Thoughtfully Following through the Waters

A Guest Post by Kevin Livingston

This is the sixteenth in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge.  This post is a reflection upon a baptismal sermon entitled “Thoughtfully Following through the Waters” (pp. 145-153). The Scriptural text for the sermon was Exodus 14:1-31.

Like jumping feet first into a cold mountain lake in the summer, Rob’s sermon “Thoughtfully Following Through the Waters” is a bracingly refreshing theological reflection on the character of Christian baptism. It was preached on the occasion of the baptism of two women at Good Shepherd Community Church, but it is a call for all believers to remember their baptisms and thoughtfully follow Jesus.

Rob grounds his reflection on “following” through the prism of the Exodus experience, the chief event of Israel’s faith. He focuses on that dreadful moment when God’s people face a seemingly impossible situation – squeezed between the oncoming chariots of Pharaoh’s army bent on their destruction and the shores of the deep blue sea. They stand in need of immediate deliverance. And here Rob makes a critical observation: when Moses calls the people to “stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord which he will do for you this day” (Ex. 14:13), the word used for “salvation” is a form of the Hebrew word yeshua, from which comes the name Jesus.

For Christians, salvation is indeed found in the name of Jesus. But not merely salvation as a one-time event, but as a lifelong spiritual practice of participating in Christ’s death and being raised up with him into new life. Just as the Hebrews died to their old way of life in Egypt to become God’s new people through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, so all those who are incorporated into the body of Christ must engage in this constant process of dying to our old selves and putting on our new selves which is given to us in Christ (Rom. 6:4, Col 2:12).

This dying to self (“mortification” is the classic theological word) is extremely hard work. Nothing dies harder in us than the desire to be in charge. An essential part of dying to ourselves is learning to follow, to be led by someone else. As the resurrected Jesus once said to Peter, someone would lead him where he didn’t want to go, indicating the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:18-19).

Rob says following Jesus has been a perennial challenge for the church. We resist notions of submission and obedience. Too many of us have sought to be leaders, taking charge over people and projects. But as Eugene Peterson reminds us, the true heart of wise and godly leadership is found in learning to be a faithful follower, submitting ourselves and our agendas to the Lord.

“[I]n a culture in which there is an enormous attention to leadership, it is essential that we take a long hard look at what is previous and foundational to leadership, namely, “followership” – following Jesus (Mark 1:17). Followership gets us moving obediently in a way of life that is visible and audible in Jesus, a way of speaking, thinking, imagining, and praying that is congruent with immediate realities of “kingdom” living. Following enters into a way of life that is given its character and shape by the leader. Following involves picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are mostly unsaid. Following means that you can’t separate what the leader is doing and the way she or he is doing it. For those of us who are in positions of leadership – as parents, teachers, pastors, employers, physicians, lawyers, homemakers, students, farmers, writers – our following skills take priority over our leadership skills. Leadership that is not well-grounded in followership – following Jesus – is dangerous to both the church and the world.”1

Rob’s sermon is a salutary reminder of the wisdom of Peterson’s words.

Kevin Livingston serves as Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario.  He is the author of A Missiology of the Road: David Bosch’s Theology of Mission and Evangelism.

  1. Eugene Peterson, “Follow the Leader,” Fuller Focus (Fall 2001): 31.

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