Who are you Following?

Ordination of Elders
Matthew 4:12-22                                                              
26 January 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                         

Who are you following?   In Jesus’ day, following meant going somewhere.  But we don’t have to physically follow, like the Jesus’s followers did.   You can stay right where you are and follow someone.   But your thoughts, your actions, your life may be changed by following. 

Simon and Andrew, James and John are two sets of brothers, fishermen, who decided to follow Jesus.   The story of the call of the fishermen is in all three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, although Luke’s version includes the miraculous catch of fish with Jesus, after they had fished all night and caught nothing.   In every case, the four fishermen, drop everything, including their valuable nets, and they followed Jesus for three years, and then after his death, they continued his ministry, which is still going on today.   They change their priorities; they re-oriented their lives toward catching people with good news, as did Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Aquilla, Susanna and Simon Peter.   Because of their decision to follow, we’ve had the chance to follow too.  Hear the Gospel:

Matthew 4:12-22

12 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.

(New Revised Standard Version)
They left their nets.  They left their boat.  They left their father.   In those days, one could not follow without dropping everything.   In those days, they could not just read the Bible to know about Jesus.  The New Testament was not written.   In those days, followers of Jesus could not keep up with his ministry on television.   They could not log into his website to see where he was going.   They could not be his Facebook friend or follow him on Twitter or Instagram or Vine.  They had to drop their fishing nets and go with him, in person.   Even to this day, much as we are thankful for all the forms of communication we have, there is nothing that replaces face-to-face, in person time with God’s people in church.  There is nothing that replaces an authentic personal relationship with Christ.

Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said the typical Christian is
caught up in “admiring Christ instead of following Christ.”   The question before us is whether we want to simply be Christ admirers or whether we are bold enough to be Christ followers. No doubt, if we are courageous, we will discover unexpected blessings when we let Jesus into our boats, when we listen to him, and when we follow him.

Some of you have been listening for years for Jesus’ direction.   Others of you are just starting to listen.   Your commitment to be here is a sign that you are making choices to follow.   Sometimes there’s a pivot point, or a crucial moment of repentance when you really turn in Jesus’ direction.  Some of us can remember moments in adolescence or earlier adulthood when, we made the commitment to follow Jesus.   Some of us are still working at such choices, warming up to them.

Usually those moments are reinforced by our own telling of the story, just as I’m sure these fishermen told people about the day Jesus met them by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  While an initial decision is significant, we should not forget that every day we have choices to make about following Jesus.  The “What Would Jesus Do?” question is all the more significant, long after the popularity of WWJD bracelets has faded.  Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.”  David Kinnaman, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters

You made a decision this morning to follow Jesus, to drop the nets of your responsibilities at home, to sacrifice some leisure time to be an active part of the body of Christ today, to worship God, to receive the sacrament, to pray, to respond to God’s grace in the company of friends.    Many of you will make the choice to stay for our ordination service and congregational meeting.   By choosing a deeper involvement over and over again, you are choosing to let the Christian community here, the body of Christ shape your life.    

Your commitment to be here affects the commitment of others.  Can others depend on your presence here?   Fifty years ago, the regular Sunday decision was easier.  There were no competing activities.   But now there are multiple choices, asking us to follow them, commit to them, instead of Jesus and the family of faith that helps us know the love of Christ.   Bob Dylan once said this:  Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, Bob, why are you resisting me? I said, I'm not resisting you!  He said, You gonna follow me? I said, I've never thought about that before!   He said, When you're not following me, you're resisting me.

How easy it seemed for the fishermen to make that initial decision.  The presence of Christ must have been truly compelling.  They acted so quickly, but I wonder if they had second thoughts.  Did they ever say, “Gosh, I should get back to dad and the fishing business.  How am I going to feed my family, pay my bills?   Or following Jesus too tiring.  There are too many needy people around.   I just need some time to relax. ”   Did they ever think that following Jesus was too much of a sacrifice?  The rich, young ruler did.  

Jesus challenged him to give up his many possessions because of the grip they had on his life, and he went away depressed because it was a big sacrifice.   One time, someone wanted to delay following so he could bury his father, but Jesus was unwilling to wait.   There was an urgency about the mission of Christ.   He reminded his followers that those who want to save their lives will lose them, and that those who lose their life for his sake, will save them.

We say here at Peace that our Mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace and caring for the needs of others, but let’s just talk about the first part – growing.  The decision to grow as a disciple “always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.” --John Ortberg

So let’s talk about what following Jesus means.    Following Jesus means you’re watching to see where he’s going.    Following Jesus means putting your Christian faith as your number one priority.   It means giving up some interests that distract or pull you away from being a loyal follower.   Jesus said we must deny ourselves, be willing to sacrifice, to follow him.   It means listening to his voice in prayer and scripture, and being meaningfully involved in the church.    It means giving sacrificially and gladly to God and to others our time, talent, and treasure.   At Peace we encourage you to worship plus two other commitments – a prayer group, a Bible study, a lively learning class, a ministry team, a music group, a youth group.

Following the call of Jesus does not mean that you all need to be in the professional ministry or that every one of you is call to be an elder in the church.   No following Jesus It means that you choose to do things that bless people, in whatever field you are called to serve.   I’ve told you before the story of Smitty, the guy who cleans tables at Fuddruckers in Asheville with such joy and enthusiasm that you want to talk to him, and you remember his name when you haven’t seen him in years.  I haven’t told you about my jr high science teacher, for whom I wrote six term papers per year – good practice for who now writes regularly.   He had us dissecting sharks and bullfrogs and cats – more dissection than I did in high school or college biology together.  

This was a poor rural school, but he was a zealous Christian who knew how to work hard for grant money.  He gave us the gift of a great education.  

Following the call of Jesus means showing the love of Christ in whatever you are doing, and doing the job so well that people wonder what inspires you.  You work with such grace and peace, joy and patience, generosity and faithfulness that people want to follow you.   You lure them with the abundance of God’s love which spills over in your life, and then you point to Christ.  You find a gentle way, as we discussed last week, to share with them your story, your church, your relationship with Christ.

We should all being doing whatever we do with such energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, that people are curious about what inspires us.   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.  Jesus calls us to turn our vocation into something that demonstrates the amazing grace of God.   In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace, he said, is grace without a commitment and response from the believer. It is grace without servanthood.  Costly grace, said Bonhoeffer, moves us to respond to the call of Jesus.   To follow Jesus means we have to stop following so many others.   Leave some unnecessary things behind, set aside idols, move away from following people who distract you from your faith, walk forward in Christ’s direction, keeping your eyes focused on the One who is calling your name.

To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it.”
Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow