Preach // ‘Come Follow Me’ // 20th Jan 2017

This is a sermon given at Hurst College Chapel, for the Senior School service based on Matt 4:18-23

FOLLOWING //

 

Ok we are going to start by making some noise. So I want you to think of one thing that you follow,

maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber, Donald Trump (I hope not)

 

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

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Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us like Jesus did, clearly the fishermen. There are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them.

Like your teachers voices – Study hard and you will do well, get a good career, follow me and I will help you get a good job?

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or magazines and celebs telling us, follow our fitness programme, you too can have abs like these (well actually you wouldn’t want these ones…), you can be uber sexy and attractive if you just do what we say….

Or your friends – hey come to this great party it’s going to be amazing, no adults, vodka, and guess who is going to be there….

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and that will be different for all of us.

 

Story of a young girl //

So, I want to tell you a story, it’s about a young woman, at age 19 she found she could not hack all of those voices calling out to her. She couldn’t take the pressures they put on her – study hard, be good, to be skinny and look amazing, do well, get to uni, have a career…

And so she gave up her uni place, earned a bit of cash working in a local pub and as soon as she could she legged it to the furthest place she could go, the other side of the world, Australia, and instead of listening to all those voices, she decided simply to ignore them all and follow her own desires.

She wanted her own way. And why wouldn’t she, at 19, the, world lay at her feet.

And it was great for a while and she had a lot of fun. No responsibilities, in an amazing country, in the sunshine, bars, surf, surfers… what’s not fun about that?!

But things didn’t quite turn out how she had planned. Very quickly she went from following her own way, to following the pull of others around her, of the bright city lights, and very soon of drugs, of alcohol and sex. And before she knew it, it wasn’t her path she was following, it wasn’t her own desires, her own dreams, but instead she just looked for the next fix, in whatever form that took.

So instead of listening to her own voice, she simply got sucked in by others that were louder and more destructive, did not have her best interests at heart.

 

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Simply, she was just looking for her own voice, or her own identity. I think most of us want something to follow, a path, a label. When we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What we follow reflects who we are, or who we choose to be or how we want to be seen.

So we could ask ourselves, like the fishermen in our passage, where do we throw our nets? What are we fishing for? Because you have so much more choice than those fishermen. The possibilities of what you can do, who you can be in the 21st century, are endless… aren’t they?

 

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But like our young girl so often the voices that call out to us are distorted, skewed, they don’t seek to encourage us, build us up or lead us down the right path.

Here’s an example, do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that ahs picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information”  because they actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise that the voices we listen to, the things we follow, what we might think is the truth isn’t always the truth. Truth becomes relative to each person. Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

For example, because of my job I hang out with a lot of clergy, a lot of people who work for the church, which means sometimes my view on what people think of the church is wrong. So I have to intentionally choose to hang out with people outside the church who remind me what real life is!

For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar. And yet women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are the most important, or the most vulnerable, or the ones telling the most truth. Choose carefully people.

 

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So back to our girl in the story – what was her truth?

Well her truth was that she thought she was a misfit, that no one understood her, that she was the only one like her. She was a creative type, in a largely academic environment. Her parents had good careers and wanted that for her, when she just wanted to have the freedom to paint and to travel and discover and see.

She was seeking her own identity, who she was, but by following all the wrong paths.

But there is a happy ending to her story, because she eventually found one path that allowed her the freedom to just be who she was. To recognise her identity, and yes, it was in following Jesus. In hearing his call to ‘come, follow me’ and doing just that.

In the midst of her brokenness, pain and hurt, in amongst all those voices calling out to her, for one moment his voice was the clearest. And I suppose I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, that the reason I know about this young woman’s story is because it is my story.

From that moment of hearing his voice, my life was turned upside down (in a good way!) and of course I’ve only shared a small part of the story today, but what I can tell you is that following Jesus is better than any drink, any high, or any shag. It is like my whole life has been pointing to this (dog collar)

You know, if at 19 someone had said to me, in the midst of all that I was doing, that you are going to become a Vicar, well I would have laughed, a lot. In fact I still find it pretty bonkers that God would call someone like me to do this.

But you know that’s what he does, Jesus calls us as we are, just like the fishermen on the boat – he didn’t say go sort yourselves out then follow me, no, they followed him at once, as they were, probably filthy and to be honest, stinking of fish!

And hey, 19 year old me would think that the 40something me is very uncool and boring, and what the F happened to me, to become a Vicar! but I actually don’t care because when I heard his call, for the first time in my life I knew that it was right.

 

Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that he gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we follow him.

I think it’s much harder to hear his voice today because there are so many voices calling out ‘come follow me’ but it is there, for each of us if we want to hear it. and it won’t make you instantly perfect or stop you doing the things you enjoy (well some of them maybe!), but it might just take you places you never dreamed you’d go, and it might just help you to find the truth in a world that is full of lies.

