Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The difference between Jesus and Jedi Mind Trick" - a sermon for the third Sunday of Epiphany

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at the 8 am service at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 26, 2014

And Jesus said, “Follow me.” And immediately they followed him.

Whenever I hear this story, what always jumps into my mind is Jedi mind trick. You remember, that scene in Star Wars where Obi Wan Kenobi is being questioned by the imperial stormtroopers, and he just looks into their eyes and waves his hands and says “These are not the droids you’re looking for” and the stormtroopers do exactly what Obi-wan wants - they follow him – they parrot those lines back to him and let them go on their way.

And when Luke incredulously asks how he did that, Obi Wan smiles and says “the force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”

The scene is at once comic and profound. And it begs the question – why do people follow.?Why did those disciples follow Jesus? Why do we follow Jesus? And, if we are to be Jesus in the world, why should people join and follow us?

Is it just Jedi mind trick? Some mass delusion that has perpetuated for nearly two millennia? Or is it something more?

Following Jesus is an invitation into a life that confounds conventional wisdom. We heard Paul say it this morning in his letter to the Corinthians:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Following Jesus is a path of giving up ourselves. In baptism, we die to an old way of life and turn to a new way of life in Christ – a way of giving up ourselves for the love of God and for the sake of the world God loves so much. A way of being focused on the needs of others more than the needs of ourselves. A way that lets our conviction that we are loved beyond bounds be a launching pad for us to live and love without fear, trusting that God and God’s love will follow us wherever we go.

In a world where insurance is multi-trillion dollar industry, this kind of radical trust, this message about the cross, certainly can seem like foolishness – so much so that we as the Church have too often shrunk back and softened the Gospel message, made it safe and more sensible … and robbed it of the power of God. We have too often become just one more nonprofit asking people to add us to their end of the year giving list, instead of being Jesus, inviting them to drop everything and follow. Taking seriously the words of the baptismal service and inviting one another to “put your whole trust in Christ’s grace and love.”

Last week, we sat in this space and wore nametags that said “Jesus” as a reminder that we are called to be Jesus out in the world. We are Jesus’ eyes and ears, hands and feet. We are Jesus’ voice saying “follow me.” And unless we are, with our lives living the radical and compelling way of the cross, we are giving people no reason to drop their nets and leave their boats and join us on this incredible journey. Unless we are really out there being Jesus, we are depending on our own charisma and Jedi mind trick … and there is a real question as to what we are inviting people into anyway, and what we are doing here ourselves.

A few years ago, Gallup took a poll and asked people to identify a leader and list words that best describe what this person contributes to their life. In essence the question was “Why do we follow?” The four most common words were:


This is how we are wired as human beings. How Jesus got those fishermen to follow him was not Jedi mind trick it was somehow communicating to them that as the living presence of God on earth, he was the living, breathing incarnation of all these things.

That he was trustworthy – that his words and actions would always line up because his words were not just words but indeed he was the Word that existed before time. That he was and that he would help them become people of honesty, integrity and respect.

That he would have compassion on them and would lead them into deep compassion for others, curing every disease and every sickness among the people, that he would love them without end and lead them into being that love for others.

That in him they would find the stability that comes from the certainty of God’s love and presence – that they could leave everything that had given them stability before because they could now always find that in him – lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

And finally, hope – that Jesus could give their lives deep meaning and direction. That this way of the cross, as strange and scary as it seemed, would lead them into lives that were more beautiful and meaningful than they could possibly imagine.


Something about Jesus on that seashore communicated those things so powerfully that Peter and Andrew and James and John – fishermen poor and rich – together left everything and followed him. And the movement of the Christ was born.

We are Jesus eyes and ears, hands and feet. We are Jesus’ voice saying “follow me.” And unless we are, with our lives living the radical and compelling way of the cross, we are giving people no reason to drop their nets and leave their boats and join us on this incredible journey

Later this morning, we are going to baptize Wayne Crum into Christ’s body, the Church and we are going to commission Cathy Johnston as a deacon for this congregation. When we reaffirm our baptismal covenant with Wayne, we are answering once again Jesus’ call to follow me. When we commission Cathy, we are asking her to join us in going out into the world in spreading that call far and wide.

And if we truly are to be Jesus in the world. If we truly are not just going to try to get people to “go to church” but to join this Jesus movement, to be part of this transformative Body of Christ remaking the world, then it’s not about learning Jedi mind trick. It’s about in our lives out there being so compelling that people cannot help but want to follow us as Jesus. It is about being beacons of trust, compassion, stability and hope. It is about living our faith in Jesus out loud so that people will drop what they are doing and join us on the way to the cross, tossing aside concern for self in favor of concern for other, and joining with us and the heavenly chorus praising God for a love that never ends. Amen.

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