The Crowd mentality can be bad… my first year of college at WSU, I lived on the 11th floor, one floor up above me were lounges, games, vending machines. One day a rumor started flying ~ a vending machine was dispensing food with no money needed. Out of curiosity, I went upstairs…sure enough, there was a long line of people waiting to use the vending machine and people were abuzz at the treasures…It wasn’t my fault, I got in line, and I don’t know how it happened, but I just “coincidentally” brought an empty bag with me. Ten people back in line, I could see each person taking a turn to push one button at a time and fill up their bags with candy bars, peanuts, potato chips… I was amazed at how much food vending machines held. Slowly I made my way to the front, at last it was my turn. I struggled. What would it hurt to push a few buttons? But I knew it wasn’t right. Back and forth. All the food was going to be taken anyway, so why not me. What would you do? I pushed the button. In the days to come, that was the worst bag of candy bars I ever did eat ~ each one was tainted with the taste of guilt.
The Crowd mentality can be good things…I told a negative story about myself, so perhaps I can say something good. Fast forward 30 years, I’m in a crowd as a chaperone at a youth event with 10,000 youth. The speaker is a master at whipping up the crowd, and he asks for a commitment to pray everyday and read the Bible through in a year (I don’t really remember the details of what the commitment was). All around me I cannot see a single person NOT standing, but me. Good stuff, but I wasn’t about to make that commitment and then feel guilty for NOT following through.
I still have a temptation to follow the crowd, to nod in agreement knowing I won’t change my ways, to listen to the words and not have it make a difference. But the older I get the better I do (I think) ~ the point Jesus is making is that you can be more than just one of the crowd. You can shine bright. The one who will stand up and do what is right when the crowd says what will it hurt. The one who will remain faithful to Jesus when the going gets rough. The one that will change your ways when you know your decisions are not right. That’s what this challenge is about.
In the coming months and years I am expecting more and more young people and new people to join our church fellowship because that is our calling. In a month, six months, a year, I want one of you who have been a Christian for at least 50 years to come to me and tell me that you want to share a testimony that you determined to no longer follow the safe way of the crowd. We need your testimony that you took a stand to change your behavior, to step out in faith, to do what you know in your heart God is calling you to do. You can be more than just one of the crowd. Today, if I were in that elevator and everyone else was facing the wrong way, I now have enough confidence that I know I would say something to them and ask they what they are doing. Yesterday I probably would have turned.
You no longer have to be a part of the crowd, nodding at a good message with no intention of changing, hiding behind the person in front of you ~ Jesus is inviting you to move away from the crowd and become his Spiritual family, with all the quirks and oddities and strangeness. When Jesus says family, he is not talking about mom/dad/2.3 kids and a white picket fence. Most people think Jesus was raised by a single mother ~ nobody knows for sure, but the fact that Joseph is never mentioned outside of the Christmas stories at least opens the possibility that he died at some point. There are hints of tension in the family through-out the gospels. The Bible is full of dysfunctional families starting with Adam and Eve ~ they blamed each other, one son tried to murder the other.
George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Then there is that great woman of wisdom, Dena F., who posted a quotation on FB this week: “I sent that ancestry website some information on my family tree. They sent back a packet of seeds and suggested that I just start over.”
One woman said it best (Marsha Norman): “Family is just accident…. they don’t mean to get on your nerves. They don’t even mean to be your family, they just are.”
Family… they just are… that’s the invitation of Jesus. To be accepted as you are…but it’s up to you. It’s an invitation. From CROWD to FAMILY. From anonymous to known. READ Luke 8:19-21. Friday night Sally and I were watching a show on tv when my computer singled a message had come in. Beth Goodwin Forbes, who has never before sent me a personal note, sent me a FB message. She is in Maine staying at her Uncle and Aunts house across the street from the Crouseville Advent Christian Church. That’s pretty cool. As we talked, she told me her Uncle’s mother was a Crouse. Yikes, that means Pastor Bob Goodwin of Nooksack might be related to me depending on if the Crouse is through marriage or blood! But then she informed me of something more meaningful ~ she said her Uncle knew my grandfather, Forest Crouse. Forest died about 1939, when my father was 12 years old. I know so little about the man. It never occurred to me that somebody would still be alive that knew him! So I may have to take a trip to Crouseville, Maine, in the next few years. There is something about family. READ Luke 8:21.
Christ is declaring a new relationship in this passage. He is not denying his earthly relatives, but he is declaring one infinitely deeper, higher, and more permanent, transcending by far any blood relationship….From Crowd to family…from anonymous to known. From nodding your head and following along, good or bad, to getting on the same page with Christ, to obedience to him, to seeking to understand. There is something about family… READ Luke 8:21.
What keeps us from just being part of the crowd? What would it take to give you the confidence to keep facing forward in the elevator when everyone else is turned the wrong way? To NOT push the button for free food from the vending machine?
Jesus says to become obedient. To put into practice the things he said and not merely hear the words. I like the insight of a favorite author, Henri Nowen (I’ll intersperse my own words because this is a long quote). Henri Nowen says the greatest obstacle to being obedient to Christ is self-rejection. The feeling of not being worthy. “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.” People go along with the crowd because of their own insecurity, their own self doubts, and seldom does it help. Peter Guyer in the Nooksack Church spent a career as a jailer, years ago a teenager murdered a person in the Birch Bay community… Pete said that so often when the kids are with the gang they present themselves as tough, manly, confident, but get them by themselves and they are little boys… Henri Nowen: “Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation of self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, ‘Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.’ ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” [End of quote]. In other words, because I lack confidence I follow the crowd, even when the reward (the candy bar) is eaten with a taste of guilt. Is Henri Nouwen right? Is self-rejection a huge obstacle to becoming a member of Jesus family, because you can’t believe the Lord would truly accept you?
But Jesus says, you are my beloved, you are my family, you are the one I love with all the quirks and oddities, obviously Jesus spiritual family tree is the proverbial nut tree because he wants to include me!
You never know what a day will bring forth. Jesus goes to the people ~ his popularity soars ~ the crowds gather. What he says resonates, something intriguing about the man ~ he is more than a good speaker, more than a man of wisdom, more than a good story teller. He goes to the people to shake things up. Do you ever wake expecting to have your world unexpectedly turned upside down? Jesus is talking about Kingdom stuff, a story of a farmer who throws valuable seed with the promise that the confusing will be made clear. He challenges us to shine bright, be open, and move forward. And now he challenges our deepest relationships. Move from the crowd, get away from taking your cues from what everyone else is doing, good or bad, and move to family in which you are personally known by the Lord himself. The choice is yours to listen to Jesus as part of the CROWD, or join the family. Jesus comes to the common people and extends an invitation to be part of his spiritual family. How? No longer follow the crowd, but rather “Hear God’s Word and put it into practice.”
Our great need is acceptance, to move from the crowd to family. The family that just is. Jesus has already accepted you. Jesus is speaking to the crowd with an open invitation! I’ve heard people complain about Christianity that the way to salvation is too narrow. I’d say it in a more positive way, but it is true Jesus is the only way to salvation ~ a personal relationship with him is the requirement, asking him to forgive your sins. Yes, the way is narrow, but guess what: anyone is welcome to walk on the road, anybody is able to accept the invitation to become a member of Jesus’ family. Hear the words of Jesus that you are beloved and he wants you to be a member of his family. Accept yourself to become truly the person God wants for you to become. The invitation is open. You are already accepted. The ball is in your court. Move from being a part of the crowd, to a member of the family. Amen.