Following Jesus Anyway

Sermon – Following Jesus Anyway         by Pastor Teddie McConnell                             June 26, 2022
Kent M. Keith wrote a set of guidelines for how to be an effective leader while he was a sophomore at Harvard called The Paradoxical Commandments. Because he was in a college class, he left out any religious references, but he is a Christian who believes in doing “what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it.” It was included in a booklet published in 1968, which many people have shared with each other over time. Parts of the commandments ended up on the wall in Mother Theresa’s children’s home, where they were later taken as her words and misquoted in a book about her. When a friend showed him the book, he was amazed and gratified, then managed to set the record straight. In 2001 he wrote his own book called Anyway, Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World.  Here’s his list of paradoxical commandments:
  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  • If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  • Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  • The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  • People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  • What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Sounds a lot like, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself,” to me.
Paul told the Galatians to live by the Spirit using the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control in God’s service, while avoiding the works of the flesh. Spiritual fruits are gifts that all Christians can have with prayer and practice. The works of the flesh are more likely to pop up in people who are busy looking out for number one.
It certainly takes courage to act with love, especially in trying circumstances. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t include material success. It doesn’t give us comic book superpowers, although miracles do happen. But the Spirit can give us peace and joy in the hard times, help us find kind and gentle ways to say something important, help us have patience and self-control when we don’t understand why the other person can’t see our side of things, so they may feel the love we give them, and it may bring out their best. Prayer connects us like the interwoven roots of giant redwoods, which help them to stand upright. The fruits are a package of supernatural strengthening traits we need in order to love one another almost as fully as Jesus loves us.
In Luke’s passage, Jesus had set his face, in other words, gathered up his courage, to go to Jerusalem. He knew about the torture and death awaiting him, and the resurrection life he would have on the other side. I’m sure his demeanor was serious, dedicated and determined, ready to obey the will of the Triune God. I think the Samaritans would have seen him as unwilling to be sociable and therefore not worthy of their hospitality. On some deep level,  I think Jesus was frightened as well, as any human being would be, but he kept going. Those who followed him would need a similar level of commitment to walk the way of Christ regardless of the consequences, to follow him anyway.
For those followers, there were many frightening potential consequences to that choice. Imprisonment and martyrdom were common, especially after his death. Many were rejected by their families and friends. As Keck said, they made false friends and true enemies.
Christianity was so new that only true believers saw the potential of it, beheld the power and mercy of Jesus and understood that he was the best, the only choice for them to make, the only way to find God’s personal meaning for their lives. They followed him knowing their lives would never be the same, for good or for ill. They followed Jesus anyway.
But in these verses, the disciples and potential followers got distracted by the rejection of the Samaritans and by the needs of their families. James and John were more worried about their identity as Jews as they dealt with the historically hated Samaritans than about their lack of hospitality. Jesus had never displayed anger toward Samaritans or anyone else who rejected him, but James and John were indignant on Jesus’ behalf, like big brothers wanting to go after the neighborhood bullies. Jesus left vengeance up to his Father. Christianity is our highest calling and priority. Wasting time on less than loving emotions is not following Jesus. It’s a form of pride to think we’re better than those we’re dealing with.
Someone promised to follow Jesus anywhere, but Jesus must have seen his weakness, his hesitation. He had no time left to coddle a new recruit, and warned him away from the difficult life ahead. The person’s response isn’t recorded, but the fact that no name is mentioned means that he didn’t become part of the community.
To Jesus’ direct invitation, another said, “First, let me bury my father,” which probably included settling the estate. Anyone who has done this task for a relative knows it is not easy or quick. To some, Jesus’ response to “let the dead bury their own dead” may have sounded harsh, but proclaiming the kingdom of God was paramount, superseding all other goals. Jesus had no time to wait for him. Destiny was calling. Distraction was not an option.
For the man who wanted to say goodbye, Jesus knew his family was more likely to beg him to stay and remind him of his obligations than to encourage him to follow a prophet. Plowing and looking back means you’re distracted from the job at hand. The oxen will head for the food in the hedgerow, and the plowed rows will go every which way. Jesus was looking forward to tilling the ground so he could plant and harvest eternal life for all of us. He was not about to let anything distract him from the messianic calling that was his to follow.
Studies have shown that people cannot do two things at once, only shift their attention rapidly back and forth between them. That’s why distracted driving is so dangerous. Discipleship has similar challenges. In any given situation, we can either be Jesus’ disciples, or disciples of what is important to the people around us, the culture we live in, the nation we occupy. Sometimes the values are similar, but Jesus’ values and calling must come first. Love one another. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
Following Jesus means we have to untangle ourselves from the world’s distractions in order to keep our eyes on him, keeping our focus on where he’s leading us. We must also be ready to face opposition, rejection, and the sensation of never being quite at home in this fallen world. Discipleship is often different than what the culture considers normal. We need God’s grace to pull us back to the will of our undistracted and faithful brother Jesus, who loved us enough to die so we may have life and have it abundantly. Despite possible derision, division, and pain, we must set our faces forward and follow Jesus anyway.
         Here’s my revised list of the paradoxical commandments from a Christian viewpoint.
  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Follow Jesus by loving them anyway.
  • When you do good as part of your Christian walk, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. The good you do today may make a lasting difference or may be forgotten tomorrow. You may never know how your good works have rippled out and influenced others until you get to heaven. Follow Jesus by doing good anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them, or take advantage by coming around repeatedly with their hand out. Follow Jesus by helping people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have in the name of Christ, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Follow Jesus by giving the world the best you have anyway. Jesus will know, remember and reward you, even when people react badly or forget you. It’s about finding love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control by following Jesus anyway.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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