Following closely

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Following Closely
“For what will it profit [a person] to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Any of us who drive cars know that there is a danger to following another car too closely.
And the faster we are going the more dangerous it gets.
The issue of following is really the heart of the gospel message this morning.
The reading starts out pleasantly with an exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they wandered through the villages outside Caesarea Philippi.
They weren’t driving in cars of course they were wandering along, Jesus was leading in every way imaginable, physically, spiritually, emotionally and they were following.
It’s an odd exchange, that starts out as a very genteel discussion about the opinion polls regarding Jesus.
“Who do people say that I am?”
I think if I would have been in that inner circle I would have been wary because Jesus has a way of drawing you into a conversation and then hitting you with something you might be trying not to think about.
But they take the bait and it degenerates very quickly into a heated discussion, with Peter telling Jesus off and Jesus calling Peter, ’Satan’, and then the story ends with an aphorism!
An aphorism’ is a wise saying that encapsulates some insight into life.
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Following Closely
The aphorism here comes from Jesus: “what will it profit [a person] to gain the whole world but forfeit thier life”? x2
What the aphorism makes clear in this case is that following Jesus closely may have some dangerous results.
Following Jesus closely may be literally a matter of life and death. As usual Peter just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that.
And I think the reason Peter can’t grasp that is because he has a mind like a teenager!
He wasn’t literally a teenager when this took place, of course.
He probably would have been around 30, but when I look at Peter’s behavior before the resurrection I often think that in many ways he was something like a teenage boy in a man’s body.
Think about it and think about the teenage boys and girls that you may have raised, are raising or perhaps whom you know.
Peter is presented as passionate, impulsive, short-tempered, and (most pointedly of all) he’s not at all good at thinking through the consequences of his decisions.
That’s the teenage mind in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Passionate, impulsive, short-tempered, and not at all good at thinking through the consequences of one’s decisions.
I’m not trying to hate on teenagers I think they’re great.
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Following Closely
They’re usually filled with enthusiasm and joy of life and everything is brand new and shiny….the world holds limitless possibilities to the teenage mind.
But studies in cognitive development say that the teenage brain is not fully developed in those areas that deal with thinking things through properly.
They tend to live in the moment and the ability to think and play the long game just isn’t there yet.
We know this is true because most of us can think of a thousand examples of this.
If not from our own teenagers but from stories we read in the newspaper or online of stupid things that teenagers get themselves into.
Maybe some of us did some of that when we were teenagers.
Police can tell hundreds of these stories.
Here’s one I heard of a few years ago told to me by a police officer when I was stationed in Gagetown NB and was also Chaplain to the local RCMP.
A teenager of about 19 was being held in the station on serious charges.
He had stolen a car, but that was only the beginning of the problems he’d got himself in to.
When things really started to go wrong was when he got pulled over at a RIDE check…you know where they stop everyone and check to make sure they haven’t been drinking and driving.
He could have just taken his chances with the breath test, and told the police that he didn’t have his license on him if asked but he didn’t.
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Following Closely
He panicked, and as the officer approached his car to check his blood- alcohol level, he put his foot on the accelerator and took off, hitting and injuring the policeman as he did so.
He then got involved in a high-speed chase, eventually smashing the car into a brick wall (thankfully without injuring himself or anybody else) from which point he tried to escape the pursuing police on foot before eventually being tackled to the ground and cuffed.
And so what started out as a simple theft from a guy who was too lazy to call a friend, became compounded with crimes of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, along with criminal damage to both the car and to public property.
The arresting office said to him, “what were you thinking?” And the teen said, “I was thinking ’I gotta get out of here!’”
That’s the teenage mind, I think, and it’s sorta what I see at the heart of what was going on between Jesus and Peter on that day outside of Caesarea Philippi.
Peter was full-on with his faith.
He was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
He had his foot flat down on the accelerator, but he really just hadn’t thought through where that journey was going to take him.
And so Jesus starts to spell it out in terms of the pain that awaits Him in particular.
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Following Closely
And Peter just doesn’t want to hear any of that, because he’s like a teenager with his whole life ahead of him and somehow he’s got it into his head that he’s riding a wave with Jesus that is going to leave him at some very nice destination!
But he is wrong. And so Jesus spells it out – that a comfortable lifestyle isn’t an option for him if he’s going to follow!
“If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it.” (8:34-35)
Jesus tells it as it is, for He wants to make sure that everybody who comes on board has an idea of exactly what they are letting themselves in for!
Following Jesus closely- taking up the cross of self-denial and following Him on the path of sacrifice and suffering will not bring many creature comforts or worldly success, and it will make you enemies, but this is what having faith in Jesus Christ is all about.
I think that most of us here have pretty comfortable lives.
We live well for the most part, we eat well, we have nice vacations and pass times.
But what happens when we’re asked to step outside our comfort zones and follow Jesus a little closer to the edge?
When we’re asked to care more for others, or sacrifice our time and money to help others?
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Following Closely
Do we slam on the brakes like Peter did and try to tell Jesus why we can’t do what he is asking us to do?
Following closely is risky….it’s dangerous and sometimes it’s costly.. but that’s what following Jesus closely is all about.
“For what will it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
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