Follow Jesus

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

First, we must meditate on the recent Supreme Court decision that over-turned Roe vs. Wade and to do this meditation by following our Savior Jesus.

Just a quick scroll through social media yesterday and today showed a lot of hateful rhetoric, slogans, and catchphrases that are deliberately hurtful and hateful. There has been cries for rage in the street, violence against the Supreme Court with a recent attempted assassination against a Supreme Court Justice. Christians and Christian beliefs have also been targeted with hateful rhetoric, words like Christo-fascists, women-haters, and Nazi’s have been hurled easily and angrily.

Apart from everything that is loud and hateful, there are well meaning and thoughtful discussions occurring from every corner of this topic. Demonizing or hurling hateful words to anyone does nothing but dehumanize the other person so someone doesn’t feel like they have to hear them out.

Our Christian faith does speak clearly on this topic, but it really isn’t in a category or label, like pro-choice or pro-life, and I think it is helpful to resist such labels because they make it a, us vs. them kind of mentality, which again limits conversation and respect. Instead, it is questions about life and the protection of and value for life itself, no matter whose life it is.

The question is, is what is inside a mother’s womb at and after conception, a human life? Scientifically, the answer to this question far removed from religious thought is, yes. Absolutely, from the point of conception what is in a mother’s womb is a human life. A human being, no matter what size or shape or physical condition is still a human being and a human life.

Sadly, some of the language that is used to describe that human life has been words like a growth, a tumor, simply a part of a woman’s body like an appendix, a fetus, and a cluster of cells. That language is misleading and inaccurate scientifically. At the point of conception, when sperm and egg come together, there is a new and distinct human life created, a human being. That human life lives inside of the womb but is not the mother’s body, it is separate from the mother’s body as a distinct human entity. It is not a growth or a tumor, which would be the human’s own cells reproducing or overproducing in a malignant way. It is not an appendix, which was always part of the biological system of the mother. While the term fetus is an accurate biological term, denoting a stage of development in a biological life form, it does not make that biological life any less human. Just like labels including a senior citizen, a disabled, a quadriplegic, a non-verbal autistic, non-binary, homosexual, a respiratory machine dependent, a fetus, are all labels that might describe what is happening to a human being or where they are in their lives, it does not make them any less of a human being. Finally, the term a cluster of cells describes any individual human life. Each of us right now are a cluster of cells.

Scientifically alone, an individual human life begins at conception.

In our faith, an individual human life begins at conception.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”    Jeremiah 1:5

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.          Psalm 139

Because human life starts at conception, the question that is being asked is when is a human life afforded the basic human right to live? Is there a time when that human life is not afforded the basic human right to life, and in our country to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? In our country this is a civil rights question, no different than the question for any other group of people, African American, LGBTQ, disabled, or women. This group is unborn or biologically dependent, but that is no different than someone who is disabled or homosexual. All human life has a right to basic human rights. In our faith, all human life is sacred, it does not matter if that human life is identified as LGTBQ or biologically dependent, it is still human life, sacred and has the inherent right to life.

What we do with this question, like any other question, is follow Jesus. Our Gospel reading today.

And it came about that when the days were near for him to be taken up, his face was turned to go to Jerusalem, And he sent men before: and they came to a small town of Samaria to make ready for him. But they would not have him there, because he was clearly going to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said, Lord, may we send fire from heaven and put an end to them? But turning round he said sharp words to them. 56And they went to another small town. And when they were on the way, a certain man said to him, I will come after you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have resting-places, but the Son of man has nowhere to put his head. And he said to another, Come after me. But he said, Lord, let me first go and give the last honours to my father. But he said to him, Let the dead take care of their dead; it is for you to go and give news of the kingdom of God. And another man said, I will come with you, Lord, but first let me say a last good-day to those who are at my house. But Jesus said, No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is good enough for the kingdom of God.

As the disciples we’re following Jesus, they came across questions and struggles that they might not otherwise have had if they had not been following Jesus. Following Jesus, meant they were forced to not only confront those questions, but to seek Jesus on how to answer those questions and then to learn to live in alignment with Jesus and Jesus’ answers even when those answers weren’t easy.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus’ disciples are following Jesus into Samaria. For the disciples, Samaria was enemy territory. The Jews and Samaritans were basically family that didn’t get along with each other and said lots of harsh and hateful things to each other. The phrase, Good Samaritan is commonly used today talking about someone that helps someone else. The phrase Good Samaritan comes from a parable Jesus told about a Jewish man that was beat up by robbers and left for dead. In the story, all of the people you would expect to help the man, just walked past, but it was the hated Samaritan that stopped, helped the man, paid for all of his expenses, and took care of him until he was well.

After telling this parable, Jesus is taking his disciples into Samaria, into a place they are uncomfortable, with people they don’t like, so they can learn what it means to follow Jesus in every place and situation.

Here’s what this looks like to follow Jesus in 4 steps.

  1. In faith, follow Jesus where Jesus leads.
  2. In faith, align your heart and mind with Jesus.
  3. In faith, suffer the consequences of following Jesus.
  4. In faith, follow Jesus alone.

In the Bible story, to summarize with these four steps: (1) The disciples in faith followed Jesus to a place that was scary for them and where they didn’t like the people and the people didn’t like them. (2) When these people they didn’t like seemed to reject Jesus and them, they wanted to call down fire from Heaven and obliterate them. Jesus said no. All life is valuable, and you don’t get to blow them up just because you don’t disagree with them. The disciples we’re called to align their hearts and minds with Jesus. (3) Other people came and wanted to follow Jesus, but only if they could do other things first or make sure no one would be mad at them if they did. Jesus clearly said, there are consequences to walking with Jesus, including the hatred of others, financial hardships, to the point of being put out on the street and homeless. (4) Jesus said, follow me, and me alone, because Jesus is where the kingdom of God, life, and salvation exist.

