Click video below to view the full service video for Sunday, November 3, 2019, posted on our YouTube Channel
Reflection by Ken Irwin based on Matthew 25: 31-40
The Ridiculous Journey: Following a Nobody from Nowhere
Gracious God, may the words of my mouth, the meditations of all our hearts and the actions of our lives, keep us close to you and on the path that desire for us to follow. Amen.
Over a period of 7 weeks, though October and into November, Rev. Will has been leading a small gathering of Highlands’ folk in a study group rather oddly entitled, The Ridiculous Journey, and subtitled Following a Nobody from Nowhere. Not wanting to be exclusive, we’ve decided to share some of that journey with all of you.
The introduction to the first session begins with these words by the discussion guide writer, Rev. Rich Nelson:
Each of us gets to choose the paths we will travel.
They will, of course, contain unforeseen surprises
of both the welcome and unwelcome sort.
Where shall we go you and I?
Shall we go along together?
How shall we get there?
And how will we know when ‘there’ is now ‘here’?
“Come follow me,” a voice interrupts.
Who is this? A wandering homeless man.
Why should we give up all of this to follow
this nobody from nowhere?
It is a ridiculous journey.
Which, of course, is the only kind there is.
A ridiculous journey. It’s true; it was at the beginning and continues to be so. Who could imagine that a middle-eastern homeless man of two centuries ago could still stir the hearts and souls and imaginations of so many to this day?
As the Gospel stories tell us, Jesus begins his brief and humble ministry in the Galilee, showing up in small, seaside fishing villages encouraging those he met to join him on a journey. Seeing Peter and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea, he calls to them saying, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they put down their nets and follow. Further along the shoreline, the brothers Zebedee, James and John, were mending nets on their father’s boat. Jesus calls to them as well and they too leave nets, boat, father behind and follow. Just like that. The details are few, but their response was immediate; I suspect they may have gone home to change and grab a backpack for the road, to say goodbye to wives, children, parents but the story doesn’t tell us that. Can you imagine the conversations, if there were any, with wives or parents or neighbours…You are doing what? You are going where? You are leaving all of this, all of us, behind? For what…to go on a ridiculous journey with this ragged stranger who looks like vagabond, who hasn’t two coins to rub together, a nobody from nowhere! What are you thinking?
But that’s what they did; and others followed too…Mary of Magdala, Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Zealot, Mary and Martha, Phillip and Nathanial. These and other men and women were willing to lay everything aside, leave behind all that they knew, all those they cared for, to begin a dangerous a journey to who knows where, with someone they had only just met. Most of us couldn’t do that, wouldn’t do that. It would be crazy to do so. We would want to check out his cv, facebook profile, credit rating; want to know his family background, who his friends are. And why wouldn’t we? There are many compelling voices out there, claiming truth, offering blessings and prosperity, beckoning us to follow. Even if we felt intrigued, how could we discern which one to follow, which path to take? What is it about this Jesus that suggests he is the one we should listen to, that his should be the story that speaks most compellingly to us, and makes us want to go on such a ridiculous journey with this starry-eyed dreamer?
Rev. Rich Nelson answers in this way: “Even if we agree to follow Jesus, it doesn’t mean the path will suddenly become clear. It will likely become less clear in the beginning because his ways are not our ways. But the more we travel down the path he has laid before us, the more sense it begins to make. Again, in all honesty, the same can be said of the path to lunacy. The difference, I suppose, is whether love lies at the heart of the path or not. Is this path leading you into greater love for others or less? Greater love for yourself or less? Greater love for God or less?”
Whether love lies at the heart of the path or not.
What does that look like? Well, that brings us to this morning’s scripture passage. Throughout his Gospel, and in all the parables that Jesus taught, Matthew is making a life-altering point…a relationship with God is not about having faith but doing faith. Today’s story, which comes near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, is one of the last opportunities that Jesus has to convince his followers how they should live their lives. Imagining the Great Judgement Day, when all the nations gather before Jesus and his heavenly cohorts, Matthew has Jesus separating the people like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats – commending some (the sheep) to be with God in God’s kingdom, and others (the goats) to…well, we didn’t hear that part of the reading today, but you can imagine where the others end up!
And what is it that separates the sheep and the goats, the heavenly bound and the not-so-heavenly bound? Well, it’s how lives were lived and whether love lay at the centre of the path that was trod. It’s pretty black and white, according to Matthew: feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. But not so simple to live that way in real life, and yet, that is what Jesus calls us to do, to love deeply, to see and care for those we encounter in life, whoever they are, wherever we encounter them. To treat all we meet as if they were Christ. And doing so not to achieve a heavenly reward, but doing so because it is the right thing to do. It’s delightful when the righteous, as Matthew calls them (sheep as we know them), ask in confusion and surprise, “Master, when did we do all these things for you?” They probably hadn’t seen the face of Christ in the poor and hungry, the sick or imprisoned; they had just seen need, and acted upon it, with grace and love and compassion. Jesus simply answered them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
In the wise and beautiful words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “We are not called to by philanthropists or social workers, but brothers and sisters. We are called into relationship, even when that relationship is unlikely, momentary, or sad. We are called to look at each other and see Christ, who promises to be there where our eyes meet, and in that glance teach us something we need to know.” (BBT, The Preaching Life)
The world we live in, the cultural narrative that pervades and entices us, says: what’s important is to get ahead, to be in front, to look after number one; to accumulate wealth so our life will be comfortable and protected; to become a somebody with power and prestige; be a winner who has the most toys in the end.
It really is ridiculous to be on a different path, to take the unconventional road, to view the world and all its brokenness through a different lens – one of compassion and concern and love. Yet, that’s what we are called to do. That’s a lot of what we do here, that many of you do here, in this community and beyond. We do it through support of our local and global connection partners, and by your hands-on work with Saturday lunch, shelter-to-home, refugees, Lookout Shelter, healing hands, Guatemala partners; it is the work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the poor and displaced, visiting shut-ins, engaging youth, sharing a welcome to strangers, seeing those on the edges of a difficult life.
This is not easy stuff. We don’t get it right all the time, or even most of the time. It’s not easy to know the right thing to do, which path to take, which road to follow. Sometimes it does feel like a ridiculous journey we are on; in truth, it is a ridiculous journey following this nobody from nowhere. So, let me leave you with this wonderfully honest and hopeful prayer by Thomas Merton. It’s called the Merton Prayer.
Please pray with me:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton)
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