Sermon from July 17, 2011

Matthew & Mark:

Following Jesus with Prayerful, Principled, Purposeful Action

Mark 1:14-15; 10:42-45; Matthew 28:18-20

Frantic, unfocused activity person or Paralysis of analysis stuck person?

Years ago, so the story goes, a farmer went out in the morning to do his chores.  First on his mental list was to feed the chickens.  Before he got to the chicken house he noticed a rail had fallen off the fence over by the corral, so he went over to put that back up and secure it.  On his way there he noticed that one of the new calves was about to get its head stuck in the bottom of its little pen enclosure, and he thought, no time like the present, and went over to see about that.  On his way there he looked up and was thinking about the roof of the barn and he noticed a spot that looked like one of the pieces of tin had shifted so he walked a little out into the farm lane for a better view.  He couldn’t tell because he needed a better view like he would get if he climbed up in the hay loft and peered up over the eaves.  So up he climbed.  Well this went on and on for the rest of the day.  He never did make it inside for the noon meal, and when he finally came back into the house after dark that night, his wife asked him, well, how was your day, what did you accomplish?  To which he replied, Oh honey I did all kinds of things today, was busy from sun up till just now, never stopped moving, but come to think of it.  I didn’t accomplish anything.

Ever had one of those days where you felt just like that farmer – busy, busy, busy, all day, never stopped moving, but didn’t accomplish a blooming thing?

More recently another farmer, so the story goes, was about to go out for his day of work and noticed that the there was a strange colored discharge emanating from the irrigation equipment in one of the fields; he hemmed and hawed for about 10 minutes, just standing there about whether he should go check it out closer up, but he thought I could get sick if I do that, should he call the extension service, but he felt like he had been bugging them too much lately and this guy Richard was kind of short with him the other day, or should he call the equipment manufacturer but that would require him figuring out where he had put the service agreement with all the numbers and that could take hours to find in all the mess that was his office, or I don’t know, what should I do this is a pickle, so instead he went back in and googled irrigation discharge to see if he could figure out what to do.  As he was going through every site listed on his search queue he noticed an article warning about a toxic gas that had been emitted from a power plant in the region which could affect the health of both plants and people.  He clicked on a couple of more sites listed there and learned a lot more things he felt like he needed to be worried about and ended up forgetting all about the irrigation equipment until finally the day was shot and his wife came home from work and he was still sitting at the computer and she said, how was your day, what did you get done today?  And he said, oh honey, I’ve worried and scurried and dealt with a lot, but I didn’t accomplish anything.

Ever felt like that farmer, worried and scurried and dealt with a whole lot, but didn’t accomplish a blooming thing?

Well I know that all of you are just paragons of principled, purposeful, prayerful action and you never get bogged down in either unfocused frantic activity on the one hand, or a paralysis-of-analysis kind of lethargy on the other.  But if by temperament you were to lean toward one or the other, which would it tend to be?  Would it be frantic unfocused blather on the one hand, or paralysis of analysis dither on the other?  Are you the type of person who more often needs God to say to you, don’t just stand there or sit there, get off your blessed assurance and do something! Or are you more often the type of person where God needs to say, don’t just do something, stand there, be still and know that I am God?

With those questions in view, let’s look briefly at what Matthew and Mark might teach us about following Jesus.  But first a little background on Matthew and Mark.  These two are part of the greater cast of characters that appear on the stained glass windows in the Sanctuary.  All of these persons help us make us who we are.  They all have withstood the test of time.  They are more than “fifteen minutes of fame” kind of people, and they continue to affect our faith and life to this day.

Matthew and Mark are writers of what we call Gospels.  The gospels are a particular kind of literature unique to Christianity.  They are sort of half biography half theological treatise on the life and importance of Jesus.  There are four of them in the Bible.  Each tells about the same basic content but from a slightly different perspective, with slightly different nuances.  For instance, Mark is the gospel of decisive action.  It’s the ‘don’t just sit there, do something,’ gospel.  Forty-two times the word EUTHUS in Greek or ‘immediately’ appears.  First Jesus did this, then immediately he did that.  It’s the briefest gospel.  It’s like Dragnet, just the facts, Ma’am.  On the other hand Matthew is the gospel of don’t just do something, sit there, reflect, think, consider.  It’s the gospel of intelligent, reflective faith.  The phrase ‘this was to fulfill’ followed by an OT quotation is used at least 10 times by Matthew and not by the other writers.  He is reflecting on how Jesus’ actions and teachings are not just random but are rooted in the greater purposes of God to bring glory to himself and blessing to the world. For instance at the beginning of Jesus public ministry Mark simply says: Jesus came preaching saying the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand repent and believe in the gospel.  Then it says he called James and John to follow him and immediately, bang, they left their nets and followed him.  Whole thing takes 4 verses in chapter 1.  In Matthew it doesn’t even appear until chapter 4 and it takes him 10 verses complete with a detailed explanation from the OT prophet Isaiah about where they were and how this fit into God’s worldwide intention to bring light to those who had previously been far from God’s grace.  Both gospels talk about Jesus’ ethic of servant leadership with Jesus’ sacrificial love itself being both source and sample of our servant leadership.  But while Mark’s gospel just ends with Jesus’ resurrection, Matthew painstakingly records Jesus’ last words in an organized way so we’d know specifically how to carry this ethic out.

