At the behest of our executive director of communications, Ed Gilbreath, I began to tweet recently. I’m already up to a few hundred followers and now trail Justin Bieber by only 51 million. My tweets come with the guarantee that there will be at least one sermon-quotable nugget each week.
Isn’t it interesting that Twitter uses the term “followers”? As Judy Peterson, chaplain at North Park University, notes, “Jesus wanted followers but he didn’t mean a fan base, or those who would check the ‘favorite’ box, or ‘like’ something, or glance at a post, or retweet a profound truth.” No, she says, when Jesus called people to sign on as followers, he was looking for people to actually join him, not just to follow his teaching from afar, but to come and travel intimately with him as he moved about the world.
To fishermen Simon and Andrew, to a teacher of the law, and to a tax collector, Jesus extends the invitation to follow. Together those three stories show us that following Jesus means leaving our lives behind, getting out of our comfort zones, and owning up to shady things of our lives. They could have answered that they didn’t want to leave what they knew; or that they wanted to live their own lives just a little bit longer; or that they were not ready to leave their shadiness behind. But they didn’t. They jumped at the chance. Why?
Again, let me credit Judy for three insights. First, when we understand that Jesus is interested in us, we jump at the chance to follow him. Jesus wasn’t interested in people following him to make himself look great; he was interested in people following him because he thought they were great. The center of our faith is this: that all the love of God that exists in the universe nevertheless pinpoints down to you. Every heart is known to God. In a world of loneliness, exploitation, and disillusionment, Jesus says, “Follow me.” And when we do, Jesus pours out his attention, grace, mercy, and presence. That it is for eternity is an added dimension, not the end point.
I remember as a high-school student sitting in a Covenant church in the Bay Area and hearing for the very first time that God knows me, God loves me, and that I was meant for this relationship. I was amazed that God was not distant and aloof and unapproachable. I jumped at the chance to know Jesus, if only because Jesus was interested in knowing me; I valued Jesus if only because I knew Jesus valued me.
The second appealing aspect to answering the call is hope, that Jesus can lead us into a different future. Jesus reaches out his hand to heal the sick and give sight to the blind; he taught about values that change how people relate to one another. In other words, following Jesus holds the potential of a fundamentally different future, and certainly the strength to face the future whatever befalls.
When I think about the course of my life, literally everything important was set in motion by that decision to follow Jesus. The church where I first heard about God’s love is where I met my wife, and also sensed my call to ministry. So everything important to me – my faith, my family, my vocation – they all trace back to answering the call, “Follow me.” For everyone, when we follow Jesus, he graciously leads us into a new future, full of new possibilities, and new hope.
These first two aspects are really about the individual who follows Jesus. But there is a third attraction to the call to follow. People in the Scriptures followed Jesus because he invited them into the grand cause of hope for a better world, of a world set right. They followed Jesus because never before had they seen someone who, as Judy would say, “loved so deeply, healed so willingly, and preached so convincingly.” They wanted in on bringing that hope to the world; they wanted their lives to count. And so they followed him.
Jesus makes our life count. When we join Jesus we join his bigger dreams and larger visions to bring his shalom to a spiritually adrift, hurting, and divided world. In the Covenant we say being missional means to follow the heart of God into the world.
So, I invite you to follow me on Twitter. You’ll get some thoughts to ponder. But when Jesus invites you to follow him, don’t simply retweet the invitation. Get on the road with him.