Sermon: The Ongoing Adventure of Faith
When you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they read like travel narratives, especially the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is always on the way to somewhere else. Mark tells the story of Jesus with a breathless tempo. Mark says that Jesus did that and then immediately Jesus goes on to do or say something more. Immediately is one of Mark’s favorite words and he uses it 27 times in his short Gospel.
The image you get of Jesus’ followers, his disciples, in a gospel like Mark’s is a group of people who are always breathlessly trying to catch up, always just one step behind Jesus as he moves on to somewhere else. Jesus is always out front leading them to discover new things about himself and about God.
I love the way Mark begins his gospel with the calling of Jesus’ disciples. A couple of the disciples were at work one day, bent over their nets, working on them. (Author Tony Campolo says that the disciples seemed to be the worst fishermen in the world – they were always mending their nets!)
At any rate, while they were working, they saw this strange figure up on the road above them, calling to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mk 1:17).
Mark says they stopped everything they were doing, left their father, and went trudging right after Jesus. One would think they might have asked, “Well, who are you?” Or one would at least think they would say, “Fine. But where are you going?”
They asked none of that. They just stumbled after Jesus. Maybe that’s exactly the way it happened. In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, that is the image you get of discipleship. Discipleship is following Jesus on a journey without ever knowing exactly who he is or precisely where he is going.
Isn’t that typical of Jesus? Just about the time we are about to get the point, almost ready to catch up with him, he is on the way somewhere else! .
Jesus is always on the move, bringing his followers along on his great Kingdom Adventure.
If you have been journeying with Jesus very long, you know that it is quite typical to keep making surprising discoveries with Jesus, even when you are on the way to somewhere else.
Then, when you get to the very end of Mark, Mark says that the women came to the tomb on Easter morning. But by the time they get there, they are greeted by a “young man in white” who tells them, “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry. Just missed him. By this time in the morning, he is already all the way out in Galilee! Now go and meet him there!”
I think that is the main reason why this gospel ends the way it does. Mark ends his gospel with the women at the tomb, shocked that Jesus is not there. He is going before them to Galilee. That sums up the entire experience with Jesus. Just when they get there, he has already moved on to somewhere else.
Discipleship is all about discovery and adventure. Discipleship becomes the ultimate road trip one can make.
I think this is Mark’s way of saying that, because of Easter, this journey of faith is not over; in fact, it is never over until God says that it is over.
So if you are thinking about faithful discipleship, don’t think about getting your heads straight on a list of fundamental beliefs. Don’t think about discipleship as memorizing a whole string of Bible verses. Don’t think of discipleship as a spiritual oasis where we can kick back with Jesus. Think about discipleship as a lifelong adventurous journey with Jesus.
This is the story that Jesus is writing for each of us and all of us at the same time. Each of us is busy tagging along behind Jesus, being surprised, or angry or confused by Jesus, trying to figure out what he said at the last stop. Being amazed at the places that he leads us on this adventure.
There are many ways one could describe the last 18 months, it certainly has been challenging, but not dull. We have been stretched emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. We have learned new things about ourselves, others and about God. To see the past 18 months and what lies ahead is an important and helpful perspective to embrace as Christ’s followers.
The Bible as a whole adds many things about how we are to join God in the adventure of faith.
First, the journey with Jesus is not only an adventure, but is also best done with others. We do not follow a set of laws, but we follow a person who we have come to love, who we can learn from, and whose company we enjoy along the way. And we don’t always know where our relationship with Jesus will take us and that is part of the enjoyment of following Jesus.
For example, I did not have the slightest clue how my life would drastically change when I asked my wife to marry me.
I asked my wife to marry me while enjoying Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. I didn’t fully know how wild a ride marriage would be when I choose that particular location to “pop the question.” My wife and I have joked about how prophetic my choice of places has been.
The important aspect of any relationship is that we commit ourselves to be on a journey with them, no matter where that journey leads, even through times of abundance and poverty, times of sickness and health, for better for worse,” etc.
When we respond to Christ’s call to follow Him, we commit ourselves to follow Christ, just as married couples do. It is a much deeper commitment to be sure, but we commit to travel together wherever Christ leads us.
We are reminded that faith is first and foremost a commitment to journey with Jesus and WITH one another. And it is always best done in the company of others as God planned from the beginning.
Secondly, a journey always implies a movement from here to there. Therefore, in characterizing discipleship as an adventure, the Bible declares that faith is a long process of spiritual growth. Whenever we follow Jesus, we are asked to stay on your toes and to be ready for wonderful surprises that expand and deepen our faith.
I don’t know if the disciples who left their nets, their tax collecting booths, or their everyday lives knew for certain where they would end up. Nor do I believe that Abraham and Sarah knew where their journey with God would end up as well.
The author of Hebrews declares
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
They all set out with a promise that God would lead them to where they were supposed to be.
Because our life with God is an adventure, we are called upon to follow wherever Jesus leads us. God may accept us “Just as I am” as the old gospel hymn declares, but Jesus will not ever leave us just as we are unless we choose to do so as an act of disobedience to his call.
Jesus was always on the move and seeks to move us from where we are to some place better.
That is one of the lessons we learn from God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. They responded to God’s call because God was offering them something better than anything they could have imagined left to their own devices.
Think for a moment about where God has led you over the course of your faith journey. Think about what you have learned because at some point in your life, when you choose to leave something behind in order to follow Jesus.
If you had the ability to go back and change your mind about following Jesus, would you?
I don’t think the fishermen or Abram and Sarai would for a moment even think about changing their minds about going on an adventure with God.
Perhaps that is what has kept each of us traveling with Jesus, day after day because we see the growth in our lives and in our relationships. The adventure with Christ has been worth it with all of its ups, downs, twists, and turns.
None of us has a clue as to what the future holds for us individually or as a congregation. I join Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz” in acknowledging “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.”
I do know enough about God and about following Jesus, just as our spiritual forbears knew, that God will lead and get us to the destination God has planned for us.
God will lead to the people we need to love, serve, bless, and witness to.
And God will continue to provide us with travel companions to share the adventure of faith with us, wherever God takes us in the coming year.
To the Father, Son, and Spirit,
Be all glory, honor and praise.