Well now I want to ask the question so what?  What do these subtle differences and nuances in Matthew and Mark’s gospels teach me about how to follow Jesus?  What difference should it make in my life?  Well I want to make a dual suggestion for all of us depending on which side of that earlier question we tend to find ourselves residing.  If you tend to be more of the frantic, frenetic type person always busy, always doing something, always active but sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it and whether its all worth it and whether you’re actually accomplishing anything of value – if you’re on that side of the fence: a dual suggestion: First a challenge: over the next year, a little bit at a time, read the entire book of Matthew, take note of how what Jesus does and says comes out of a greater intention of God.  Read slowly, reflectively, a little bit at a time.  Second, I want to invite you to undertake this daily discipline: at the end of the day ask yourself this question.  I call it prayer-think.  Prayerfully ask yourself this question: Review your activities and for each choice, each activity ask, ‘what greater God glorifying, life giving purpose did this particular activity serve?  If you do that over time, you know what you will be learning about following Jesus?  You will learn over time how to figure out what NOT to do and let it go without excessive guilt.  It’s prayerful, purposeful, principled action.  All else you may let go of.  You may find yourself saying no, and doing more for God by doing less.

For those of you, however, who tend to be more the paralysis of analysis people who get stuck and overwhelmed and find yourself pondering and brooding more than you know is good for you – if you’re on that side of the fence: a different dual suggestion: First a challenge: over the next week, as quickly as possible and preferably in one sitting, read the whole book of Mark, and take note of how many times the word immediately appears.  Quickly, don’t hesitate, just read it, just do it.  Second, I want to invite you to take up this daily discipline for as long as you can.  Every morning this week, either as part of your morning devotional or if you don’t do that, make this it.  Simply pray this prayer, ask God to show you what are the one or two immediately’s you have for me today.  Lord Jesus what are the 1 or 2 immediately’s you have for me today to do?  At first you may feel as stuck as ever and no answer may seem to come.  But do that every day for a week, what you will be learning is this: how to figure out what to do and then do it without excessive fear.

Kevin Miller tells about a gift his father once gave him dealing with this kind of thing.  He begins this way, “Dad and I padded through the tall pines, our feet quiet on the carpet of brown pine needles.  We had come to New Hampshire, just the two of us, something that had never happened before.  I knew then that I, a full 11 years old, was becoming a man.  We placed our net, tackle boxes, and rods in the canoe, then quietly slipped it into the Ossipee River.  As Dad paddled from the back, I cast my trustworthy Mepps lure near the lily pads.  Father, son, canoe, water, fish, pines—this was boyhood heaven.  I desperately wanted to show Dad I was worthy of the confidence he had placed in me by inviting me on this trip” [Kevin Miller, editor-at-large of Leadership Journal, (4-5-00)].

Miller then goes on to recall how two nights later he was lying on his bunk at night feeling sick to his stomach.  He knew he needed to get to the bathroom quick but the cabin was cold and dark and he didn’t want to leave his warm bed.  All of a sudden though, you know what happened.  Wretch it went – right over the side of the bed onto the floor.  His dad came running in surveyed the situation, “couldn’t you have gotten to the bathroom, he said.  I’m sorry the boy said, fully expecting the barrage he felt he deserved.  But it didn’t happen.  His dad simply shook his head, walked out of the room, came back in with a bucket of hot sudsy water and he watched him scrub every pine board clean.  When his father later died suddenly, Miller says, that was the picture his dad left him in his mind and heart that he never forgot of this man.  And as Miller continued to grow and reflect in how own faith, it gave him something deeper.  It gave him a picture of his dad, but it also gave him a picture of principled, purposeful, prayerful action in the moment, rooted in another deeper greater image, that of the ruler of the universe, the savior of the world, reaching down to clean up our mess, then saying every day to us, come follow me.

Folks, it’s an image beautifully preserved by both Matthew and Mark.  It’s prayerful, principled, purposeful action.  Like a boy and his dad, will you live with BOTH the reflective, intelligent faith of Matthew AND the decisive action of Mark? By the grace of the One of whom they tell us, you can, and you will.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

July 17, 2011

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