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Not a fan

Sermon Pentecost Proper 8 2 July 2023

Picture it—England, 1963. My brother and I were just in elementary school but we knew who the Beatles were!! And when we came back to the US in 1964, “those guys” we had seen in England were on the Ed Sullivan Show!!

As the years went by, and we got bigger and got our own allowances, a difference emerged between the two of us. We pooled our money to buy every album and every 45 that came out. And we both LOVED the Beatles. But whereas Ken would put the records on and dance and sing along, I was OBSESSED.

I not only bought the lunchbox, I bought the sheet music. And I worked hard every afternoon to play “Nowhere Man” or “Penny Lane” on the piano or on the guitar. I wasn’t a fan like he was. I was a follower.


In the late 60s, along came another band. And as I looked around at the kids on the street where we lived, or later on in my high school classroom, I noticed that some of my friends were disappearing…. Not content to just buy the albums and go to the concerts, my friends were giving up everything to follow the Grateful Dead.

Those people were crazy.

They literally jumped in their cars, and drove off, to follow the Grateful Dead from one city to another and camp out, risking their futures and their health. And not just my friends—young people from all over the country were doing this, to the point that the followers of the Grateful Dead became an itinerant city! With markets and clinics and ….

They were making an entire LIFE of being a fan.

A fan is like my brother—loves the music, will always dance to it. I was a follower—I was invested in it, and sometimes embarrassed myself with my love and devotion. But then…. There was this other thing. There was the Disciple. They were those who had made a LIFE out of following.

Jesus divides his followers from his disciples in the tenth chapter of Matthew: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

And he tells us that he expects us to take up our crosses! Wait—Jesus hasn’t even GONE to the cross yet. How are his disciples supposed to know what that means? Because they’ve already seen other crazy, zealous rebels go to the cross. They just didn’t know that they and Jesus were already on the way to the Cross as well!!

The Disciples that Jesus was talking to knew what it meant—it meant failure. The cross was an instrument of torture and terror, meant to hold the populace in thrall. And to fail as a Jew.

So what was Jesus saying when he said they had to take up their crosses? What does it mean for us in the 21st century?

I think it means foremost that we have to embrace our own failure, and we have to accept our own vulnerability. We have to STOP trying to do it all ourselves. But mostly it means we have to allow HIS power to work through us.

When we embrace our own vulnerability, we can welcome others. Rev. William Barber is an American Disciples of Christ pastor who has spent his life fighting for justice for the poor. He struggles everyday with ankylosing spondylitis, and he’s recently announced that he has had to give up speaking in public because of the intense pain and immobility. But what he says about our vulnerability is a lesson for me and for all of us:

“Your crippleness gives God a place to show God’s strength and it also enables you to be in community, because you cannot do it on your own.”

Those are some powerful words from a man who has worked in community for decades.

Jesus didn’t call one disciple—he called twelve diverse men, and scores of diverse men and women, to lay aside their own strength and allow him to disciple. He pulls us out of our safe spaces, where we are insulated from harm, where we are unchallenged and unreflective, and thrusts us into a world where his power meets the needs of the hurting world.

He molds us and shapes us into people who love, people who follow, and people who pray.

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