“Are you following Jesus? I want you to look at yourself and ask that question. Are you a follower? Am I?”
These are the first words of Henri Nouwen’s newly published book, Following Jesus, Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety. (p. 11) In this book that reads like a devotional rather than a textbook, Nouwen speaks words of hope, faith, and spiritual guidance to those who are wandering in life’s busy-ness not following anything and to those who have given up to sit in lostness. “It is into this deeply tired world of ours,” Nouwen proclaims, “that God sends Jesus to speak the voice of love. Jesus says, ‘Follow me. Don’t keep running around. Follow me. Don’t just sit there. Follow me.’” Nouwen adds that this voice of love “can completely reshape our life…to one that is focused and has a point to go to.”
“Are you following Jesus? Am I?” These questions are crucial questions for Christians in this third decade of the 21st century. Are we truly following Jesus or are we wandering around in wildernesses of emptiness, exhausting ourselves in a search for what matters? Are we truly following Jesus or we sitting in apathy, not caring if anything matters?
Of course, in order to answer Nouwen’s questions, we who say we are followers usually find ourselves asking the follow-up question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?
We don’t spend a lot of time exploring together as church what it means to follow Jesus. We don’t seem to want to talk about our faith in Christ at all or what it means for our daily lives. These days we seem to want to focus on and react to politics, social justice issues, the changing church. We talk about our excitement or fears or angers about these things. We talk about our possible answers and fixes to these things.
But we don’t talk much – at least not deliberately, intensely, deeply – about following Jesus and what it looks like in this time and place.
And we should. Not just because it is our primary call as Christians – to follow Christ. But also because for those who own the identity of Christian, it is only in and through our following that we can respond to the socio-political and changing church issues that face us. If we don’t have some sense, some understanding, some feeling of what it looks like, means or feels like to follow Jesus, all of our reactions to the issues of the world will be meaningless. If we don’t have some depth of relationship with the God who is love made incarnate in Jesus whom we follow through power of the Holy Spirit, then we will wander wildly from one human solution to the next. Or end up collapsing in hopeless apathy when none of them succeed according to our expectations.
For finally following Jesus is about relationship – a rich relationship of faith, hope, and love. Faith is a relationship word, not a “you have to think my way about this belief or that issue” word. Faith is first and foremost a deeply trusting and hope-filled relationship with the God who loves us and gives us new life. In this trust and hope, empowered by the Spirit welcomed in, the follower of Jesus commits to this way of new life given by God. And this new way of life that we as followers of Christ are called to commit to in faith starts, ends and is filled with love.
That is why the be-all and end-all of the whole law that guides this life is contained in the Two Great Commandments: “The first is, ‘…the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Jesus, Mark 12:29-31)
But more on the Two Greats (as I call them) next week. But for now I highly recommend Nouwen’s book as an excellent spiritual and relational exploration of what it means for us, as individuals and community, to follow Jesus -- the voice of God’s love.
In that love,
Bishop Laurie Jungling