|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
September 5, 2010
twelve year old boy was watching a documentary at school on the formation
of the earth's crust. When it ended, the boy looked at his teacher with
shining eyes and said, "Good science gives me goose bumps."
What gives you goose bumps? What are you so passionate about that the subject elicits for you a sense of awe and a desire to delve deeper and know more? For some of you, like that twelve year old boy, maybe it is science or maybe it is gazing upon a well executed math problem. For others, it's cooking or auto mechanics, or art, or music. My brother-in-law, Mick Fambro, is a musician, and after one concert a young man approached him and said, "That was incredible. I play guitar in my high school band and I am so in awe of the sounds you can get out of your instrument. You are a musician's musician!" The young man realized that while the average listener might enjoy Mick's music, it was only the fellow musician who could truly appreciate the depth of his skill. That amateur musician listened to Mick and he got goose bumps.
When we have a passion for something, we stand in awe of those who have developed a level of mastery that we envy and respect. They fuel our imagination and they make us want to go where they have gone, to learn all that they have learned. We want to be able to play a bluegrass riff at lightening speed like Bill Monroe or bake a souffle that is to die for like Julia Child could do. We want to theorize like Stephen Hawkings or turn a double-play like Derek Jeter. It isn't just the subject that gives us goose bumps; it is watching a skilled master of that subject executing it with percision and ease that excites us and tickles our longing. That person brings our passion into the realm of reality -- what we can achieve only in part, they manifest in a perfection of beauty and we yearn to experience the fullness of such command.
I am preaching a series of sermons based on popular reality shows and this week my theme is "The Apprentice". In "The Apprentice", a group of up and coming salespeople, entrepeneurs, and business men and women, are divided into teams which must complete an assigned project. They might be asked to create a product video together or run a lemonade stand on an urban street corner with the win going to the team that sells the most lemonade. At the end of the show, the competitors' performance is evaluated by Donald Trump who throughout the season winnows down the group by firing the weaker candidates until eventually only one man or woman is left standing. Trump awards the sole survivor a job in his massive enterprise, giving the winner not only a six figure salary but more importantly, the chance to work along side of Trump in a sort of apprenticeship. The first season's winner even came back in a later season to to help Trump evaluate the newest candidates: the apprentice joined the master to sit at his right hand.
For a man or a woman climbing the corporate ladder, being in the presence of the tycoon Donald Trump must give them goose bumps. Here is a man who has achieved the pinnacle of their passion, who has learned the secrets of success in their field, and has mastered their art. Though we may enjoy watching the competition between the teams of would-be entrepeneurs, most of us, in fact, would not audition for a slot on this show because the financial world is not our passion. The winner's six figure salary might be enticing but running a corporation isn't. But what if you were given the chance to be selected as an apprentice to a master in some field? At whose feet would you choose to sit? What gives you goose bumps?
Discipleship was at one time thought of as an apprenticeship. Peter and James saw in Jesus a way of living that they wanted for themselves and they knew that it would take them years of listening and learning at Jesus' feet in order to achieve the level of mastery that he offered. Today, however, discipleship has become more of a celebrity worship -- we want to meet Jesus so that he will give us his autograph and we can say we have shaken hands with the Lord but we don't necessarily want to live with him 24 hours a day. Instead of "O Master, let me walk with thee," we sing, "My God is an awesome God," as if Christ is a painting to be admired rather than an artist to emulate.
But Jesus is not the Mona Lisa. Jesus never wanted us to adore him from afar, to hang him in a museum or even on a sanctuary wall where we could gaze in adoration and then leave unchanged. Jesus wanted us to walk with him. Jesus hoped that we would hear in his words something that would excite our passion for embracing a similar way of being and the possibility of like union with God. Listening to the words of Jesus should give us goose bumps. We should leave here every Sunday saying, "Wow, his life is the life I want. I don't want to just shake his hand; I want to be like him and I am going to do whatever I have to do in order to learn from the master so that one day I may sit in that boardroom right beside him. I want to be the Lord's apprentice."
Maybe each of us has a unique passion that the others don't share -- you probably don't all yearn to be a skilled mandolin player and I have no desire to be a football quarterback -- but all of us here do share the deepest human yearning which is to live a life that has meaning. When we come to the end of our days, we want to know that it made a difference that we were here.
When we see starving children and our hearts hurt, we want to ease that hunger. When we see oppression, we are disturbed by it and we want to correct injustice. We want to save the world, or at least we want to know that a small piece of it was made better because we helped make it so.
We want to be heroes to our neighbors, to our families, to the ones we love.
We want others to speak our names with respect and call us people of peace.
We want to love and we want to be loved.
Let's admit it -- we want people to weep at our funeral when we are gone because we made such a difference in their lives!
This is the life that Jesus promises. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls," he tells his disciples. "When you are sitting in the darkness of your loneliness and sorrow, I will not only bring light to you, I will teach you how to be light so that your life, like mine, can chase away the shadows that cling. I will gird upon you my mantle of righteousness so that you can follow my lead in beating back the forces of self-interest that enslave and ensure that even the least among you have a fighting chance. I will show you how sacrificing some parts of yourself can lead you to discover new joys you never imagined possible, and how giving yourself in complete love to others can come back to you a hundredfold. I can't teach you how to master the violin and I can't teach you how to master your golf swing, but I can teach you how to master something infinitely more exciting and lasting -- I can teach you how to live."
Doesn't that give you goosebumps?
Gary Moon in his book Apprenticeship with Jesus, writes of an encounter with a little boy from Honduras who reminded him of the joy of the gospel.
"I met him while on an evangelical mission trip," Moon remembers. "... It was a Sunday afternoon. The group of teenagers I was chaperoning was en route to perform a drama in a nearby bario... The houses were about the size of a small living room. Most were made of homemade brick or cinder block and had dirt floors. A few were piles of wood and tin... The vans stopped and we piled out. [We went to the basketball court that had been chosen as the "stage" for our drama and as we prepared to give our play] I noticed I had picked up a shadow. A little boy stood at my side, hands behind his back, a mirror of my posture. When I changed the positioning of my hands and feet, so did my shadow...
"[The little boy's name was Christian.] Christian stood by my side throughout the drama, [a play depicting the life of Jesus]. He put his arm around my waist; I put my hand on his shoulder. [After the play was over] Christian tugged at my shirt and said something in Spanish I did not understand [so I just nodded and said], 'Si.'
"Christian's eyes began to sparkle. A broad smile spread across his face. Then he took off like an Olympic sprinter, disappearing into the chaos of his poor neighborhood.... I had no idead what I had said 'yes' to. Maybe he had asked if I would take his family to America. Maybe I had promised the hand of my daughter in marriage. One thing was certain. I had surely said 'yes' to something big!"
"The drama troupe was performing again as Christian rounded the corner and raced down the side of the [basketball] court. There was something in his hand... He stopped in front of me and held up a small carton of chocolate milk.... He was giving me a special treat. His special treat. Perhaps his only special treat. There was no carton for him.
"What [an idiot] I had been, " Moon writes. "I assumed Christian's excitement was for something he wanted to receive. I assumed his poverty had made him needy and that he stayed close to me because he wanted something material I could provide. But his excitement was from the joy of giving. Pure Christian joy."
May our discipleship not be a celebrity worship from afar but a continual walk with the Master who promises that what he has to teach us will change our hearts and our lives and bring us abundant joy. Surely, that should give us goose bumps.
1An actual quote from a 12 year old boy, although
the setting has been changed slightly for preachability.