In talking to our worship team, we were led to this topic of discipleship,
Or, as I call it, "followership."
Our culture values leadership, everyone being his own master,
Individuality is what our culture preaches, but our God teaches us to deny the self, take up a cross, and follow.
But should we follow him?
Well, everybody follows somebody.
Lions fans, Wolverine fans, Tiger fans, pick your animal.
Listeners tune in to radio hosts whose political commentary they find appealing.
Crowds flock to hear the rock and roll crooners,
The stand-up comedians,
Even the celebrity preachers whose voices speak to them.
Everybody follows somebody.
Even those who claim to "march to the beat of their own drummer"
Will, once you talk to them long enough,
Espouse the views of a thinker or an artist or a bumper sticker which they did not create.
Everybody follows somebody because human beings do not and cannot live totally in isolation.
We all of us choose voices to listen to and voices to ignore.
The question is not whether we follow.
The question is who.
The question is, whose voice do we listen to and which voices do we ignore.
In the electronic age there are even more voices to harken or ignore.
Millions of people define their lives as much by their online presence as by the physical world.
And in that online life, you can "like" and "follow" as many people or companies as you want.
What it means to "follow" someone is that occasionally,
Her 150-character tweets will show up in your news feed.
And you can choose to ignore those sound bytes or like them, re-tweet them, pass them on.
This type of following fits in well with modern life,
With its ten second attention span
And idolatry of image.
If it can't be understood instantly, it's not worth knowing.
If it can't be reduced to a sound byte, it's not worth repeating.
And if it involves more commitment than a virtual thumbs-up, most people aren't willing to sign on.
But following Jesus involves more than point-and-click.
It's more than 150-character tweets.
It's not a status update, it's a complete profile rehaul.
Forwarding an email or liking a photo might make you look like a faithful person,
But Christ is interested in more than appearances.
He wants your whole self.
He doesn't want to be one of the myriad things you "like."
As Kyle Idleman succinctly puts it, a disciple is not a fan.
Following Jesus means forsaking other likes, other loves, other distractions
To follow him and him only.
Anything that distracts or detracts our attention from Christ
Is wasting time and draining our energy from our true purpose.
As though I have time on my hands, I found myself recently getting really caught up in something that was draining my energy.
At the risk of ridicule, let me tell you about Hasbro.
Hasbro is brilliant, because they realized that a whole bunch of children of the eighties are now having kids,
And all the things we loved as kids can simply be repackaged for our children.
So, this Easter, my inner five year old was resurrected:
The form it took was My Little Pony.
My Little Pony was a cartoon in the eighties and all I have to hear is the opening five notes of the jingle,
And I'm transported back thirty years: I'm a kid again, without a care in the world.
The My Little Pony brand has come back full force for a new generation,
And there's a TV show, an endless line of trademark products, and a video game.
I downloaded this video game onto my Kindle for Diana to play with.
She would spend hours on it. It became a great reward and distraction,
Something she could do only when Mommy was nursing (which, I had noticed, was a time that she became something of a terror, because she could not command my full attention)
But one day, in a moment of exhausted weakness, I picked up the Kindle to see what all the fuss was about.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was checking every few hours to see whether my House of Hats had produced enough Fancy Hats to give me 1013 bits because once I got up to 47,500 bits
(assuming Diana had not wasted some of my precious bits on more Pink Flags)
I could buy Fluttershy and then if I could only get 90 Gems and three more Elements of Harmony by extracting enough Shards from the Crystal Mine and of course purchase Princess Celestia I would win the game!
I was so close at over 40,000 bits (representing days' worth of productive activity and, I'm ashamed to say, several bucks forked over electronically in the maniacal desire to acquire more "gems")
When the entire game crashed and Diana and I lost everything.
Incensed, I thought of calling Gameloft apps to complain and try to get everything back,
My beautiful virtual Pony world, where everyone was happily working to earn me Bits.
