The Rev’d Nathan Corl Minnich, STS
Ordained Lutheran Pastor of the North American Lutheran Church
Have you ever wondered what the difference may be between being a follower of Jesus and being a disciple? Perhaps you’ve used the words interchangeably in your life, or maybe even thought that disciple was something unattainable (as if only the 12 apostles were actual disciples). Well, this is exactly what we’ve been examining in Adult Sunday School. The Follow Me study of the Gospel of John is leading us to deeply discuss the relationship between the one who leads and the one who follows. We follow so many things today without any real commitment. For example, how many people do you “follow” on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on? Do you have a real relationship with any of these people? Do you have a relationship with some of these people? Oh wait…how do you even define relationship? Even in the early stages of this Sunday School program we have defined these things in new ways. We have sought to examine the depth of relationships, and have come to define them based on love (and more specifically, love which would cause you to willingly give up your life for someone else).
Now, just a few hours after this discussion on Sunday morning our whole country is examining what it might mean to sacrifice your life for someone else. In the face of extreme tragedy we are all trying to understand life and death. People are asking the hard questions, but maybe we should take a moment to examine the depth of love exhibited in those who willingly walked into danger to protect others. Now, we have no way of knowing if those decisions were made because of faith, or instinct, or training, or bravery. We are not all faced with such situations, but our decisions can be made in similar ways. If faith is strong enough to dictate our decisions, then even death cannot deter our confident sight in more than what this flesh seems to cling. Our possessions and even relationships, our jobs and even our hopes and dreams, cannot compare to a treasure of faith in what Christ Jesus promised to those who believe; life everlasting. And not just life everlasting as portrayed in movies and novels of human imagination, but a bodily resurrection like his, a true victory even over the grave!
Now, to follow a teacher like Jesus who speaks so radically is difficult. A relationship that demands love, respect, knowledge, and care for others is not easy. However, often times the things we see as difficult and burdensome, Christ calls easy…and willingly offers his burden which he calls light, and offers to take on ours, which we think is heavy, and sometimes so much so that we think it is killing us. If all the burden, worry, pain, suffering, and death we carry is really light, why does it cripple us so? Because even though we say we believe…WE DON’T.
If we believe, and still worry or complain, we’ve already lied about our faith. For who would say “Yes, I believe what the Lord says” then turn and focus only on the problems of life. The lens of the Gospel, through which we need to view everything in life, is one of forgiveness, grace, and life. It is a lens by which burden is cast of like a scarf, and focus is squarely aimed at life…and by that I mean the entirety of life (this short part, and that which is to come…the restful, and the glorified).
Your relationship with Christ Jesus is deepened by your reading of the Word, by your fellowship in the community of believers, sparked by your baptism, and strengthened by your reception of the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s own Body and Blood. His resurrection is at work in you when His own body is made inseparable from yours in the eating and drinking. It is our participation in acknowledgement of life everlasting, and it is a true means by which we are given forgiveness and grace.
So, when you think about the things we call brave and courageous, think about the example of one who gave up life for many, Jesus Christ. At the STS retreat in Chicago this September, a colleague of mine and President of the NALC Seminary The Rev. Dr. Amy Schiffrin, preached at our Eucharist service. She noted the hatred and violence in our country and specifically addressed the hate chanted by demonstrators in Charlottesville as they shouted “Jews will not replace us.” This terrifying and disgusting hatred for others sometimes seems far away, but it is right here among us.
A true and deeply meaningful relationship with our Lord will produce disciples, those who will follow the Savior even into death. And the making of a disciple starts right here, when we realize “that a Jew took our place…on the cross” as Dr. Schiffrin noted. Not only did he take the place of those who believe, but hung in the place of judgment for all those who have fallen short of righteousness and sinned. Jesus Christ gave up His flesh so that all might be saved, come to repentance and see life: life everlasting!