Meg Peery McLaughlin
Things Jesus Never Said: Follow Your Heart
January 9, 2022
Mark 8: 31-36
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Maybe it is Omicron, or the nearly two years we’ve been considering and reconsidering
the safety of such things as travel and singing and church gatherings,
but I’ve recently been dreaming of going on pilgrimage somewhere with you.
Such trips have always proved to deepen my own faith
by broadening my understanding of God’s people and world.
Plus, they are a lot of fun. I think one of the most prolonged episodes of laughter I’ve experienced
came when I was with a bunch of would-be pastors on a rickety bus
driving between the Elmina slave castle to Accra, the capital of Ghana, West Africa.
Laughter seems inappropriate in the face of such lingering history.
And yet life is full of meanness and mirth, all mashed together.
The ride was at least four hours, we were all tired in body and soul, and we were very hot.
I’m not sure how it started, but we started singing. Perhaps, at first, we sang camp songs
that would have made sense. A little seek ye first to process the day.
But somewhere, somehow someone got a song lyric wrong, and from then on,
the bus ride turned into an epic rendition of the most misheard words.
Hold me closer Tony Danza count the headlights on the highway.
Give me the beach boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.
Don’t go round tonight, cause it’s bound to take your life, there’s a bathroom on the right.
I think we’re alone now, my only pair of jeans is a hand-me-down.
We built this city, we built this city on sausage rolls.
If only it was little snatches of melody that we mixed up, that’d be one thing,
but the truth is that we get Jesus’ words wrong too.
When we do, sure it can be funny, but it can also warp the way we understand God.
As we begin a new year,
we’re going to recenter ourselves in things Jesus actually did say.
I am the good shepherd. Love your neighbor. Do not be afraid. Forgive.
And yet, sometimes, despite everything Jesus did say,
we wind up giving him credit for things he didn’t say — things like,
God helps those who help themselves. God needed another angel.
Everything happens for a reason. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.
And for today’s focus: Follow your Heart.
This is translated in all manner of ways:
Go where your heart leads. Listen to your gut (it’s heart adjacent). Let your heart be your guide.
As one scholar reminds us, Jesus was a really faithful Jew,
which meant he knew the Hebrew understanding of the heart,
which is actually quite similar to our modern day understanding.
The heart is an organ in the body, and thus, essential to life.
But when Hebrews spoke of the heart,
they weren’t speaking as cardiologists,
but speaking of the part of us that holds our emotions.
And friends, listen:
Jesus loves our hearts. Not in the Southern “well, bless your heart” way. But really.
Over and over in the gospels, Jesus spoke of our hearts.
He wanted to teach us to pray so that we “would not lose heart.”
He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”
He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
He said “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
But Jesus never said
“Follow your heart.”
Maybe because while Jesus fully loves our hearts,
he also knows our hearts are not fully reliable.
For the truth is, our hearts often lead us astray.
No matter what news outlet you watch, this is not hard to see.
And if we are humble and courageous enough to admit it,
this is not hard to notice within our very selves, is it?
Following our heart doesn’t always lead us in down the right path.
St. Augustine says “the essence of sin is disordered love.”
We love less important things more, and more important things less.
The Apostle Paul says “I do not do the good I want to do,
and the evil I do not want to do, this I keep doing.”
A lot of time what the world lauds as “following your heart”
is a sort of code for “doing whatever it is you really want to do,”
or “doing whatever makes you happy.”
I suppose it is a very American-sounding value. But Jesus was not American,
his kingdom is not of this world.
And for the record, I do believe Jesus wants us to know joy, abundantly.
But he doesn’t say, “follow your heart.”
And I think that’s on purpose.
Instead, Jesus says “Follow me.”
The scripture this morning from Mark is a turning point in the Gospel,
before this moment we heard about Jesus healing people,
teaching in parables, working miracles. So far it has been a non-stop parade of signs and wonders.
But here in chapter 8, Jesus flips the script. He starts talking about suffering.
He starts talking about dying.
Peter, stealing the words right out of our mouths, does not like this news. I mean, who would?
Following a suffering Jesus doesn’t sound all that fun.
Frankly, I’d rather follow my heart than follow something that is going to lead to my own hurt.
But Jesus shuts Peter down.
Because Peter is trying to keep Jesus within the status quo of what a Messiah is to be.
A savior who would one-up everyone else around.
Peter is trying to box Jesus into having only one kind of power.
The power of might instead of the power of love.
And Jesus will have none of that.
Jesus says the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,
Now I want to be very careful here.
Often people will read this text and make assumptions about who God is,
what God requires of Jesus and us.
The danger here is to assume that God needs a bloody Jesus,
and that by extension, God somehow requires suffering from us.
That can go all kinds of wrong ways—so let me be clear.
God does not require us to accept abuse as part of some divine purpose.
A closer read of the Greek is that “it is inevitable” that Jesus will suffer and die.
The message here is that if Jesus does not stop healing,
and does not stop preaching about the kingdom of God,
the leadership will necessarily act against him to preserve control.
If he will not stop, then they will stop at nothing to destroy him…all to protect their power.
For Mark, Jesus’ death is not an innocent sacrifice demanded by an angry God,
but an inescapable result of Jesus’ challenging and transformative ministry for the world.
And still, Jesus says “follow me.”
Follow me into the kind of life
that pushes against any power that would diminish life
follow me into the kind of life
that goes toe to toe with anything that seeks to limit abundance for all people
follow me into the kind of life
that whispers hope into despair, that shines light into darkness,
that shockingly forgives the other, that bears witness to the pain of others,
that welcomes the stranger, that listens before it speaks. . .
And if you live like that,
you will face risk, no doubt
and you will have to turn aside from other paths that would be so much easier to walk.
and you will lose the life you thought you were going to have
but you will also find life abundant,
a life that makes that heart of your sing for joy.
Last Sunday afternoon, we hosted a memorial service for the Rev. Paul Ransford,
in her remarks, his daughter Kristin held up a picture of Jesus, one that hung on Paul’s wall.
It was a picture of Jesus, his head not hung in pain, but thrown back in laughter.
Just because we follow a Jesus who does not shy away from opposition
does not mean we can’t laugh and find deep, deep joy along the way,
for remember, friends, that the meanness of the world and the mirth of the gospel
are all mixed together—
especially when we hitch our lives to the man Paul did,
especially when we say yes to serving in his body, the church,
like our incoming elders and deacons commit to faithful do today
especially when we heed the one who bids us all: Follow Me.
Jesus calls us all
him, her, them
flawed and faltering
ready or not.
Follow me, he says.
And maybe that’s the last difference between following your heart and following Jesus.
When it comes to following your heart,
you have only yourself to consult on what it means.
What it looks like, or where it might lead you.
When it comes to following Jesus,
not only do you have a giant book of instruction,
you have a whole host of disciples sharing the journey with you.
Thanks be to God that we are on this pilgrimage together.
It is a trip!