Serve & Follow
Posted on April 2nd, 2017 by Ray Thomson
Serve and Follow
"Serve and Follow" An atheist was enjoying a quiet day’s fishing in Loch Ness when all of a sudden he was attacked by the monster. In one easy flip, Nessie tossed both him and the boat high up into the air. Then the beast opened its mouth to swallow them both. As the man flew head over heals, he yelled out, “Oh God, help me!” Immediately the scene was frozen in time, and as the atheist hung suspended in mid-air, a booming voice came down from the clouds, “I thought you didn’t believe in me!” “Come on, God, gi’es a break!” pleaded the man. Two minutes ago, I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster either!” Have you ever had something terrible happen to you and then looked back on it later and realised that it wasn’t the terrible disaster you thought it was at the time, but something good actually came out of it; a good that would never have come to fruition if you had not had to deal with the seeming-disaster. Of course this is not always the case for us. There are many tragedies which knock us for six, and we find it almost impossible to make any sort of proper recovery to the way we were before the disaster struck. These tragedies stay with us and remain painful for the rest of our lives. However it can happen that when something crucial is lost we often find something new to occupy us and lift us out of our despair by taking our life in a new direction we had never thought possible before. When this happens, we can find that we grow and become a very different new person because of the great change we go through because of the great loss in our life. This is the sort of change that Jesus was thinking of when he gave the image of the grain of wheat being put in the ground and seeming to lose its life before rising to be a healthy and fruitful plant. 1. The short text from John’s Gospel is rather confusing. There were some Greek citizens in Jerusalem who were Jews. They had come over from Greece to celebrate the Passover. While they were in Jerusalem, they had heard of Jesus and they were exited by the possibility of meeting him and hearing what he had to say. He must have sounded a rather strange kind of religious teacher to them, when they heard of his exploits, arguing with the Pharisees and causing a scene in the Temple precincts, in addition to the astonishing healings and new teaching he was bringing to the people. So they went to Philip, who in turn consulted Andrew. Andrew and Philip then asked Jesus if the men could meet him. But instead of giving a straight answer, Jesus said that the hour had come. Even his own disciples must have wondered what he was on about. They didn’t understand the significance of the parable of the seed. 2. Yet the passage contains one of the most difficult things we have to understand. Christ’s own crucifixion and resurrection were being compared to the dying then coming back to life of the seed that is put into the ground. To know that you are only a matter of weeks away from a cruel and painful death must be one of the blackest situations anyone will ever have to face. Yet Jesus faced it with courage because he saw it as part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. He recognised it as part of God’s plan for our salvation. He suffered great loss, as we witness in his moving prayer in Gethsemane, yet he was still able to say he wanted God’s will to take precedence over his own. 3. The image of the seed, which must shed its coat – to decay-- before it can rise to a new and better life, is a good example for us to contemplate; because it raises questions we must answer if we are to successfully rise from our present state into a life that is given over totally to God. We must ask ourselves what we have wrapped around ourselves so tightly that neither can we let it go nor can God or anyone else break their way through our “protective wrapper?” What in our life needs to soften and fall away so that we can be released from its clutches so new roots can grow and new areas of service can be achieved? Just what are we stuck in that we can’t get out and leave behind so we can be fruitful for the cause of Jesus Christ and his church? Jesus tells Andrew and Philip that those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will have new life and keep it for eternity. Of course, that’s not the sort of thing we like to hear. What is wrong with enjoying life and getting the most out of it? Is it wrong to be happy and live life to the full? But Jesus is not suggesting that we should all be miserable, hating our very existence. His teaching is all about who or what comes first in our life. When we love all the enjoyment and material possessions we have in our lives more than we try to live out our faith by serving God, then we lose out on the life we could have with him. When we are able to examine ourselves closely and consider what it is that separates us from God, then we will be well on the way to finding repentance, dying to the old self, and experiencing the new life which follows. Often when we act selflessly and do something for someone else’s benefit rather than from selfish motives, we find that we receive an unexpected blessing. That is a way in which we can die to self and take on the new life that Jesus Christ offers us as our layer of self protection withers, leaving us free to experience the new growth that awaits us. Following Jesus Christ means walking with him all the way to the foot of the cross. It means standing there and considering whether we are always working harder at saving and increasing the prosperity of our own life than at following Jesus Christ and promoting his cause in the world that we inhabit. Following Jesus Christ is not a glamorous role to take on. It means assuming the role of the servant, not that of the master. It means following Jesus into the places we would rather not go: it means giving up our comfort to go where the real need is, to places where we feel very uncomfortable indeed. Yet as strange as that sounds, it is the very paradox of the gospel. It is where we will find sorrow and pain, but if we persevere we might just find that our tears and our frustrations give way to a deeper joy and fulfilment as we rise from our gloom into the new life that Jesus Christ has promised us. Let us be willing to cast off the old that we may, in God’s good time, be made ready to take on the new. Amen.