Follow Me

Good morning, Friends!

One Sunday morning a pastor told his congregation that the church needed some extra money, the pastor asked the people to prayerfully consider putting a little extra in the offering plate. The pastor said that as a reward, whoever gave the most that week would be able to pick out three hymns.

After the offering plates were passed, the pastor glanced down and noticed that someone had placed a $1,000 bill in the offering. The pastor was so excited that he asked the person who placed the money in the plate to raise their hand.

Way, way in the back an older woman shyly put up her hand. The pastor asked her to come down to the front. The pastor told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and asked her to pick out three hymns.

Her eyes got bright as she looked over the congregation. She pointed to the three most handsome men in the worship room and said, “I’ll take him and him and him!”

Well, this morning we have a Scripture that talks about choosing people. This is a story that’s found in all four of the Gospels. It’s the story of Jesus calling a group of people to be his followers and friends.

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

– Mark 1:16-20

This is one of the most famous stories of the gospel. Jesus comes walking along the beach, and he calls out to a group of fishermen, “Come, follow me!” And they just drop everything and go.

So far as we know, Jesus never met any of these guys before. He hadn’t preached to them. He hasn’t worked with them. He hasn’t sent them any kind of advertising – “Come see Jesus work miracles, Sunday morning downtown at the marketplace, free kosher hot dogs for the first 500 people to show up!” Nothing like that.

Possibly Simon Peter and his brother and the others had seen Jesus before. It says that Jesus had been going round the area, telling people the good news about God, and saying, “God’s kingdom is very near; turn your life around, and believe!”

So, maybe these guys had been part of the crowd that had listened to Jesus. Maybe Jesus recognized them as he walked along. They may not have thought that Jesus noticed them. But maybe Jesus saw the hunger in their expressions. Or maybe Jesus caught them smiling as he told a story in a parable. Maybe he just saw in them a kindred spirit, or receptive ears, or open hearts.

It’s always interesting that Jesus chose simple, ordinary people to be his followers. He didn’t choose experienced public speakers. He didn’t choose experts in the law, or go after rich people who could contribute a lot of money to his movement. Jesus didn’t choose the first draft pick in anybody’s list of who would be most likely to succeed in ministry.

Jesus chose ordinary people. Fishermen. Farmers. A doctor. A rebel. A guy from the tax office. Jesus didn’t always choose people who were popular.

One of the people Jesus chose was a guy who was deeply skeptical about miracles. It’s almost as if Jesus chose people at random. These were men and women who didn’t have the training, but who learned as they went along.

When we hear this story, we tend to focus on the line where it says, “They left everything and followed Jesus. . .”

That makes us a little bit panicky. Are we supposed to ditch everything we own when we follow Jesus? Where would we go? Where would we stay? What about our jobs and our families? What about our pets and our house plants? What does Jesus want us to do, anyway? What does it mean to be a “follower” of Jesus?

I think that at the most basic level, “following” has to mean, “getting up off our butt and taking a walk and going somewhere”. Jesus invited people to come and listen to what he was saying. He didn’t invite them to sit in a church or a synagogue. He invited them to come and see what he was doing, out in the community, in people’s homes and work places.

I think that today we’re so used to the idea of training as taking a course, or learning to follow a script, or using a plan. Jesus invited people to something much simpler.

He said, “Come on and take a walk with me. Notice the things that I notice along the way. Learn by watching me at work. Learn by doing, not just by reading a book or listening to a lecture. Learn by trying to do things yourself, with me by your side. If you get in trouble and you can’t think of the right thing to say, don’t panic – I’ll be right there with you. My spirit will be within you. I’ll teach you what to say when the moment comes.”

Jesus taught his new friends how to listen to God. How to be open to transforming moments.

Jesus focused on the basic things: how to pray. How to heal. How to comfort people whose hearts were broken. How to walk, and how to keep walking. How to suffer, and be faithful. How to lay down their lives. And how to rise again.

Above everything else, Jesus taught people to love the way he loved. He called them to a new and dizzying depth of love.