In our lives, right now, is the very same question. We are asked to follow Jesus into the uncomfortable questions concerning all human life. It is a scary place, there are hurtful words all around, and it is often a place we don’t want to go to. It is often so much easier not to look at these hard questions and put them out of our minds than to go into them with Jesus and face these realities. However, the process of following Jesus is the same for us now as His disciples as it was then.

  1. In faith, follow Jesus where Jesus leads.
  2. In faith, align your heart and mind with Jesus.
  3. In faith, suffer the consequences of following Jesus.
  4. In faith, follow Jesus alone.

(1) In faith, we follow Jesus into the scary places because Jesus calls us to follow him, and Jesus doesn’t shy away from the hard questions. This first, assumes we are in faith and are following Jesus. Belief in Jesus takes action on our parts. First, are you following Jesus with your life, are you trying to. Do you believe Jesus is your savior and Lord? If yes, that belief also requires action. I believe Shiloh is my wife. That belief is useless if I’m also not following Shiloh and living as a married man to her. If I say I believe Shiloh is my wife and I’m shacking up with some random woman across the country, what good is my belief? If you believe Jesus is your savior and Lord then that belief requires action, to live as if Jesus is your Savior and Lord and to follow where your Lord leads.

Because, if you’re not following Jesus, who are you following? Politics, angry rhetoric online and hate mobs, or just yourself wandering with no true direction. You do not make a good god and neither do politicians or angry mobs, and none of those can save and redeem a human life. If you’re not following Jesus, you will end up at the end with whoever it is that you did follow. Is that kind of end you really want?

(2) In faith, we align our hearts and minds with Jesus. This is never, easy. On topics, we readily agree with Jesus on, we’re like, “no problem, Jesus!” But on topics we don’t agree with Jesus on, we often turn our backs on Jesus and His Church. Jesus however never turns his back on us. For the disciples that wanted to rain down fire on those they didn’t agree with, Jesus told them no, but Jesus never turned his back on them or deserted them for their feelings and thoughts. Jesus is big enough to handle all of our feelings and questions. All of the hard ones about abortion, the sanctity of life, and all of it. Jesus will never turn his back on you for asking and questioning or struggling. Don’t turn your back on Jesus either. Because ultimately Jesus is the source of all life and calls us to align our hearts and minds with him in faith. Aligning our hearts and minds is a struggle and we often don’t want to give up control, but that is part of following Jesus.

In this question of human life that Jesus is calling us to follow Him into, all life has equal value from conception on and all life is sacred and valued by God the creator. We will struggle with this not only on what it means with the difficult questions on the relationship between a mother’s body and the individual and unique human life living in that body for a little while. But also, on questions about sexuality, gender identity, homosexuality, capital punishment among the many others. The questions are not easy, and the answers are not always easy either. But we follow Jesus and as Christians confess every life has value and has the inherent and God-given right to life and to live. Struggling with these questions is normal because we are sinful human beings living in a sinful broken world, but Jesus never rejects us for struggling.

(3) In faith, as we follow Jesus into this question, we know there will be consequences. Sometimes the consequences are that we give up our own ways of thinking and learn to think how Jesus thinks. That is a hard consequence of following Jesus, letting go of our own pride and ways we want things to be. Sometimes the consequences are the rejection of friends and family and whole communities.

At the District Conference Pastor Jody, Shiloh and I attended this week, there were many presentations on the really good mission work our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Church body is doing here in the states and across the world. One group was Somalian Christians living in the Columbus area. These Christians live in a primarily Muslim Somalian community that is very tight knit. When someone from their community receives Jesus in faith and is baptized, they are ostracized from the community. Work, family, relationships, and friends are suddenly taken away from them. They are considered the lowest of the low and not to be associated with. The Somalian Christians in a video that hid their identity for their safety shared how they had been stoned, beaten, threatened, and fired from jobs just for being Christian. Some talked about how their family members tried to kill them. All they have in this life is Jesus and their Church.

As Christians, there are consequences to following Jesus. We will be hated for our faith. People won’t want to come to our Church, why would they, they don’t want to follow Jesus why would they follow where Jesus’ people worship. There will be financial struggles and you will be rejected. That is why the whole idea of growing a church doesn’t work. When the world already hates Jesus and what Jesus stands for and who stands for Jesus then we can’t believe they will want to sit in our pews and worship Jesus with Jesus! The church exists only to preach and teach Jesus so that some might be saved. The church building and ministry is a tool that we use to accomplish that goal not an end in and of itself. We support our church and attend worship because we love Jesus and follow Jesus and want others to know Jesus as well. Consequences to following Jesus are hard but they are also only temporary. While we experience suffering now, we will not experience suffering eternally.

(4) So, we follow Jesus, and Jesus alone because there is no other God and no other salvation than Jesus. If we turn our backs on Jesus, we then by default are following the gods of this world: sin death and the devil and our sinful selves. If those are the gods, you are following then you will end up where those gods go. If we follow Jesus, we will go where Jesus is, that is eternal life and hope with Him.

Right now, in this conversation about human life, follow Jesus. When you have discussions about human life, love well and align your heart and mind with Jesus. When you face the consequences of following Jesus, trust in Jesus and follow Jesus alone. In all things that you do and say and think and write or share, follow Jesus.

Published by philipmcclelland.org

​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at www.philipmcclelland.org.

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