Following through on Following

Matthew 4:12-23
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

So did you decide to follow Jesus? I did -- back when I was fifteen. I remember a particular week – a conference I attended, but I also remember the weekly youth group meetings, playing the guitar for youth group retreats. I remember picking up my Good News Bible by my bed, underlining verses which meant something, and singing in the choir weekly in worship. Maybe you decided when you were growing up and it was a gradual sort of thing or perhaps you have a specific date, a moment of confirming your baptism, of making a conscious decision to follow Jesus. Maybe you had faith pushed on you in some uncomfortable way and you’re still struggling with whether or not you do want to follow Jesus. But you’re here today and I’d say that for most of you that means, you made a decision this morning to follow Jesus, to be part of the body of Christ today, to worship God, to receive the sacrament, to pray, to respond to God’s grace today.

And while I don’t want to dismiss the significance of those major life decisions, I want to emphasize the importance of daily decisions. Twenty-six years ago Richard and I decided to get married. That major decision needed to be made carefully and prayerfully, but do you think we knew what we were doing? How could we? So I would venture to say that just as significant as that initial decision is the decision we make every day to live into the commitment. Will I be kind? Will I forgive? Will I be faithful and watch boundaries? Will I work at communicating well? Will I go to couples enrichment classes when I can? Will I read books on strengthening my marriage? And the questions and decisions points are endless. And for some of us, our marriages have folded for some reasons beyond our control. But suffice it to say, healthy marriages stay reasonably healthy only through constant attention. And sometimes they become unhealthy to the point of death without a serious and long period of resuscitation.

So it is with our decision to follow Christ – to be a Christian. The daily decisions we make really determine over time just how committed we were to the first, the one-time decision.

We’re reading the story of the call to the fishermen. I expect Jesus called many people, but the ones who stuck with him, who were still there, still making the choice to follow him three years later -- they got recorded in the Scriptures.

Hear how easy it was to make that initial decision. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, was so compelling, they just dropped their nets, left their boats and the family business behind, and started a new life with Christ. I suppose they had heard his preaching about the kingdom of God coming near. I’m guessing they had been around him and sensed that God’s light was shining brightly in him. I figure they knew that there was something different about this prophet. We don’t know how long Jesus had been in Capernaum by the sea of Galilee, preaching a Gospel of repentance and forgiveness. In the story it seems rather sudden – this initial decision of the first disciples. But who knows – they may have been following John the Baptist previously. They may have known Jesus for some time, but however they came to the first decision to follow, we know that the subsequent decisions of these two sets of brothers, to continue following Jesus were life-changing for them and for many of us who have followed them. Listen for what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, the church:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea,
in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14 so 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."
17 From 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 sea-- for they were fishermen.
19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."
20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
21 As 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.
22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

So let’s talk about what following Jesus means. Following Jesus means you’re looking to see where he’s going. Our family took a trip to Disney World one New Year’s Eve. While it was exciting to be there for the fireworks show that night, I do not recommend going at that time. From about ten o’clock onward, the Magic Kingdom was so crowded, we had to literally hold onto one another to keep from losing someone. We were one shove away from separation, due to the pressure from the crowd. Following Jesus when life’s pressure is crowding in around you means holding onto to him tightly, so you don’t lose track of him. Following Jesus in normal conditions means watching him, paying attention to see what he does and where he is going.

Judi Creneti had been struggling for six months to discern what God was calling her to do next – whether she needed to stay in her current position, spending 20 hours each week working for Peace to prepare bulletin and powerpoint for worship and to our keep membership database current, or whether God was calling her to do something different with her time and energy. Sometimes the answers are not obvious, sometimes circumstances help with decision making. She prayed and listened, talked to close confidants, paid attention to context, and sought clear direction from the Spirit of God in this process.

You cannot have any idea who Jesus is or what he’s calling you to do, or where he’s calling you to go, if you’re not listening to him. There are a lot of distractions. Prayer is more than talking. Knowing Jesus is more than talking to him. Think about it. You also have to listen. Are you doing all the talking? Can the Lord get a word in edgewise? If you’re doing all the talking in a relationship, your listener will know a lot about you, but you will know very little about him, if you do not stop talking and listen. How do you listen to Christ?