One of Jesus followers wrote later on, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, not anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

That’s what following means. It means learning that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It means discovering something exciting! It means going boldly where we haven’t gone before. It means new steps, new discoveries.

In a way, Jesus wasn’t asking people to leave everything behind them. Jesus was asking people to be transformed, for their daily work to take on a new depth and a new meaning.

To doctors and nurses, Jesus might have said, “Follow me, and I will make you into healers of hearts and minds and souls.”

To educators, Jesus might have said, “Follow me, and I will make you into teachers, not just of facts and theories, but into teachers of eternal truths.”

To people who are carpenters and contractors, Jesus might have said, “Don’t just build houses. I want you to build lives. I want you to build new people. I want you to build the kingdom.”

Do you see what I’m saying? Who we are, and what we do, and how we earn our living, can be deepened and turned around and transformed when we follow Jesus.

There have always been Christians who have abandoned their old way of life when they followed Jesus. The early church felt strongly that you couldn’t be a gladiator or an executioner and be a Christian. You couldn’t be a Christian and continue to make your living as a pimp or a prostitute.

There have also always been Christians who have felt called to give up everything for Christ. They gave away everything they had, and became monks or nuns, for example.

But these are special cases. Ordinary people continued with the ordinary lives they were living when they became Christians. But they felt that their lives were deepened and transformed.

A person can catch fish, or raise vegetables, or build houses, or fix cars, or many other things, and be fully devoted to following Jesus. If this story teaches us anything, it’s that ordinary people can be disciples and witnesses in their daily lives.

It’s not who you are or what you do that matters. What matters is that we’re ready to listen to God. Ready to learn. Ready to try new things, even if they’re scary. Ready to welcome strangers. Welcome to reach out. Ready to accept and forgive.

Imagine how that group of fishermen and farmers must have felt when Jesus told them, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons in my name. . .” They must have been scared right out of their sandals!

Following Jesus means being ready to do what we can, and let God do the rest. Jesus knows who we are. Jesus knows all about our weaknesses.

But Jesus calls us to do great things, with great love, and with Jesus himself beside us, to help us.

Being a follower means we’ve always got a friend. We may feel stupid, we may feel clumsy, we may feel clueless – that’s how I feel a lot of the time! But we’re never alone. Christ, who calls us, doesn’t abandon us. If we make mistakes, Jesus will help us get straightened out.

In our remaining time of worship this morning, I’d like to invite you all to think about this morning’s Scripture. In particular, I’d like to ask you to reflect on what it is that you do for a living, or reflect on what it is you do every day.

When Jesus called Peter and his friends, he told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. . .”

As far as we know, Peter remained a fisherman for the rest of his life. That’s clear from many stories about Peter in the gospels. To the end of his days, he was a fisherman. He never went to seminary or school of any kind. It’s possible that Peter didn’t even know how to read. Many people couldn’t, in those days.

But Peter was transformed. As he followed Jesus, Peter’s life took on a depth he had never experienced before.

He became a great preacher – not because of all the books he read, but because of the life he experienced. He lost his prejudices. He witnessed about what he saw. He spoke the truth about God from his heart.

He prayed with incredible faith. And because of Peter’s prayers, people were healed. Prison doors were unlocked. Quarrels were reconciled. Peter became a rock, a living stone in the movement that Jesus started. The Christian church was built on the faith and prayers and witness of Peter and of people just like him.

Peter and all his friends were not great people. I want you to remember that! They were ordinary people, most humble people, whose lives were transformed, because they followed Jesus, and they put their faith in Jesus’ message of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.

They were not great people. They made lots of mistakes! But their ordinary lives became great, because they followed Jesus, because they watched what Jesus did, and learned the lessons Jesus was teaching them. They repeated Jesus’ words, and imitated Jesus actions.

We can do that too. You can. I can. Don’t just sit here, week after week, listening to all this stuff. Let Jesus change your life. Get up off your butt, and follow.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown

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