Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mark 10)
I was remembering these words the other day when a coworker asked about a picture I had in my office. It was a group of guys, looking pretty rough, who had all gone to Montana together. I told some of the stories from that trip, and one thing led to another, and I was telling all kinds of stories about some of the friendships that have meant -- and continue to mean -- so much over the last decade or so.
"How did you ever leave?" my coworker asked.
Good question. There is such security, such comfort, such community, invested in those relationships. Where we have lived is such a good place. When the thought of leaving first came up, I would literally get short of breath whenever I thought about it too long, simply because those friendships are so, so precious.
Jesus didn't say, "These things won't be hard -- see, you'll get more in return." He didn't say, "Just do it anyway and stop whining." No, Jesus said that following him will cost you everything -- and that he recognizes and honors the cost that his followers pay. He doesn't deny the pain, but he rewards the sacrifice.
I've always been struck by the word "lands" in these verses. Deep down it is a great comfort to me that Jesus recognizes how I can get attached to land. Back in my college years, it nearly killed me to leave the farm where I grew up. It's still one of the most precious places to me on this earth. These days I am watching the 2.57 acres just west of Zimmerman where we've lived for eleven years emerging from under deep snow, and I am thinking how precious this patch of land has become. I look at the trees I've planted and the garden we've tilled. I see the patches of black dirt marking the places my daughters used to dig holes, or the site (now only in our memories) where the swing set dominated the backyard. I think of hours spent mowing lawn or trapping gophers. I look at the duck shed / playhouse Teya and I built. It's been a good place, and it will sting to leave it.
Leaving the past behind is always hard. That's why people -- and churches -- love to get stuck in ruts. We do it over and over again. Change is hard, but Jesus calls us to follow. Jesus calls us into change. Jesus calls us to transformation. We don't become what he wants us to be without going through painful, fearful change.
But he rewards the sacrifice.
So how could I leave? Maybe a better question is, how could I not? To stay in spite of God's call would have meant disobedience. To remain here when the door opened to leave, once I was convinced Jesus was leading me, would have meant condemning myself and those around me (including the congregation at Central) to settle for second best. (NOTE: For many people, most of the time, the call to remain is the call of Jesus and requires greater courage than flitting off to find a new context. I totally affirm those who remain faithfully in positions for years or even decades, if that is where Jesus is calling them.) For a decade and more I have stood before the congregation at Central and preached to them that following Jesus is worth the cost, that the sacrifice is a joy even when it hurts, that there's nothing better in this world than following him no matter where he leads.
I am discovering these truths anew at Calvary. I am being stretched and tried in that new context. (Full disclosure: Mostly I am being stretched and tried by my own expectations of myself, rather than by any trials that come from Calvary. They are doing an amazing job of loving me and my family into this new context. They are so welcoming and so affirming that I could easily get spoiled. The challenge comes from inside me, where I recognize the weight of this position and strive to do this job justice. That is enough to stretch me significantly for right now!)
I am also discovering anew that Jesus fulfills this promise -- that leaving one place, one context, one family, one land, for another brings multiple rewards. His word is trustworthy. He is faithful.