So, what does it mean to follow Jesus? I hope you saw an image of what following Jesus can look like in last week’s Spotlight on Project Hope in Columbus, MT. And I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for other glimpses of what it means to follow Jesus in this world.
Often, when we’re asked the question “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” we think first about what we do? After all, we’re the ones who are called to follow; therefore, we should be doing the work of following, right?
But actually following Jesus is first and foremost something God does, not us. Following Jesus starts with Jesus himself – his invitation, his call, his promise, his gift. Only in the receiving of God’s gift in Christ do we begin to participate in the following.
This comes clearer to us in the first verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are you,” Jesus says to various groups of people. Think again about what it means to be blessed: to be filled with the life and love of God into the depths of our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits. To be blessed is to receive the vitality of God’s wholeness, abundance, and unconditional love into our being. To be blessed is to be given pure grace.
I invite you to look at those beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 and ponder what Jesus’ blessing means to those he calls to follow him. Here are just a few of Jesus’ blessings:
· “To you who are poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven, God’s own abundant life and love given in me
(Jesus), has entered your life.
· To you who are mourning: the comfort I bring fills you with the peace of God’s own abundant life and
· To you who are meek: the earth that I save will empower you with God’s own abundant life and love.
· To you who hunger for right relationship with God and neighbor (righteousness): that right relationship
is fulfilled through God’s own abundant life and love.
· To you who seek to make peace: you are God’s beloved child, filled with God’s abundant life and love.
· To you who are persecuted as you try to live out your right relationship with God and neighbor: the
kingdom of heaven, God’s own abundant life and love given in me (Jesus) has entered your life.
· To you who are reviled and persecuted and slandered with all kinds of evil falsely simply because you
follow me: rejoice and be glad because you are filled to overflowing with God’s own abundant life and
Following Jesus begins with God’s blessing given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is only through the abundant love and life of Christ received into our lives that it is possible to follow him. Through Jesus we receive forgiveness and are restored to living relationship with God. Through Jesus we are given the compassion to love our neighbors. Through Jesus we receive faith, hope and love. Through Jesus, the Spirit inspires (in-spirits) us with all the strength, support, wisdom and blessing we need to follow Christ into the world -- always in it, never of it.
But you know what? There is another gift we receive when we follow Christ. “Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus proclaims in the last beatitude. This is a promise, not a command. And in it Jesus promises that in following him, even as we move toward the cross, there is joy and gladness. But more about joy in following Christ in next week’s article.
God’s blessings of life and love be upon you always.
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod