Following Jesus: A Life Apart 10/7/12

 Following Jesus: A Life Apart

Do you sometimes feel awkward with friends during election season, friends who might support a different candidate than you do, so you don’t know what to say? Maybe it even feels awkward a church sometimes, or maybe it doesn’t but it should.  How much are your political choices informed by your faith? Or do you think that’s a totally different realm that should not be addressed by the church?  These are some the questions we are going to look at over the next four weeks in a sermon series called Following Jesus.

We will explore 4 ways of Christians being in the world, starting with “A Life Apart”, next week “Living in the World,” the following week “Confronting the World,” and finally “Transforming the World.”  That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.  Listen for the word of God for you today from I Peter 2: 9-10.

I Peter 2:9-10 You, however, are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart” to sing the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful, divine light. Once you were “not a people,” but now you are the people of God; once there was “no mercy for you,” but now you have found mercy.

 Following Jesus: A Life Apart

Oct. 7, 2012

Monks, hermits, and nuns and priests vow to follow Jesus with their whole being by living apart from the world, by living to some extent separated from the world, like my dear buddy Selby has done living in a monastery out in Idaho.  I wrote to him yesterday and asked him to send a picture and a little of his story.  I wish I had it for you today, but I’ll try to have it for you in coming weeks. I have visited monasteries in Greece and 44 a Buddhist zendo in Rochester, NY and 45 kibbutzim in Israel. I am fascinated by people so devoted to their faith that they live differently than everyone around them. Living set apart is an important part of religious life.

People have witnessed to the world by living a life separate from the world since the very beginning of the Christian movement. This life apart has been a witness to their recognition of their devotion to Christ and the giving of their lives fully to the Lordship of Christ. 47 Some have vowed to remain celibate, to live lives of poverty and obedience in order to live fully in line with what God wants of them.

Christians who remove themselves from society may have the view that the culture around us is corrupt and evil to the core to the point that the only way to live free of its corruption is to build high walls so that you can live the way God wants you to live. This removal from the world can be a refusal to take part in any kind of politics or military service. It can include a decision to relate only to people within the religious sect or community as people strive together for right living.

Some religious communities require people to change their names or give up everything they own and practice difficult schedules and work life to live out their devotion to Christ and reinforce their separation from the culture around them. They may eat differently, dress differently, worship differently to establish a purity of religious expression and devotion.

There are many exhortations in the Bible toward the kind of devotion and even separation we’re talking about. We hear the call to be a chosen people, a people set apart, in both the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament readings from this morning.

I don’t expect I’m going to convince people any time soon to begin a St. Luke monastery or to start our own separatist sect.  It’s easy to scoff at folks who separate themselves so severely. They have their share of hypocrisy and suffer even worse sometimes from fanaticism or self-righteousness. Or their condemnation of the culture around them may lead to an unhealthy and rigid division of everything in the world into totally good and totally bad.

            Nonetheless, most of our religious movements were started by people with dedication and unfaltering sense of purpose and zeal for their faith. The sincerity of religious movements like the Amish, Mennonites, monastic and priestly movements have been important in history and provide an incentive or stimulus to religious people who can’t be quite as rigorous in their faith expressions, but still want to find ways to follow Jesus.

Though we may not be able to imagine being as strict or disciplined in the ways we follow Jesus, though we may not want to separate from the culture around us as much, let us this morning accept the challenge from scripture and from these religious models to move to a deeper level of spiritual dedication and a different level of suspicion of the culture around us. I know my friend Selby is in his monastery this morning on World Communion Sunday, separate from and praying for this beautiful, troubled and amazing world.

In coming weeks, we will find that these Christians who set themselves apart provide models for those who want to engage more with the world and yet be faith-full in doing so.

            For today, we symbolize our difference from the world by this special custom we have of eating together this communion meal that unites us with each other – not necessary against the culture around us, but certainly with a reminder of the calling to be servants of the Living God in Christ. It is a ritual that makes us at least a little different, calling us, nudging us to be God’s Easter people, to walk on the path that leads to life.


Communion Hymn: 2176  Make Me a Servant