Many of you know that during my formative years, I spent my summers at our family cottage on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Now even during the relatively warm months of July and August, the surface temperature of Lake Ontario averages about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. As kids, we would watch with great delight as newcomers to the lake would attempt to wade into the water. First, they would stick their toe in the water to test the temperature. Then they would stand with the water up to their shins, at that point questioning whether they were really in the mood to go swimming after all. The next moment of hesitation would come when the water just inched over the top of their bathing suits. And the slow, agonizing process would continue. But those of us who had been swimming in the lake for years knew that the only way to enter into 68-degree water is to run to the end of the dock and jump in! When it comes to swimming in Lake Ontario, the only real option to go all in!
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says the crowd that his following him that when it comes to the life of discipleship, it’s going to cost you everything; it’s going to turn your life upside-down. In other words, when it comes to following Jesus, the only real option is to go all in! Now we have to acknowledge that the language and the imagery that Jesus uses sounds a bit harsh. Jesus is telling these would-be followers they must hate their families, sell all their possessions, and be willing to carry around an instrument of execution. These are not the words of Jesus that we put in our greeting cards or on the sign in the front of the church. Some have argued that Jesus is simply using hyperbole to drive home the point that the among all the competing loyalties in our lives, our commitment to Jesus should rank number one. And that’s true! Others have argued that Jesus is actually calling for his disciples to live lives that are characterized by radical sacrifice and outrageous faith. And that’s true! Still others have argued that Jesus is pointing forward to his own death & self-offering as the model for what authentic discipleship should look like. And that’s true!
But, at the end of the day, however we ultimately interpret the meaning of Jesus’ words, the fundamental question he is posing to the crowd is simple, “Are you willing to go all in?” Are you willing to give up everything you know for everything you don’t know? Are you willing to let go of what is comfortable, predictable, and within your control? Are you willing to run to the end of the dock and jump in before you even test out the water? Are you willing to go all in?
If you think about it, this is the question that God has been asking since the very beginning! Look at the lives of people like Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. Deborah, Ruth, Esther, and Mary. Peter, James, John, and Paul. These were ordinary men and woman who were called by God to do extraordinary things! They didn’t just stick their toe in the water. They didn’t slowly wade into the water up to the knees. They ran to the end of the dock and jumped in! They gave their lives completely for the mission and dream of God.
At some point in our relationship with God, we come face to face with the same question – Are we willing to go all in? Several years ago, pastor and author Kyle Idleman published a book entitled Not a Fan. In the book, Idleman points out that during the earthly ministry of Jesus there were massive crowds that traveled with Jesus. They witnessed his miracles. They listened to his preaching. They monitored his every move. But most of the people in those massive crowds were simply part of the Jesus fan club! They were enthusiastic admirers! They were cheering from the sidelines! They were caught up in the passion of the moment!
But when Jesus began to define the relationship, when Jesus began to lay out what it means to be a disciple, a completely committed follower, many of his fans walked away. They said, “Whoa, Jesus, that’s way more than we bargained for!” “You’re asking too much, Jesus!” “We didn’t think that all of this was really going to change our lives!” And so, they left.
But there were those who decided to stay. There were those who decided to “go all in.” There were those who ran to the end of the dock and jump in. There were those who became completely committed followers of Jesus. And they were the ones who went out and changed the world!
And, my friends, that decision to “go all in” for Jesus happens when we come to the realization that Jesus went all in for us! Jesus didn’t just stick his toe in the waters of humanity. He didn’t just slowly wade into the messiness and brokenness of our world. Jesus ran to the end of the dock and jumped into the human condition. He immersed himself in the fullness of our humanity in order to heal and redeem the fullness of our humanity. He took upon himself our hurt, our pain, and our shame. He took upon himself our hopes and our dreams. He took upon himself the full force of death itself in order that we might have life. My friends, the promise of the incarnation is the promise that for us and for our salvation, God was willing to go all in! How can we do any less?
I want to close this morning with the story of Larry, Tracy, and Steve. Larry and Tracy are members of Good Shepherd. A few years ago, they forged a friendship with a co-worker named Steve. And as they cultivated that friendship, doors began to open for Larry and Tracy to share about their faith and their journey as followers of Jesus. They eventually invited Steve to church and God began to move in his life in powerful ways. Just yesterday, I was sent an email from Steve, in which he shares his testimony and would like to read just a few lines from that email.
This is addressed to Larry and Tracy –
One night we talked in depth and both of you laid it all out for me. This is something you did. You were just inviting me in. No judgement. I repeat no judgement. I have never had that before with church and religion. It was something I wasn’t used to and didn’t really know how to accept that. But I trusted you both explicitly. I needed to have faith. So, I jumped in and started my journey.
Shortly after that life-changing moment, Steve and his family moved back to North Carolina. But as a result of “jumping in,” Steve’s life began to change. His family became more connected to church, his mom began attending church, his son was baptized, and today as we sit here this morning Steve is being confirmed at his church in Concord, North Carolina. And he is being confirmed not as a fan, but as committed follower of Jesus.
My friends, the world doesn’t need any more toe-dipping Christians. The world doesn’t need any more Christians who simply want to wade into superficial waters of institutional religion. What the world needs is Christians who are willing to go all in. Christians who are not just fans of Jesus, but who are completely committed followers. And so, the question is simple, “Are you and I ready to run to the end of the dock, and jump in?”