Leaving to Follow


Matthew 4:12-23                                                              

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                          

January 22, 2017

Two weeks ago, the last time I preached, we read the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke.   Jesus comes out of the temptation in the wilderness and says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed – the year of the Lord’s favor.   In Matthew, Jesus quotes another passage from Isaiah, saying “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.   Those sitting in the shadow of death, light is dawning.”   This connects with our psalm for the day – this idea that Christ is our Light and our Salvation.

Jesus goes on in Matthew to invite repentance and to call the fishermen to follow him.   In today’s world, following someone is easier than it was in Jesus’ day.   You can sign up for Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook and follow them virtually everywhere.   In Jesus’s day, it was more literal.  Think about it.   You could not research this guy on the internet, or read a book or newspaper article about him.  He shows up, and you go.   It happens very quickly.    Hear the Gospel:

Matthew 4:12-23

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.

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. (NRSV)

Jesus saw them and he called them.    What kind of compelling look was on his face that made the fishermen so willing to drop everything – nets, fish, mending, boat, father – to follow.    They left what they were doing and they left immediately.   There were no excuses for them.   Wait, let me sell this mess of fish first.    Let me go home and get things in order.   Let me go speak to the family.   Let me finish mending this net and make sure my father is okay.   In another place, when people make those kind of excuses, Jesus is pretty harsh.  This is from Luke 59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60 But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luk 9:1 NRS)

Following Jesus is not something to put off to another day.   Following Jesus is not something that can take second place to whatever else you are doing.   Following Jesus means re-orienting your life.    Of course, Jesus takes your skills and uses them.   He doesn’t say to the fishermen, let’s go grow olive trees for people, or even let’s go be shepherds and take care of the flock of God.   He says, “let’s fish for people.”   So whatever you do in life, follow Jesus and do it with him for the blessing of other people.   Christianity is not just about believing the right stuff.   It is about following a Savior to help bring good news to other people.   It comes down to those nets and fish and that father in the boat.   Are you willing to leave them if God calls you to do something that requires walking away?   Have you ever given up something, left it behind in order to follow Jesus?   Have you ever seen him looking at you and smiling and calling your name?   

Are you by nature a leader or a follower?   Do you like to be in charge of your life?   Most of us do.    That’s why Jesus said, if you want to follow me, you must turn from your selfish ways.   You must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow.   Following means leaving yourself behind, leaving security behind, trusting.

To learn to walk, a toddler must learn to let go of the table, the parent’s finger, of whatever is providing security, and lurch forward.   To make friends and learn and grow in independence, a child must eventually leave home to attend school.   The leaving becomes even more dramatic when it involves moving out to college, service, job, marriage.  

To understand another’s point of view, one must leave one perspective behind and enter into another.    To understand another’s country or ethnicity or race, one must read or travel or listen deeply to imaginatively enter another worldview.  

The meaning behind the word “to educate” in Latin and old English is to lead out.   Christ led the fishermen out of their limited world where they were fishing and being good Jews to a new place where they could see that Jesus was the light of the whole world – that he loved little children, and Samaritan women, and people with the horrible disease of leprosy, and people with mental illness.   He loved those caught in adultery, and the blind and the helpless poor.  

In just three years, Peter would be preaching and healing people himself.   He would be announcing the good news is for more than the Jews – that God in Christ had demonstrated that there is no more partiality but that all are acceptable, even the Gentiles, with whom Jews would not sit down to eat, or even speak in the street.   Peter, who had been catching fish with his brother Andrew, would in fact be catching people with good news.

What is Christ calling you to leave behind?   Is it time for you to give up more of your wealth?   The rich young ruler was not able to give up wealth to follow.   What about you?   Is your preservation of wealth standing in the way of your faithful following?

Or are you stuck with dad in the boat?   Are you so dependent on a human relationship that you cannot put Christ first, because your entire existence is spent trying to please this one human being, who may be dead or alive.   Christ wants to liberate you from the oppression of people pleasing.   Follow him instead.

Perhaps it is your determination to be successful.   I’m going to be the best fisherman in the world.   I’m going to set the record for fish caught in one day.   It might help in this circumstance to remember that the only record catches of fish happened with Jesus, not without him.   Remember how he guided them to cast their nets on the other side and then they could barely pull the bulging nets in. If you put Christ first in your life, the other things will work out for the best and you will have enough and be successful enough – for the right reasons.  

Following Jesus means staying flexible and open to his direction.   One day he is teaching, another preaching, and another healing.    It is not about you deciding what you are going to do, but you listening to him and hearing what his will is for you each day.   It’s like the classic hymn “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee in lowly paths of service free.”   Lowly service -- It might be scrubbing bathrooms.   I remember being at camp one year and the camp director assigned different cabins to different jobs.   My cabin got stuck with cleaning the toilets and I was so mad, I can still remember that toilet brush.   But if you follow Jesus, you have to be ready to clean toilets or be the President of the USA – but whatever you do, do it to serve people and to draw people into the wonderful net of Christ’s love.   It’s not about you, except that you follow and do the best work you can do.

Following requires leaving behind what is comfortable.   Following requires trusting God for the future.   Following requires the humility of going wherever you are called and doing whatever needs to be done – for people.  Whatever you give up or leave behind, it will be worth it for the joy of serving your Savior and Lord.   Drop whatever entangles you, whatever entices you, whatever distracts you.   Tell Christ in this moment as we bow our heads that you are ready to follow him with greater courage, greater determination, greater discipline, greater focus.   Tell him you are putting him first, leaving all else behind so that your life priorities may fall into place.   It means that you sometimes say “no” to certain activities (entertainment, sports, recreation) so that you can say “yes” more often to Jesus and to serving people.   To follow Jesus we leave all that entangles us like nets.   We follow Christ into an unknown world, serving those in need, being challenged by our Savior to truly see people as He has truly seen and called us, and to share the message of his calling, trusting that they will want to follow too, when they see the beauty of his love.  

Let us pray:   Jesus, we sometimes watch you instead of following you.   We are often unwilling to set aside our own agendas and perspectives to actually go WITH you.   In this moment of quiet, we dedicate our lives to your service and pray you will give us the grace to ask daily, “Lord, where are You going today and how can I follow you?”