Come and Follow
Text: Matthew 4: 12 – 23
Come and Follow
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!
These are words from the first sermon Jesus delivers. If these sound familiar, you might consider John the Baptist preached these very same words. Of course with Jesus on the scene these words have a much more literal meaning than they did when John preached them.
We should note that John has been arrested by Herod. Jesus is picking up where his cousin left off. Of course there are some differences, some things have changed. No sooner has John been arrested and Jesus decided to move. He didn’t stick around, instead he moves approximately 50 km north. Now to me and you that distance means very little. We can travel 50 km in easily. Back then it was a journey that would take several days. Moving that far was not a common occurrence.
Jesus is now very far away from Jerusalem, very far away from the center of things. It seems strange, why run from the center of religious life? If Jesus is the Messiah, should he not move to Jerusalem and begin his ministry? Of course there are some very practical considerations, it is not time for Jesus to be arrested. He needs to establish his own ministry. So he moves to Capernaum, fulfilling words that Isaiah wrote.
Jesus arrives in Capernaum, an out of the way backwater town. It was a small fishing village. Here he begins his ministry and in order to do so he calls his disciples. In our passage Jesus calls four disciples, two sets of brothers. Simon, who is called Peter and his brother Andrew and James and John. These four young men were fishermen.
Their call is simple and straightforward. To Peter and Andrews Jesus says “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” Jesus says follow me and they do. To James and John, we don’t know the exact words but Jesus calls to them and they respond by following.
For all four of the disciples they are engaged in their profession. Jesus didn’t strike up a conversation with them at the ancient worlds equivalent of Tim Hortons. They were in their boats, fishing, engaged in their profession seeking to make a living for themselves and their families. Jesus called, they answered.
It seems so simple. Whether they realized who Jesus was, there was something compelling about him. Something that they trusted, something that made them turn their backs on their families and follow Jesus. And it is Jesus who they follow. It is Jesus who they realize they belong to. There is no evidence of divided loyalties.
In the passage from Corinthians we find divided loyalties. Paul was writing to a church community that was having terrible arguments and that may be putting things lightly. When Paul asserts that we all belong to Christ, it is an easy observation for us to agree with. We wouldn’t be dividing ourselves up saying we follow Apollos, Cephas or Paul. We would say that we follow Christ. Yet, that isn’t always true is it? I mean yes we follow Christ, but let’s break it down further. We are Presbyterians, we worship in the reformed tradition.
So let’s think about the reformation and those first reformers. The most notable three are Martin Luther, John Calvin and Martin Zwingli. Later we have John Knox, who was very influential in our own tradition. So whose are we? Luther’s, Calvin’s, Knox? Or do we belong to Christ?
When we think about it the argument that Paul was making to the church community in Corinth it perhaps isn’t so different from arguments that could be made today. Are we a liberal Christian, conservative Christian, orthodox Christian? Are these labels even helpful or do they just pull us away from our created purpose? Which is to follow God and his son Jesus Christ.
Peter, Andrew, James and John knew who they belonged to. They knew who had called them and that is Jesus. As we look at our own lives of faith, we recognize that we follow Jesus. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. It is Jesus who we are called to follow. No one else.
Years ago there was a fad where people would wear bracelets that had the initials WWJD, which stood for What Would Jesus Do? It was a simple thing, whenever you weren’t sure how to act in a situation you could look at the bracelet and ask, what would Jesus Do? Then you could respond according. As I said a simple thing, perhaps bordering on simplistic in the question it asked.
However, what is clear from our gospel lesson is that we are to follow Jesus. When Jesus calls us, we answer by following. Paul, through his instructions to the church in Corinth, reminds us that it is Christ we are to follow. Christ calls us and compels us to share the gospel. To move from being ordinary people, to those who fish for people.
Such an interesting analogy. I don’t fish, but what I like to think of this passage is that each of us finds ourselves doing something. Whether it is work, a leisure activity, school. Wherever we end up, whatever we wind up doing we are called to be there by God. When we follow Jesus we acknowledge that we don’t just do so at church, but all the time.
It’s sort of like a reverse mission. It is rare that someone knocks on the door of the church to ask about Jesus. To be sure it happens, but it is rare. Just because we are here worshiping on a Sunday morning, does not mean that throngs of others who are curious about God or are wondering what we do will suddenly show up. It’s just not going to happen.
What we are called to do is go out. Except that sounds scary. I don’t want to go out and talk about Jesus, people will look at me funny. They’ll ridicule me and I’m not sure how to deal with that. To be sure over recent years’ society as a whole has been more critical and judgmental of those who confess to be Christians.
But I wonder, when you are at work, out with friends, shopping for groceries whatever and wherever you happen to be. What happens when you respond to a situation with caring and compassion? What happens when you respond with empathy instead of fear? What is the reaction to you then and when asked what might you say? Perhaps, you could say that you are a Christian and you couldn’t imagine reacting any other way.
It is by going out into the world, as disciples of Christ, that others will find their way to God. Not so we can grow this congregation, but so that people may experience the love of the one who calls us.
He calls us because the kingdom of Heaven has come near and there is much work to do. Amen.