BELONGING: GOD’S CALLED OUT PEOPLE
Isaiah 42: 5-9; Matthew 16: 13-20
“Two roads diverged into the wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” wrote beloved American poet Robert Frost. Life is not always about taking the easy road or the lazy way, but sometimes making tougher but richer choices. It was Yankee catcher Yogi Berra who confused the issue when he cryptically was quoted as saying, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it!” Baby Boomers and those older will remember the yearly broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz” on television, on again this week. Did anyone here see it in a theatre? As Dorothy joyfully is told by the munchkins to “follow the yellow brick road,” she had no portable navigation device that many have today; there was a fork in the road where she could go left or right, and magically the only one who gave her directions was a scarecrow who believed he didn’t have a brain. But today’s lessons are about choices on the road of life; if you choose one road and then regret it, usually you can backtrack and take the other one, but not without the cost of time, money, or irritation. Poor decisions about faith, friends, and family can make life droning, dreadful, or disastrous. Life lived with purpose often includes some tough and irreversible choices. Many think there is always a chance to start over, and they are shaken by the things that do not get a do over in life. An object dropped over the rail of a cruise ship is almost always lost for good; a girl’s first pregnancy, whether welcome or not, does not get a do over; a foolish or inattentive driving mistake that takes a life does not to be lived over. But when it comes to your choices for faith, there is good news: there are do-overs for those today who chose other gods and who now want to follow Jesus! We don’t get a do-over after we die, but we have one this very day. Is your life in shambles, or are you searching for a purpose driven life? Are you a member of a church but haven’t let belonging to a church change you into a true follower of Jesus? Today you can go back to the fork in the road and choose the path of Christ. Some of the most important pledges we make have to do with declarations that change our lives: citizenship vows; marriage vows, ordination vows, promises backed by a handshake. Those words are supposed to mean something. What about the words most of you said when you became a Christian? Words like, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior,” or the prayer, “Jesus, I need you; enter my heart and rule my unruly life”? The Lord Jesus had three short years to convince followers, not to follow a yellow brick road, but to choose a road on which no one had yet traveled. He showed them what it meant to live out the laws of God interpreted by love, and to live gracious lives. Poor Christian examples have too much law and no grace, or so much grace that there is no adherence to commandments. When Jesus said “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly,” he wasn’t throwing out the commandments; he was following them using an additional interpretation: love God; and love your neighbor. Jesus called follower to think of the needs of the one, when most put greater weight on the needs of the many. The agony of that decision was described by Jesus in the parable of the lost sheep; on film it occurred, for example, in “Saving Private Ryan.” Jesus also called people to regard women as people instead of property, and to value children as living examples of the kingdom. Yet after people signed on to follow him, he did a few things that startle them: for one thing he talked to prostitutes, something, as we know, that has gotten others in to hot water; for another, he overturned merchant’s tables at the Temple on the biggest selling day of the year; and for another he said a worker who clocked in for one hour should get the same pay as the one who worked for eight. He told a man that to get in to Heaven he needed to sell all he had and add himself to the welfare roles. These counter-cultural comments made some who took the road of discipleship turn back to the fork in the road and choose the well traveled road instead. But turning back is not without its costs. First, God said “Thou Shalt Have no Other God’s Before Me.” We have to leave our favorite gods on the road we left in order to honor the God we will seek to serve on the Christian road. One cannot have the gods of another religion, or even become the ringleader of your own life, and still hope to honor God’s Ten Commandments. This is one of those times you cannot have both/and; it must be a choice. No one truly worships God who lives a godless life. The fork in the road is deliberate; one way will lead to those gods made by mortals; the other worships the Creator of angels in Heaven and mortals on Earth. The second cost for turning back and changing courses is this: you cannot follow Christ and; true Christians follow Christ only. He came down to earth as the Son born in Bethlehem, who grew up in Nazareth, who lived in Galilee, and who took a stand and died in Jerusalem. But after three days, his tomb became eternally empty. He rose from the dead! In whom will you trust between a true and a counterfeit god? You cannot trust a catcher or a scarecrow or even a navigational system to pick the right path; picking the right path comes from the navigational system that we call the New Testament and an encounter with the Lord who is the one who is the way and the truth and the life. No one can straddle the two paths, no one follow Jesus and the leader of some other faith system. Only those who join Peter in his confession are truly Christian; a Christian is one who may study other paths of faith but who is always grounded in the Matthew 16:16 declaration. A Christian does not find the grass to be greener in the pastures of other faiths. A Christian steps into the open as Peter did, in the midst of many false gods, and takes his or her stand as he did: “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked. They went through a list of worthy candidates, but Jesus could not be equated with any of them. Only one person can be called Messiah, there is no room for two. So Peter steps up to the plate and blurted out: “You are the Christ (the Messiah,) the Son of God.” That gold-standard answer earned him the gold standard blessing: “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, and upon this rock (the person Simon Peter to some, but the confession of faith to us) I will build my church.” Here in Matthew we get the first mention of the word Church in the New Testament. Christians who join in Peter’s confession stand before others and say “Jesus is the Christ, and is my Lord and Savior.” Christians who say those words cannot put other gods or religious leaders on the same level as He. People who try it negate their connection with Christ. Did you realize that? And Christians have to choose whether they will do what Jesus would do and make choices that Jesus would make in life, or else not claim the name. There is life beyond this life when you claim Christ as Lord and leave the other faiths in which you may have dabbled or may be dabbling behind. There is no fence-sitting or both/and with Christ! There is no permanent parking on the shoulder of life’s road deciding which direction to take! All the celebrations about the resurrection of Jesus mean nothing to non-believers; only those who believe in him and follow him, live changed lives now and get a glorious pass to foreverland! Christians belong to him through their baptisms and are connected through Communion. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked Peter. If he asked you, your answer would be what? Let your life and lips show forth your choice. May God bless your decisions today and ahead in the Easter season.
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 23, 2008