While I was earning plenty of bits for some guy over at Hasbro.
But then I realized I had been given a gift: an opportunity to take a breath and evaluate.
It's amazing how easily we can simply be distracted from serving Christ.
Before you even realize what has zapped away your time and energy,
Before you even notice what new shiny thing has made you forget what's important,
Before you even notice you're listening to some sound byte and ignoring the voice of God.
The electronic world makes it very easy to become distracted by a tweet, by a sound byte
The electronic world even makes it very easy to say things that we might not mean
We become distracted from serving Christ.
And Christ can't be one of the things we "follow."
Christ must be our only Master, our only Leader, our only Lord.
So is Christ worth it?
Is he worth giving your whole self to?
Is he worth being the only one we follow,
When that might mean other lords, other masters, other distractions, have to go?
My brother puts it this way: if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
If we don't put Christ first, if we don't commit to following him in everything,
Before we know it, we will have spent $100 on My Little Pony Game that could have gone to the warming shelter.
If God exists, then God deserves to be taken seriously.
More than just seriously: if God exists, God deserves to be the be-all, end-all, reason for getting up in the morning, last thought before you go to bed at night, the love of your life and the passion of your heart.
Or in the words of Deuteronomy 6:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Or in Deuteronomy 13:4:
"The LORD your God you shall follow,
him alone you shall fear,
his commandments you shall keep,
his voice you shall obey,
him you shall serve,
and to him you shall hold fast."
God calls us to listen for his voice and his voice alone,
And to ignore the other voices, the jingles, the sound bytes, the noise that distracts us and keeps us from Christ's calling to serve, to love, and to follow.
So how do we know which pursuits are following God and which are distractions?
Because I can hear you and I can hear myself already saying, but Pastor Marianne,
My hobbies, my sports teams, my interests, my "likes,"
They help me unwind. They make me less stressed so I am better able to serve God.
I can hear myself saying, that My Little Pony game, it was a good distraction for a tired mom in need of a stress reliever. Quit beating yourself up.
So where do we draw the line?
How do we know which are the distractions?
How do we pick out the voice of God from all the chatter, the jingles, the sound bytes?
Jesus says in John 10, my sheep know my voice.
I call them by name.
A shepherd's voice was familiar to his flock, and a shepherd would give pet names to his sheep.
They were individuals to him, and to them, he meant safety and security, and also sometimes discipline.
He would force them into their sheepfold,
But he would also keep the wolves at bay.
In the same way, Christ sometimes disciplines us, but he also keeps us from what seeks to ultimately hurt us.
In John 10:10 Christ says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
So we know his voice because it is the voice that brings more abundant life to us, but not only to us, but to the world.
If your hobby is bringing you more abundant life and also brings more abundant life to others, perhaps it is Christ's voice calling you to that activity.
Like knitting prayer shawls so that God's children will be wrapped in warm wool and know they are loved,
Or practicing an instrument to praise God in his sanctuary.
But if something causes you to be greedy, or petty, or less kind than you might be ordinarily,
If it's zapping your money in wasteful way,
Or taking your time unduly from what you truly need to be doing,
That catchy five-note jingle,
That's not Christ's voice.
That's the thief.
And if you're not sure whether it's Christ's voice you're following, perhaps you need to spend some time listening to Him,
Reading His Word, praying so that you know what His voice sounds like in your ear.
Perhaps you, perhaps I need to spend some time hearing Jesus,
Because he, and only He, truly calls us by name.
Thieves try to steal and destroy.
When we follow other gods, other lords, other masters,
We will find ourselves depleted, distracted, and depressed.
Winning the My Little Pony game probably isn't that satisfying,
And I'm sure Hasbro and Gameloft have always devised a next level to keep you grasping for gems.
But when we follow Christ,
When we hear His voice speak our name,
We will be led into green pastures, beside still waters, our souls will be restored,
For only He truly knows us, and loves us anyway,
Only He calls us by name.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.