I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said.
I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Well ... are you religious or atheist?"
"Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?"
"Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"
To which I said, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.
So, who do you follow?
We do not live in a large community, but we are a community of seven churches . . . approximately a church for every one hundred people on the census. Even for a community of our size we have a nice variety of churches from which to choose when it comes time to worship. We’ve got the Baptists, Wesleyans, Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Christians, and those who meet in the backyard of Micah’s house. If you ask anyone from our community, they will tell you that they are associated with some church within the confines of the community. It is kind of funny how we have one God, but thirty-two flavors of that one God . . . and, people pick their favorite flavor . . . and, people defend their favorite flavor and usually—though they would never say it out loud—distain the flavors of other people. Everybody likes their flavor the best.
So it was for those who were in the congregation in Corinth when they called for the help of the Apostle Paul . . . everyone had their favorite flavor and really did not care for the flavors of anyone else. It created a whole lot of animosity within the congregation to the point that there was the threat of violence and the downfall of the congregation. Thus the apostle rides to the rescue and attempt to knock some common sense into the warring factors of the Corinth church.
The problem had to do with, well, flavors . . . some of the people liked the way Apollos shared the gospel . . . some liked the way that Cephas shared the gospel . . . still, some liked the way that Paul shared it . . . while others, stuck to the original version which was Jesus. They all liked their flavors and expected everybody else to like them too. Of course, not everyone likes the same flavor . . . and, no one appreciated being made to do something they don’t want to do. Thus quarrels broke out . . . and, we all know how nasty church fights can get. If they all had their way, they would push the dissenters off the bridge and be done with them. The only problem is there would be no one left.
Paul poses a simple a question: who do you follow? Paul explains that it was not Apollos, Cephas, or even himself that was crucified for them . . . nor were any of them baptized in their names. No, it was Jesus who died on a cross . . . it is in Jesus’s name that they were baptized . . . and, it is the “good news” of Jesus that these individuals were called to share. It was not their “word”, but the “word” of Jesus. The bottom line is that the only person that should be followed is Jesus himself . . . they are to be the followers of Jesus and only Jesus . . . and, on that they should agree.
For a while we have been witnessing a great exodus from the organized church . . . from denominations. The figures do not lie, the church as it has always seemed to be . . . is dying. We have heard that there are more of those who are “spiritual” and spurn organized religion, than there are those who claim to be “religious” and attend many forms of organized religion. Again, the statistics and numbers prove this fact to be true. All of us gathered here this morning can probably name off a list of excuses of why our friends and families do not attend church . . . chiefly it would be that they do not like all the rules and regulations of how churches run themselves . . . or, that the church is too political . . . too divisive. As a pastor, I have heard everything . . . but, like the Apostle Paul, I would say, who do you follow?
Sadly, what I often hear in return is not Jesus. I hear a particular denomination . . . I’m a Catholic . . . I’m a Baptist . . . I’m a Methodist . . . I’m a Christian. Or, I hear a particular minister or ministry . . . Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, Joel Olsteen, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, or even . . . heaven forbid . . . John Keener! I also hear particular theological bents on the answer . . . evangelical, missional, liberal, conservative, and feminine just to name a few that are floating around out there. I hear everything but Jesus! Listen to the way that people respond to that question, and you will know who they are truly following.
It is here that division begins. When the focus is lost . . . when the faithful are no longer using Jesus as the baseline, but others and their understandings of Jesus and the Good News. When the focus is lost on what Jesus asked his followers to do . . . to love God completely and to love one another . . . to go out into the world and serve . . . to be the presence of Jesus in the world. When that is lost, the faithful are no longer following Jesus, they are following something else.
The church today is probably not very far off from what the Apostle Paul was confronted with in Corinth. The church today is pretty splintered and far from being what Jesus imagined it should be . . . at least that is my guess. I think that at some point in the history of the church the faithful wandered off from what Jesus asked of his followers . . . and, because of that, we are witnesses to what we are seeing today . . . the demise of the church as we know it. Some may say that it is dying, but I don’t think it is. I don’t think it is because it has made the faithful stop, pray, and begin to discern who it is really supposed to follow . . . I hear a call to go back to the foundation . . . to go back to Jesus . . . his words and his actions. And, it is slowly happening . . . the church is not dying, it is going through growing pains as it grows towards what Jesus called all of his followers to . . . the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God where all love the Lord completely, and they love one another.
We are called to follow Jesus. Despite the fact that there are seven churches in this community . . . all seven can agree on that foundation piece . . . we are to follow Jesus. It is there that we find our commonality . . . where we find our unity . . . where we are not divided. What we are dealing with is not what Jesus died for . . . the sooner we realize it, the closer we get to the Kingdom. It won’t be easy, but if we are truly the followers of Jesus . . . we know that it can be done. Amen.