Sunday, January 15, 2012

Following Jesus as Though Our Lives Depend On It

A Story for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
I was reminded of this journey as I made my way home from O’Hare Airport in snow and rush hour traffic the other night.   It was a hard drive but didn’t begin to compare to one I took many years ago when I was serving my seminary internship in Wahoo, Nebraska.
I had traveled to Marshalltown, Iowa for a couple of days to visit my sister, Martha. While there an April snowstorm hit.  You know the type --- where the snow is heavy and wet and doesn’t last long but while here wreaks havoc on everything and everyone who dares to venture out in it.  My two day visit turned into three and I was getting anxious to get back.
The sun was shining brightly and the roads looked clear as I peered out her apartment window that morning.  Of course, it was 1987 and we simply didn’t have access then to accurate weather reports and road conditions so I did what I knew to do.  I looked for myself and then I called back to Wahoo and checked there and they said it looked good on that end, too.   So I packed up and headed west on Route 80 and for a while the drive was easy.  It was as I approached the Iowa/Nebraska state line that I wondered at my wisdom for suddenly the roads turned to glare ice.  I will never forget the moment when I had to suddenly brake… and while I kept the car steady and on the road, I looked into my rearview mirror to see a semi- truck bearing down on me.   I remember gripping the wheel so tightly I thought I’d never be able to let go.  I remember he was able to stop… but just barely and in fact, bumped the back of my little car before bringing his rig to a screeching halt.
Of course, if I’d had any sense at all, I would have pulled off at the next exit and found safe shelter for the night.  Perhaps it was just the “invincibility” of youth that had me not thinking clearly and so I kept driving.
It was when I turned off the Interstate and kept driving west on Route 92, that even I had to admit I was in trouble.  By now it was dark and the drifts on either side of the road were growing higher and higher.  Pretty soon the lanes themselves narrowed to the point that the few foolhardy people still on the road were left to squeeze by one another.  It was so tight, in fact, that I can remember the side of my car scraping into the high drifts on my right.  Still I kept going.
Until I reached the small town of Yutan and was brought to a halt by bright orange barriers which told me the road before me was closed. I was less than fifteen miles from home and apparently I could go no further. 
I pulled into the convenience store that was right there.  I wearily walked my way inside and asked to borrow a phone. (Yes, this was long before cell phones…)  The clerk set it on the counter and I called the pastor who was my supervisor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo… just a few miles away now but far out of reach to me.  He suggested I try to call the pastor who served the Lutheran congregation there in that town.  Perhaps I could stay there for the night.  I made the call but when he answered he didn’t seem to remember me and that being the case was none too eager to venture out into the cold to rescue me.  Discouraged, I hung up the phone and looked at the clerk behind the counter who was even then working at closing up.  He wanted to get home early since ‘traffic’ was literally shut down and I was most likely their last customer anyway.  I looked at him and asked for directions around the closed road.
He gave them to me… speaking the language of rural folks who have lived in a place all their lives.  You know what I’m talking about: turn right at the grain elevator, go about a mile and a half and turn left at the old Smith place… you can’t miss it, they have two windmills instead of one, etc. As he spoke I felt myself wanting to weep, knowing I would never find my way.
Before he had finished though I felt a kind hand on my shoulder.  It seemed this older couple had been in a few minutes before to fill their gas tank and he said he thought he recognized me coming in as he was going out.    He and his wife got back into their car and he turned to her and said, “You know, I think that was Janet Hunt.”  They started towards home and then they turned around and came back.  He walked back inside and said, “You’re Janet, aren’t you?”  I looked at him, but in my exhaustion I had no idea of who he was.  He introduced himself and reminded me that we had met a few weeks before when I had been paying a hospital call on a friend of theirs.   And then he said, “Come on.  Follow us. We’ll get you home.”
And so I did.  I climbed back into my car and followed them… never letting their tail-lights out of my sight through those unfamiliar rural roads.  I followed them through twists and turns and drifts higher than my car until they turned off at the edge of town, knowing I could find my way from there.  I followed them as though my life depended upon it. And perhaps it did…
Some things I’m wondering…
  1. What in this week’s story in Mark’s Gospel stays with you?  What bothers you in it?  What gives you hope?  What surprises you most?  Does it bring you comfort? Does it make you uncomfortable?  Why or why not?
  2. In my story, I followed that car as though my life depended on it.  How did the lives of Simon and Andrew, James and John depend on following Jesus?  How about you?
  3. Apparently, I had met my rescuers before --- although I did not remember them then --- and so far as I know I have never encountered those kind people again.  So far as we can tell, the four disciples mentioned today had never met Jesus before.  Why do you think they trusted him enough to follow him?  
  4. My following was towards the familiar and the secure. The following of the disciples would have seemed to be towards the unfamiliar and the insecure.  Again, what do you think compelled them to drop everything and go?
  5. When I ponder stories like this one in Mark I am tempted to say “That was another time. People today can’t just drop everything and go like that.”   Maybe and maybe not.  Even if it didn’t mean abandoning everything you have known, what could following Jesus into the new and unfamiliar mean in your life?  Why might it be especially important for people like you and me to come up against stories like this?  Is it possible that sometimes we get altogether too comfortable, too unwilling to risk, too unable to step out in faith?
  6. What are you called to leave behind as you follow Jesus this week? What might you be called to move toward in your following?


  1. In May of 2011, I graduated from the Northern Illinois Synod's Diakonia program. At the graduation liturgy, Pr. Jeffrey Clements in his homily boldly challenged those of us graduating: "So you have now graduated. Now what? What are you going to do with it?" I had already known for some time that I was being called to do something, i.e., AIM. And I have answered the call to enter the CPE curriculum at Rockford Memorial Hospital, knowing that it, too, is but a step in a journey to serve Christ. All of this would perhaps make perfect sense to others if I were much younger, but at nearly 64 years of age I can honestly say that I am but beginning.

    My first day of "clinicals" (in which I first functioned on my assigned hospital wings as a chaplain) called me to step completely out of my comfort zone and dive headlong into the business of again serving God but in a totally different manner. (I am a retired funeral director.) But, like Simon, Andrew, James and John, I, too, find that I must answer Jesus' call to service, trusting that He will lead me and/or place me where He wants me, not necessarily where I would chose. I guess this is what true faith is all about.

    Bill Lucas, Rockford

  2. #1 - Malena said if Jesus had come up to her today and said, "Follow me," she would have called 911.

    The kids were also amazed at what it must have been like to not have had and a cell phone for a trip like that.

    I think it may be harder for this generation to trust anybody/anything - without some kind of assurance of safety (though they are willing to believe "proof" from wikipedia!)