January 22, 2017-Come Follow Me

January 22 2017

Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,

  on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness

  have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

  light has dawned.’

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

I love a good fishing or hunting story. Around here, it’s a regular topic of conversation when you head off to the river or the lake or spend the weekend in the stand waiting for that trophy buck. Even when the fish aren’t biting and the season is closed, a good story isn’t very far away.

One of my personal favorite fish stories is one that my father in law tells of deep sea fishing off the coast of Hawaii. He’s a fisherman through and through, decades worth of experience working the waters of the Tennessee River for fun. While he and Rosa were on vacation in Hawaii, he took a charter out to see if he could get a prized blue marlin. He was pumped, prepped and ready, strapped into the chair from which he would make that long hard fight for the trophy fish. Once that fish hit that line, it pulled and pulled and pulled, the reel screaming as line was let out. And the fight began, one crank on the reel after enough. Minute by minute, sweat pouring down his face, determination pumping through his veins, the fight for this blue marlin continued. For 45 minutes, with the captain barking encouragement and instructions in his ear, he brought that marlin in, one crank of that reel at a time. The fish was this big!

I almost had a story like that but I’m pretty sure a shark ate the amberjack that was on my line. My fish stories and probably yours aren’t as dramatic as reeling in a blue marlin miles from coast in the Pacific Ocean. Probably more like casting and reeling, casting and reeling with intense sun baking down on your neck or a frigid cold breeze coming across the bow. Makes you wonder why you’re even on the water at all. There’s a monotony that can come with fishing, especially when there’s no action. The net goes out, the net comes back in. The net goes out, the net comes back in. Pull a few fish, throw them in the boat, and the net goes back out. When it’s all done, head back to shore, clean the net, put it out to dry, process the fish, make a repair or two on the boat, and rest up before doing it over again tomorrow.

An ordinary routine conducted day in and day out. The life of a fisherman.

Jesus’ first four disciples called to share in his ministry are Galilean fisherman. Simon, his brother Andrew, and James, and his brother John. Jesus finds all four of them at work on the Sea of Galilee, a body of water that has the same amount of water surface area as Watts Bar Lake out in east Tennessee, granted the bodies of water are quite dissimilar in shape. Fishing is the family business for these guys-James and John are out on the water with their dad Zebedee. They’re not likely making much profit from this venture given the extortion level taxes levied on them but they’re also not as poor off as the shepherds in the field keeping watch at night.

Jesus is out walking by the Sea of Galilee one day, a great way to spend a leisurely afternoon because he was making his home in Capernaum-that little village rests right on the northern shore of the sea. Jesus is out and he issues more of a directive than an invitation to the fishing brothers. Come, follow me. And they do it. He tries his luck a second time with James and John. He calls them-they follow. Four men are told to take their skills, the work of their hands and do it in a new way to demonstrate the arrival of God’s reign in the community.

This scene would make quite a bit more sense if Jesus had invited them to make money, or carve out a more secure existence for themselves. He promises them nothing. He does not tell them where they are headed. He offers little indication as to what fishing for people will entail. They have no indication if this is a short term venture with Jesus or a turn toward a life time of demonstrating the arrival of God’s reign. We have the privilege of knowing that this call upon their life results in a life spent furthering Jesus’ ministry of healing, redemption, and inclusion of folks into God’s work in the world. But I don’t think they knew the distances they would go or the turmoil they would face bringing God’s promises of renewal and restoration to their neighbors.

Tradition says that Simon Peter was crucified upside down for his service to Christ’s church. His brother Andrew, was also crucified for preaching throughout Asia Minor. James was slain by the sword at the decree of King Herod Agrippa. His brother John, is the only one of the 12 disciples who is said to have died a natural death of old age. Come, follow me bore a heavy toll in the lives of these men, and for thousands more across the ages.

And that’s part of the challenge in identifying with the two sets of brothers-their entire life turns on a dime when they begin following Jesus the Christ. It’s not gradual-it’s immediate.

From that point on, when they leave their nets to follow him, they begin their work to announce and demonstrate God’s kingdom has come near. They end up in places they would not have ventured to on their own. They end up in relationship with folks that common cultural sense dictated they should have avoided.

There are times in life when following Jesus can be as dramatic, weighty, and immediate as we see in this fishing story. People give up lucrative careers to lead non-profits that demonstrate the reign of God by caring for the economically disadvantaged. Families give up monster homes because they’re convicted seeing that their neighbor has no home at all. Retirees follow their heart’s calling to be in missionary service teaching agricultural skills and sustainable technology in rural Latin America. College students change their majors because leading an inner city summer camp taught them to love their young refugee neighbor. Ivy league educated doctors head off to the world’s forgotten people to offer care where it’s often unavailable. Following Jesus Christ has the potential to change your life at the drop of a hat.

I hope you’ve heard or seen folks experience this kind of life changing direction when Jesus says, come follow me. Perhaps I just mentioned your story.

But I don’t want to sensationalize the gospel either with Jesus’ instructive directive, come, follow me. Like the ordinary rhythm of fishing on a plain summer day, the life of following Jesus is lived out this way for many as well. “Our calling is to be faithful, to live God’s grace on routine days in ordinary ways.” This might mean extending a patient spirit to a toddler when you’re already running late. It might mean thinking twice and refraining from cursing that coworker who knows how to push every one of your buttons and does it on purpose. It might mean clearing out part of your schedule to spend time with a loved one who is ill or for whom you are a caretaker.

It might mean extending a word of grace when that’s the last thing you want them to hear. It could mean standing up for those who suffer and everyone else seems to have forgotten.

The life of discipleship, following Jesus, is lived out in this community in the every day, routine, ordinary workings of life spent with family, friends, and coworkers. Maybe there will be a young person or family called into missionary service sent forth from this place. But I guarantee that every family will have the opportunity to extend compassion to a hurting neighbor in a time of crisis or grief. Maybe one of you will become the champion and flag bearer for justice for ending homelessness and housing insecurity among our neighbors. Whether or not that calling emerges, all of us have the opportunity to extend hospitality with good home cooked food for Room in the Inn next weekend.

The way in which we grow in love of God, spouses, and partners each day, care for children entrusted to us, treat our coworkers, demonstrate mercy, and serve our neighbors are some of the familiar and ordinary benchmarks in being faithful to Jesus’ ‘come, follow me.’ And who knows, when the Spirit moves, come, follow me, may radically change your life in an instant.

Bless you in the name of the One who teaches fishermen how to fish again. Amen.