It’s one of the greatest sentences Luke attributes to Jesus: “Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” Notice, Jesus didn’t say, he might, he may or he’ll try. Jesus said, “he must.”
I love to read how the forbearers of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) stirred up thousands upon thousands of people in the late 18thand early 19thcentury. Some estimate that when Barton Stone held his revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, nearly 30,000 people showed up. That’s 10% of the entire population of Kentucky.[i]Can you even imagine that?
Today, I believe a good question we should ask ourselves is: What in the world were these folks preaching? How did they start a movement that would later become one of the largest denominations in North America?
I believe they simply had the audacity to fully commit themselves to following Jesus at all costs.
Following Jesus was not something that they did casually, haphazardly, timidly, or reservedly. They followed Jesus passionately and fervently, eagerly and urgently. And following Jesus was not something that they did privately. They followed Jesus very publically. And they didn’t care who they offended, or if those with political or ecclesial authority opposed them for it.
They unashamedly imitated Jesus who said: “Oh, King Herod, wants to kill me? Well, you tell that fox that I mustkeep doing the business of the one who sent me.
I must keep liberating people from demonic evil, systemic, cultural and personal.
You tell Herod I must keep bringing people healing and wholeness today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. And you tell them that I must take this mission all the way to Jerusalem.
That’s right, you tell that fox for me that I must do these things. Not that I mightdo these things,not that I am going to try to be on this way, but that I mustbe on this way.”
I believe Barton Stone simply put the word “must” back into a Christianity that had grown apathetic, moderate and mainstream.
He preached that Christians must put God’s word over the words of the culture, the way of Jesus over the way of the world.
We must denounce all man-made creeds and confessions, and we must commit ourselves to following Jesus at all costs.
“Oh, the presbytery thinks we’re going against the doctrinal grains of the church, do they? Oh, the government thinks we are bucking the unjust political systems, do they? Well, you tell those foxes that we mustkeep following Jesus today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Wemustkeep fighting for the inclusion of all at the Lord’s table. We mustkeep preaching against the demonic evils of slavery, white supremacy, and anything else that does not jive with Jesus! You tell those foxes that we mustbe on this way.”
I do not believe we can overemphasize how committed our forbearers were to the gospel even when the gospel was directly opposed culture. At Cane Ridge, during a time when Presbyterians believed only like-minded Presbyterians could receive communion, Presbyterian Barton Stone invited an African-American slave, a Baptist pastor, to not only receive communion, but to actually serve communion. And if you could ask him why he included this man, I believe he would simply say, “As a follower of Christ, I mustinclude him.”
And later, when Stone inherited two slaves, he immediately emancipated them. Trouble was that they were living in Kentucky long before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. So what does Stone do? He tells his family and his two former slaves, “Pack your bags, because we mustmove to Illinois, because our new friends must be free!”
And thousands of people from all over the then expanding United States responded to Stone by saying, “We mustjoin this movement!” And by 1960, the movement they started exploded into a denomination with 1.6 million members.
There are many complex reasons for this decline. Other so-called “mainline” denominations have experienced similar declines. However, this morning, I want to suggest that one of the reasons the church seems to have lost its way is that Christians have removed the word “must” from our vocabulary.
We have lost our passion to follow Jesus at all costs.
We have lost our drive to place the supreme law of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, like our own flesh and blood, like sisters and brothers, over any other law for fear that it might cause some opposition.
We have lost a sense of urgency to be a courageous movement for wholeness that boldly speaks truth to power.
Our faith has become more of something that privately changes our souls instead of something that publically changes the world.
Consequently, our faith intends to mirror the culture instead of transforming the culture. Watered down by peer pressure, greed, and a lust for power, our faith has become mainstream, mainline and moderate.
In fact, when you look up the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Wikipedia, you will discover that we are described as a “mainline denomination in North America.”
Barton Stone would roll over in his grave! For Stone followed a Jesus who was far more upstream than mainstream, more radical than moderate, always swimming against popular currents of culture. He followed a Jesus who must be on a way of selfless, sacrificial, inclusive love, even if it upset folks along that way.
Do you remember the story of twelve-year old Jesus when he did the unthinkable by leaving his parents behind? When his upset parents finally found him in the temple, Jesus asked, “Did you not know that Imustbe in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49)?
After healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, the crowds used all of the peer pressure they could muster to prevent Jesus from leaving them, but he replied, “I mustproclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
Warning the disciples who resisted suffering and persecution, Jesus said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
When he encountered a man who needed to stop stealing from the poor, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
Right before his arrest on the Mount of Olives Jesus describes his death by saying: “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me” (Luke 22:37).
Jesus selflessly and sacrificially travels to Jerusalem, to the city that is known to kill the prophets, not casually, haphazardly, timidly or reservedly. But with passion. With eagerness. With urgency in his steps, conviction in his heart, and the word “must” on his lips: “You tell that fox that I must be on this way.”
Now, tell me, when it comes to your faith, when is the last time you have ever said aloud or silently: “I must!”
“I must share the love and grace of Christ with someone who needs it today!”
“I must find a way to include this one who has been demeaned and dehumanized for being different, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”
I must find a way to forgive this person who has hurt me today, the next day, and the day after.”
“I must feed someone today who is hungry.”
“I must share hope today with someone who is hopeless.”
Truthfully, as a pastor, I don’t hear many folks use the word “must” very often in the church. I hear the word “might.” “I might, if nothing else comes up.” “I might, if everything else goes alright this week.” “I’ll check my calendar, and then I might think about it.”
And I often hear the word “try.” “I’ll try to help out, if I don’t have somewhere else to be.”
And I often hear “maybe.” “Maybe I’ll be able to work a little on that project. Maybe I will be able to give some of my time this week.
And sometimes I hear all three: I might try to be more faithful, maybe.”
But think about what kind of church this would be if we all had the same type of urgency and passion as our Lord. “Can you help with our youth group on Sunday night?” “I musthelp with our youth group!”
“Can you serve on this mission project? “I must serve on it!
Will you follow Jesus at all costs?” “We must!”
The good news is that I believe this urgency and this passion can be as contagious in the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth century.
I believe First Christian Church can bring revival to our city and encourage many others to say with us:
We must join this movement for wholeness in our fragmented world!
We must join this mission to use the gifts God has given us to bless our community!
We must speak up and stand against Islamophobia, racism, and hate in all of its forms—a terrorist attack in New Zealand, bigoted comments from friends and family, a vote from delegates in the United Methodist Church, even ugly Tweets from the White House!
We must take a stand for the Word of God, even if it gets us into some trouble.
We must do what we can to transform this this city, our region and our world with the inclusive love of God, even if it goes against the powers-that-be.
We must follow Jesus by loving our neighbors as ourselves, like our own flesh and blood, like sisters and brothers, even when it is not culturally popular or socially acceptable.
We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us, even if our friends forsake us and our enemies wish to do us harm.
We must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and carry it wherever our Lord leads, even if it means losing our lives.
Let us pray together.
O God, put conviction in our hearts, urgency in our steps and the word “must” on our lips as we serve selflessly and sacrificially all the way to Jerusalem, in the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.