1. by being still and listening in prayer, by being actively tuned in to God in worship.
2. by reading scripture, you hear the words of Christ and the words of those who have also been seeking to follow Christ or to obey God before Christ came to earth.
3. by being an active part of a church’s life and trying to discern with others what Christ is calling you to be and do.
4. by being humble enough to accept the direction and advice of other Christians

And then, you act on what you know. You see, too often we Christians notice our leader, our Head, Christ going in a certain direction. We’ll talk about it. We’ll say, “Yes, to be a truly faithful Christian means to move in that direction.” But we do not act on the truth we know. Christ keeps moving in that direction and we stop and watch, ‘til he is distant from us. Oops! He did not want to leave us behind but we did not have the courage and discipline to keep following, to do what we know to be right and good and holy. “And they dropped their nets and followed him.” Are you still hanging on to some net you should have dropped? “And they left their boat and their father, and they followed him?” Is there some relationship or some possession standing in your way of following?

Jesus says to the fishermen, “I will make you fish for people.” Your primary vocation as a Christian is to fulfill the Great Commandment – loving God and loving people – no matter what you do. It is also to fulfill the Great Commission – fishing for people.

So to a roofer, maybe Christ would say, “Provide shelter for people, and help them know that I am the One who shelters them in the storms of life.”
And to a banker, maybe Christ would say, “Make people rich in the things of God, as much as in the things of this world.” And to a teacher, “Lead people toward God’s wisdom more than mere human knowledge.” And to someone in the insurance business, “Follow me and help people to know their real security is in my hands.” And to someone in health care, “Care for people with such compassion that they know that I love them -- heart, soul, and body.” Jesus used an analogy that made sense in their world of fishing. Jesus called them to turn their vocation into something that demonstrated the value of following him. And so I ask you – what are you doing to turn your everyday activities into acts of following Christ and invitations to others to do the same?

Jesus calls us all to serve him in whatever we are doing. We are called to a wide variety of tasks, but with the same goal – glorifying God in whatever we do. It is easy for us to compartmentalize and think that we do a job for the practical need for money and that then in our free time we serve God as much as we can. But no, our calling is to serve the Lord well in everything we do.

Athletes and musicians do not get better at what they are doing without hours of practice. Writers and artists do not compose perfectly the first time, but keep tossing paper and canvas in the trash and starting over. Serious academics and researchers do not get where they are without hours of study. Should it, could it be any different with our primary vocation as God’s children, as Christ’s followers? The word vocation comes from the Greek word vocare (to call). We have keep working hard to get better at following through on our calling.

My mom has always told me that the job of parents is summed up in setting boundaries and following through in love. She always emphasized the follow-through. It is easy to make a rule or decision or commitment, but hard to follow through on it with steady resolve. For those of us called to parenting, following through is elemental.

The Christian life is essentially about following through on our decision to follow Christ. We need to remind ourselves and one another of the healthy boundaries of the Christian life – to follow through by staying on the path. We need to remind ourselves and one another weekly, daily, even hourly, that our goal is to follow Jesus – to look and listen to see where He’s leading – and stop being distracted and pulled away by all the pressures and people of this life. We need the disciplines of worship, scripture reading, prayer, and honest Christian companionship – to keep us on the right track. If you think you can hold onto your faith while spending lots of time with people who don’t share your faith, watch out. Do you think Peter and Andrew, James and John, would have been strong disciples if they had just continued hanging out with their father and the other fishermen, the ones who did not follow Jesus. No, the renewing light of Jesus’ preaching and life would have faded in their memory, just like those mountain-top experiences of ours fade when we do not follow them with a disciplined, faithful Christian life.

But because they made a daily commitment to keep following Christ, to have the dust from his feet right there in their faces…Because every day no matter the temptation to be distracted, they kept listening to him, walking where he walked, doing what he said to do, they became known as the twelve disciples, the faithful followers, including the women who went to the cross and the tomb in their faithful following. Because of the time they spent following Jesus, they had the strength and power and wisdom to share their faith, even after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. He was gone, but they were filled with His Spirit to share good news with all the world.

And look, here we are 2000 years later, our lives transformed by Christ and by the faithful example of the first followers in following through. Let us make a new commitment today to follow though daily in following Christ, even if it means leaving certain people and some unfinished jobs behind …so we may keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, keep our ears tuned to listening to him, and keep our feet walking in his direction. And then we will be fulfilling our calling as followers of Jesus Christ.