We lived in Memphis, Tennessee at the time.
Our son Jody was in high school
and when he heard the Grateful Dead were coming to Memphis,
he really, really, really
wanted tickets to that concert.
He and a friend went and stood in line for hours to get their tickets—
But by the time they got to the ticket window,
the concert was sold out.
My husband Tom’s youngest brother Henry
was already living in Los Angeles where he still lives today.
Henry had a high powered, fast-lane position with a big marketing firm
with lots of impressive clients.
Somehow he had a connection
with the rock and roll band The Grateful Dead.
Tom called his brother Henry with a long-shot hope
Henry could get Jody two tickets for the Memphis concert.
And Henry came through.
Our son was thrilled.
Except on the weekend of the concert,
Jody got sick.
The kind of virus that you know you are in no way leaving the house.
And the friend who was supposed to go with him—same virus.
So my husband Tom decided
that WE should go to The Grateful Dead concert.
Now I had listened to Grateful Dead’s music back when I was in college—
Everybody listened to their music in the 1970’s!
I liked their music
but I wasn’t too sure I wanted to go
to this sold out late night concert.
But since Tom really wanted to go, I said yes—
plus that way the tickets would not go to waste---
and we’d have an answer when Henry called and asked,
“So how was the concert?”
Then I realized the concert was on the same night
that theologian and writer Marcus Borg
was to speak at our church.
But, once again, Tom had the perfect solution.
Our church, Calvary Episcopal, was right downtown,
just a few blocks away from the Pyramid,
where the Grateful Dead concert would be held.
Marcus Borg was speaking at 7 pm.
The concert did not begin until 9 pm.
We could hear Marcus Borg and then just walk over to the concert.
What could I say?
Now if you are not familiar with Marcus Borg
he is one of the theologians in a group
known as “the Jesus Seminar.”
One of the activities undertaken by this group of Bible scholars
has been to consider and actively discuss
everything accredited to Jesus in the gospels.
Based on their academic knowledge,
they then vote in one of three ways—
YES, I believe Jesus really did say that –OR--
MAYBE Jesus could have said that –OR--
NO, I don’t think Jesus really said that.
This group of scholars has done a lot more than this
but that is what you always hear in the media.
Anyway, Marcus Borg’s lecture that night was excellent.
His lecture was about what life
was probably like in the time when Jesus lived
and what it was like to follow Jesus at that time.
He talked about the crowds following Jesus.
He pointed out that at a certain point,
there is little doubt that Jesus had become well-known enough--
(Trust me, word of mouth can travel faster than the internet
at times—even today!!)—
at a certain point
there were probably some people following Jesus
just because it had become the thing to do.
Undoubtedly not everyone who traveled with Jesus was a believer
or understood what Jesus was teaching.
We know that even Jesus’ own closest disciples
sometimes did not understand what he was saying.
Jesus comments on this more than once.
In fact, there were probably some people
who were traveling along with the Jesus crowd
who had not even heard Jesus speak. Not ever.
They just—as the saying goes—went along with the crowd.
So in today’s gospel,
it is important to note this first sentence—
“Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus….”
This is the group that Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel.
You have to wonder how large the crowd was—or how small it was—
AFTER he finished speaking.
Because essentially this is what he said:
“You want to be my disciple?
Let me tell you what that means.
You are going to have to learn to hate your family,
to give up all you own, all your possessions,
and to be ready for a brutally ugly death.”
Not exactly the Dale Carnegie how to win friends and influence people
sort of conversation, is it?
Jesus wants people to really think through
what it means to be his follower.
He wants people to be aware of what the consequences might be.
Jesus is not saying that our families do not matter
or that we should ignore our families in the name of God.
Jesus is not saying that possessions are evil—
In Luke’s gospel he says nothing
about selling all we have and giving it to the poor.
He simply points out that sometimes there comes a need
to travel lightly.
Jesus is just realistically saying
being a follower, being fully committed to God,
is a difficult journey and a dangerous journey.
I just finished reading the book BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
by Roxana Saberi.
Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist,
who was forced from her home by four men
and secretly detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009.
To neighbors and family alike
she was there one day and gone the next.
This 31 year old young woman was falsely accused of espionage.
She was accused of being a spy for the CIA.
She was eventually freed--
thanks to the intervention of our government and others
and also her very determined parents--
but those four months living in harsh prison conditions,
knowing that at any moment she could be executed,
changed everything about her life.
Interestingly enough, when she believes she has lost everything—
her family, her friends, her possessions, her vocation--
when she accepts that her fate may be
to spend the rest of her life in prison—or even to lose her life--
she surprisingly finds her faith deepened and strengthened.
She also finds that she is stronger than she ever imagined.
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and he knows
that immense strength is needed for this journey he has undertaken.
This is why he tells the crowd
they need to be very mindful and very cautious
about being a follower of his.
Now back to Marcus Borg and the Grateful Dead.
After Tom and I left the church that night
we began walking towards the concert venue.
The size of the crowds, the number of people, was overwhelming.
I finally understood what it was to be a “groupie.”
These people crowding the sidewalks around the Pyramid
were not just fans of the group The Grateful Dead—
they seemed to be fans of being part of the group itself.
They were groupies of the group of groupies.
There were people camped out all around the Pyramid downtown.
Some were in brightly painted school buses.
A few seemed to be staying in tents.
Some seemed to be just wandering aimlessly about, rather lost.
Some were cooking their supper—yes, over open fires—
right there in downtown Memphis.
Some had laid out blankets on the ground
and were selling beads and tie dye t-shirts and…
well, let’s just say “herbs.”
There was Grateful Dead music booming from boom boxes.
There were people singing and dancing and laughing.
I felt like I was walking through a bustling first century marketplace
After all, we had just left Marcus Borg with his images
of the large crowds following Jesus.
Suddenly I felt like I really understood—
I saw it, I got it.
Some people were following because their hearts called them to follow--
they could do nothing else even if they had wanted to.
Some people were following
because anything was better than staying at home.
Some people were following because they were looking for something,
and maybe, maybe this was it.
Some people were following out of deep and abiding love.
And some people were just along for the ride, along for the song.
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus.
I sometimes wonder who I am in this crowd following Jesus.
Some days I think I can really say I am a follower of Jesus.
Other days, it feels like I am just going along with the crowd.
Can we really be the disciples we are called to be?
Can we understand how much we are loved by God?
Can we let go of all the things that get in the way?
Being a true disciple of Jesus is costly--
it is not just a good-time ride with Uncle John’s band.
But even if we aren’t perfect disciples,
maybe there is still something to being a “groupie” for Jesus.
Maybe we are transformed in some ways
by just showing up over and over and over for worship.
Maybe we are changed by just letting the gospel
wash over us and into us like a well-loved song—
even when we don’t fully understand what is being taught,
even when we aren’t really sure we are a believer
much less a follower.
Maybe one day we wake up in our worldly prison
and surprisingly find that our faith has deepened,
our hearts have been transformed
about how we live our lives changes.
Every Grateful Dead concert closes with the same song.
It is this same song they sing after Compline at Camp Henry:
Lay down, dear children,
Lay down and take your rest.
Won’t you lay your head
upon your Savior’s breast?
I love you so
but Jesus loves you the best.
And I bid you
The concert closes. The worship ends.
The crowds are sent out into the world.
Maybe being a Jesus groupie is just coming to know we are loved.
No matter what.
No matter where.
No matter when.