So I want to encourage you today to just listen to the voices calling out to you. Think about what truth they are telling you? Think about what you are following. And if you can hear that voice of Jesus, saying ‘come follow me’, why not give it a listen? What have you got to lose? If God could take someone like me, broken, and walking a dangerous path to destruction, and turn my life around, then he is there for anyone….

 

 

 

 

 

Selfies of God…

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My husband tells me that he loves seeing me first thing in the morning, because my curly hair seems to take on a life of it’s own overnight, meaning that when I get up I pretty much look like I’ve stuck my finger in an electric socket. He says because I usually take time with my appearance and how I look, so he is the only one who gets to see me in this crazy unkempt state and he loves it. I, on the other hand, look in the mirror each morning and praise God for the gift of GHDs…

..oo0O0oo…

Self image, what we think of ourselves, how we style ourselves – it’s hard to imagine women 100 years ago worrying about this stuff but I’m sure they did, perhaps just to a lesser degree. Our generation, the technology brigade, means that our innermost fears about wrinkles and spots and crazy curly hair are exacerbated hugely. A while ago I was sat on the beach with my kids as I watched a young girl (I guess aged about 13) take an incessant number of selfies on her phone, all in the same place just shifting her gaze or her pose slightly each time, seeking out the perfect shot.

As a pretty gawky pre-teen I got used to seeing photos in which I looked, well gawky, but that was the era of film and you just got the pictures you got, the excitement being in heading off to Boots to pick them up a week after your holiday. A week? flippin’ heck how we’ve moved on… Of course that didn’t stop me becoming self-conscious, worried about how I looked, what I ate and so on, but as I look at Instagram now and see the selfies of friends teenage daughters it worries me so much. What message are we sending our kids? sending each other?

shutterstock_230975479I’m writing this now because I woke up this morning and perusing my various feeds and timelines was struck by so many themes of ‘the self’. One magazine writer had written an article praising the selfie and had written from a ‘pseudo-feminist’ point of view to make it sound intelligent and wise – ‘girls, we have a responsibility, we are leaving behind a piece of history’ and all that… Frankly it was a load of bull… and made me rather cross. On another feed I saw a comment from someone declaring the oft used Christian phrase ‘less of me, more of you Lord’. Another thing that irks me slightly, you are who God made you, embrace it!

..oo0O0oo…

I write from the point of view of a woman, because well I am a woman, clearly I’ve no idea how men feel about this stuff but I’m sure for some it will be the same insecurities and anxieties. So women… what does the bible tell us about who we are? about who we should be? Is posting endless selfies a biblical crime? are we all becoming self-obsessed and less concerned with the world around us? Is technology the beginning of the end…? (ok perhaps slightly too far with that one). Well, let’s start at the beginning. At creation we read that humans are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27) and take note, that’s male and female. God made us like him… is that something to pick at or to find the perfect angle for? Can’t really imagine Adam and Eve attempting to get a selfie with the apple tree and Adam just checking the positioning of his fig leaf to get the bet shot can we? Or perhaps we could, after all that would assume it was post apple-gate and therefore influenced by the enemy…

Ok so then how about this from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
 you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
 your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body…

I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made? what, me? me, with the crazy hair that I try and straighten out each day? This Psalm says ‘your works are wonderful’ and it’s not just talking about Mount Everest here, it means himself, the human body, so why can’t we declare that about ourselves each day? Look in the mirror and whisper sweetly to your reflection ‘I… am… wonderful….’ ?  no? well perhaps not, we’d all turn into narcissists pretty quickly. Ah but hang on isn’t that what the selfie generation is accused of? being too focussed in on themselves? The Psalmist isn’t admiring himself for the sake of it, he is admiring God within himself. Recognising the wonder of what God has made, and we can all join in that, right? the amazing power of the human body, we often say that when a baby is born – it’s the miracle of life.

So then. Should it be less of me, more of you Lord? I’m not so sure. We were made in the image of God. As Christians we carry God within us, so perhaps it should be ‘more of the me you have made me to be’? Of course we all get swayed by wordly influence and that’s why I get anxious about all those teenage selfies, ‘like for like’, ‘rate me’ and so on,  what kind of message are they giving each other, giving themselves? The reality is simply seeking an acceptance, an approval that yes, even as adults we seek too. I’m not averse to a selfie myself, and I too will carefully pick which one I post, but we should be so careful about accepting this and pretending it is a source of ‘girl power’.

So how about instead of seeking to be the perfect self that the world seeks, or that we seek of ourselves, how about we seek to selfie the God in our lives? Where is the glory of God in who he has made us to be? the beauty, the wonder? Let’s embrace who we are in God and who God is in us, that is definitely something to selfie…

2015-07-09 17.30.31-1

I posted this, this week as a bit of a joke on Twitter, but here it is now as I give glory to God, my hair is totally crazy at times (especially when I’ve been laying in bed for weeks) but it’s how God made it (and yes I did take 4 and chose the best one…)