In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.
Left Behind. That is what happened to the disciples. They were left behind. In the gospel lesson Jesus prays for them just before he leaves them. And in the other two lessons they are writing about dealing with the after effects of being left behind.
For some of you those two words, "left behind" may be very familiar. Some of you may have read part or all (some 14 books I think now) of the series of novels by Tim LeHay called "Left Behind." This is a series devoted to the rapture and the end times. These books are a fanciful fictitional accounting of Mr. LeHay's beliefs about what will happen during the end times. The problem with these books of fiction and others like them, such as "The DaVinci Code" is that it is very difficult to separate the fact from the fiction as you get caught up in the accounts. It all soon becomes very believable as fact and we end up finding ourselves accepting a faith that comes from very fertile minds of fiction writers.
Followers of the "Left Behind" series forget that there is not much basis in the Bible for this series. They forget that Tim LeHay wrote most of his beliefs as non-fiction in the 1970's. But those books, read from our current time look ludricious at best and so Mr. LeHay has turned to a safer venue, fiction.
However this mixing of fact and fiction, or even worse the Holy Scriptures and fiction can be a dangerous thing. Once the lines are blurred that which is only in a person's own imagination starts to become cold, hard facts for all of us readers. And when we get mixed up in these fanciful fictitious accounts of what is or will be happening in the world we loose touch with what is truly important for us today.
The truth is that Jesus did leave the disciples behind. They were left behind to carry on the work of God in the world, just as we are called to do today. They were left behind with work to do. This is a much different call than that which is expressed in the series. I think they were left behind as pearls for others to find. Just like Jesus.
But pearls have a very inauspicious beginning. They start as an irritating grain of sand. Much like a small pebble in your shoe. It may be very small indeed, but try and explain that to your foot. These grains of sand irritate and bother the oyster so much that eventually it must do something about it and it does. In the end we have a very beautiful thing, much clamored for by many people for its beauty and wonder.
I think when you read the Gospels and the story of Jesus you see this same thing happening. Those around Jesus were often very irritated by him. Certainly the Pharisees and the scribes were. The all found him like a grain of sand in a pearl or a small pebble in our shoe. But I think we can also see that he often irritated his disciples as well in the ways he acted out his call in the world.
I believe that the important issue to remember is that we have also been left behind. We follow in the tradition of the first disciples in being also called to remain behind in the world. What we need to worry about is what we do. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by trivia and fiction in responding to our call to follow Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against fiction and I’m not calling for book burnings. But we need to look at things with a critical mind. I have read “The DaVinci Code” and enjoyed it, but if I take my church history from that source I’m way off the mark.
God calls us to follow Jesus. This call entails a lot of things. Faithfulness in regularly attending worship. Giving to support your church. Reading the Holy Scripture. Praying. Caring for others. Loving your neighbor as yourself. Looking out for the less fortunate and those who cannot protect themselves. Loving the unlovable. Remaining in fellowship with those you disagree with. This is not an easy list or by any means an exhaustive one, just a few of the things that came into my head while I was thinking of what it means to follow Jesus.
And sometimes it is being a grain of sand. Being that irritation that helps usher change in our community. And if we are lucky enough sometimes it means being transformed into a pearl. But following Jesus is always being true to our beliefs and careful about how we form them.
Note 1: Sermons That Work, May 28, 2006 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year B [RCL]
by the Rev. James Liggett