31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 21, 2024
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Once upon a time, in a land not so very different from our own, a person walked along a country road. In another land and time, a different person walked along a bustling city street. Different lands, different times, different people, and yet, they were both doing the same exact thing. As they walked along, they were both singing, “I have decided to follow Jesus” in bold, confident voices .
They were enthusiastic; they were passionate; they were unstoppable – until they were both stopped by someone who asked “why?” A simple question. A powerful word. Why?
Why have you decided to follow Jesus?
It’s a good question – no matter whether you are the one asking or the one being asked. It’s a good question – ‘why have you decided to follow Jesus?’
Years ago, I might have answered, “I dunno. Because I was raised as a Christian?” Over the years though, as I have encountered people of other faiths, people who are curious about faith, and people who have pushed faith to the side, consciously or unconsciously, over the years, I have come to better articulate why I have decided to follow Jesus, why it makes a difference in my life that I am a Christian.
I still don’t have a polished 90 second elevator speech. My reasons are more the feelings I gain from being close to God. The peace it brings me to know that it’s not all on my shoulders, that I am not personally responsible for saving the world, Jesus is. The hope I have that when we suffer a loss, when we are grieving deeply, that God has gathered us and our loved one close and that we will see them again. The comfort, the warmth I feel when I think about how much God loves me, unconditionally loves me, just as I am, and that nothing can separate me from God’s love. The calm I feel when I ask God to guide me and feel certain which choice to make.
I know why I choose to follow Jesus – because it brings me closer to God.
Recently, I discovered that Thomas Chisholm wrote words that sum my ‘why’ up nicely. In the third verse of the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, Thomas writes:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! (Chisholm, Chalice Hymnal, 1923, renewed 1951, Hope Publishing Co.)
Even better than words, this song speaks to my ‘why’. God’s presence in my life guides me through this uncertain and sometimes chaotic life and that not only brings me cheer, it brings me comfort. Being close to God blesses me with a peace that endureth. God gives me strength for today and hope, bright hope, for tomorrow. And when I feel like I have stumbled, hurt someone, taken the wrong path, I am thankful that I can leave behind the weight of guilt and sin and start fresh because God forgives me and loves me.
Following Jesus brings me closer to God and being close to God brings more than ten thousand blessings into my life.
Why I follow Jesus though isn’t just about me and the blessings it brings into my life. Following Jesus is also about others. As the gospel of Luke says, when we follow Jesus’ Way, when we share his love, we “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”. As our feet are guided “into the way of peace”, we create more peace in our world. (Luke 1:79) I’ve decided to follow Jesus not only because it blesses me, also because it blesses me in a way that helps me be a blessing to others and the world.
The season of Epiphany, which follows the twelve days of Christmas, is a time for the Church to show, to make manifest the good news of God’s love. Epiphany is the season the Church is called to shine with the light of Jesus, a time to go out and share God’s gifts of love, inviting others to walk this Way of Jesus Christ.
However, the light of Jesus does not burn very brightly if we don’t know why it matters if we go out and share. It barely shines at all if we don’t know why we follow Jesus. ‘I dunno. I’ve just always been a Christian’ is not very encouraging or inviting. Why would people want a relationship with God if we don’t even know why we want a relationship with God? Frankly, why would we even want to continue to follow Jesus if we don’t know why?
A vibrant community of faith; a vibrant person of faith knows why they have decided to follow Jesus. A vibrant community of faith, a vibrant person of faith has purpose and direction in their walk with Jesus.
And that purpose could be because when they feel worn out, dried out, God’s spirit refreshes them, like living water for their heart and soul. Your why could be the good news that we are never alone. God is always with us; this community of faith is here to pray with you, support you, listen to you, rejoice with you. Or your why could be that God always provides, that God always takes care of us.
Our whys can come from scripture, that God is our strength and refuge, a place of sanity in a crazy world. Or as we heard earlier from the gospel of Luke: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’” (Luke 1:79) That’s a pretty good purpose, to have feet guided in the way of peace and to give light to all who sit in darkness, especially those who are grieving or on a difficult medical journey and feel like they are sitting in the shadow of death.
Knowing what we gain from being close to God and following Jesus keeps us walking this journey of faith when we might be tempted to step off the path or drift away. Knowing why we desire to be close to God and follow Jesus gives purpose to our days.
We are people of the Way and not just the why though. We are people called to action. We are called to walk, to follow, to live out the love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. We are called to not only fill our lives with peace, but to also bring peace to others. We are called to shine and give light to those who sit in darkness.
If our ‘why’ gives energy, purpose, and direction to our faith lives, it is the how, the living out of our Christian faith, that actually draws us closer to God and makes a difference in our world. It is prayer, worship, community, contemplation, service, generosity, justice, and reaching out to others that draws us closer to the heart of God and enables us to bless others.
In the coming weeks, we will journey through the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent, a time to shine and a time to thoughtfully reflect. Both seasons are an invitation to grow closer to God. Both seasons are an opportunity to more clearly express why we follow Jesus and to more faithfully walk his Way, loving both God and our neighbors.
Both Epiphany and Lent are the perfect time to boldly and confidently declare to all “I have decided to follow Jesus”, bringing yet more light, more peace, more joy, more comfort, more harmony and love to our lives and the world.