We are blessed, as a congregation, to welcome those who are, literally, taking baby steps. Because they are babies. Each child is precious to God. Set apart to live a life with God at its center. One way that God has given us to show this choosing and setting apart is through infant baptism. There aren’t two baptisms, meaning one thing for believers and another for babies. There is one baptism, and it reveals and represents the baptized person’s death and resurrection in Christ. For children, whose parents and whose congregation makes promises that we will do everything in our power to nurture the Christ life of the child, it means that at every stage of development and growth, God claims that kid.
God claims each one of us in baptism. I hope we are thinking of that as parents and grandparents and as young people, too. It’s not as though Christian Education is for us or our kids when they are in grade school, when they are cute and cuddly and don’t ask too many questions we can’t answer. Although, and when they get to be in Jr.Hi. they can do confirmation and then decide to stay home. Our high school youth, as you saw Sunday before last, are at a tremendous age for spiritual growth. They shine with the Spirit.
The Stepping stones for Sunday school are baptism, first communion, receiving a Bible, confirmation and (lately) service. Mary Simon and the SS staff are interested in strengthening their program. But they have done a wonderful job of offering ongoing, challenging, age appropriate ways for our children and young people to follow Jesus.
They do it because they care. Because they are on their own path of following Jesus.
The path doesn’t dead end after confirmation. Studies show that over 70% of young people confirmed in the church leave after high school and do not come back. This is common and may sound discouraging, but I can’t help thinking that it would be great, in our mobile society, if we could hang onto those 30%. And know that, even if they don’t continue to live and worship here, that doesn’t mean God isn’t still wanting to lead the young people who begin their journeys here. Churches that put resources into enabling the first steps need to help young people who are entering adulthood to find the path, the stepping stones, that fit their new stride.
If you are wondering about your next stepping stone along the journey of faith, I’d like to remind you of some of the ways this congregation encourages you along. SS opportunities. Bible Study options – women’s groups, Thursday night. I’ll extend the offer that if there is a topic or a life issue that you’d like to get together to explore with your brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll do everything I can to enable that to happen.
Worship is a time of seeking deeper understanding. Personal devotions are also a time of growth in discipleship. As is service to others.
I want to let you know that I’ll be asking Session to take an inventory of where each one of them is in their faith journey. And where we, as a church, could strengthen our celebration and encouragement of continuing spiritual development.
The journey of discipleship gets more complicated, more difficult as we go along. Jesus plainly warns his disciples that following him means taking up a cross bearing His burden – the cross – which is the price of love for the world. It means denial of self in service of others. It means losing our old life – with its comforts and cares – in order to enter fully into the life that God intends.
Maybe that sounds daunting. But remember that Jesus also promises that the road leads to the kingdom of God, and that those who walk it will not taste death – but feast on God’s eternal life. That feasting starts the moment we begin to walk. And the table is still set before us.
What is important today is that, no matter where we are on the journey, how long or how short a time we have been following Jesus, that we hear him say to each one of us, “If you want to be my disciple, follow me.”
No matter how long or how short a time we have been following each day is a day in which Jesus invites us to make a decision:
Will we follow him?
Will we continue to put one foot in front of the other on the way that he shows us?
Will we answer his call to be a disciple and walk with him today?