Called to follow

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming today.

On both of the last two Sundays, we welcomed new members into our meeting! We’re delighted to welcome these folks into our Springfield family. In a way, we feel that they already joined us, a while ago, and we were just confirming something which had already taken place. They’ve been coming here for a while, they’ve got roots here at Springfield. It felt like they were family already.

For some people, joining the meeting is as natural as breathing. For other people, it’s a big step.

In the old days, most people were born into the meeting – we called them birthright members. If you were born to a Quaker family, then you were automatically a Quaker. It was something you could claim as your birthright, as an inheritance.

But actually, birthright membership stopped being a part of our Faith and Practice almost a hundred years ago. Many people still talk about how proud they are, to be descended from generations of Quakers.

Today, children can automatically be junior members if their parents ask for it. But when young people come of age, or when they finish college, they need to decide for themselves if they want to be full adult members. It’s a decision they need to make for themselves.

Talking about membership, this morning I want to look at a familiar scripture. It’s found in three of the four gospels. Today we’re going to be reading from the gospel of Matthew.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I’ll send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 4:18-22

Back in Jesus’ day, there was no Christian church, and there were no members. People were born Jewish. You were a Jew, because your family were Jews. You were a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, Bilhah and Zilphah. Those people were in your DNA, and if you weren’t a blood descendant of one of those people, you didn’t belong.

You were a Jew, because long ago, God made a promise to Abraham, that his family would be a numerous as the sands on the beach, as numerous as the stars in the sky. God promised his blessing to Abraham and Sarah forever, and that blessing was passed down, from generation to generation, forever.

That’s what it was like till Jesus came along. Being Jewish was your birthright. But Jesus did something which completely changed the way things were. We don’t always remember it. But we’re going to remember it today.

Jesus was walking along the beach that morning, and he came across two brothers, Simon and Andrew. They were setting out their fishing net for the day.

Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll send you out to fish for people.” And right away, they left their nets and followed.

A little farther down the beach, Jesus did the same thing again. He saw two brother fishing, and called them. Directly, they left their nets, and their father in the boat, and came along with Jesus.

This was something new and different — the start of a brand-new pattern. Before, you were born a Jew. But now, you were called to follow Jesus. Jesus called them, personally, and they left what they were doing, immediately. And for the next three years, they walked with him.

This is a story most of us have heard a bunch of times. And we always say, “Wow!” But we don’t always take it to heart, what a big change this was.

At first, when people became Christians, they pretty much all came from a Jewish heritage. Jesus, and all his first followers, were Jews.

But then, other people wanted to become Christians, who had no Jewish family. They were Greeks, or Romans, or came from other religions, or other cultures. They were definitely NOT part of the original promise, the original birthright.

But they believed in Jesus, too. They worshiped together. They prayed in Jesus’ name. They shared in the common meal and in the fellowship. They read Jesus’ words, and they took them to heart. They became a full part of the Christian movement.

Do you see this huge difference? It’s the difference between birthright membership, and being called to follow Jesus. It’s the difference between membership by choice and membership by inheritance.

Almost every Christian group in history has forgotten or been confused on this point. It’s just easier to be a Christian, because your family were Christians, than to decide to be a Christian, because you hear Jesus calling you to come and follow.

Every Christian group in history has stumbled over this.Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, mainstream churches, evangelical churches, they all fall down on this one. It’s just so much easier to build a church by birthright than by calling.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to inherit your faith. There’s so much to appreciate and be amazed by. Part of why I talk so much about history, is that we’re surrounded by such an incredible cloud of witnesses, such an amazing procession of saints, who have come before us and left us such great examples of faith. It’s humbling. It’s awe-inspiring. Seeing all these people who walked before us gives us new ideas and fresh hope.

But in today’s Scripture, Jesus never talked about their history or their heritage. He just said, “Come on, follow me!” and that was it.

It was an invitation that changed their lives. Every day, they listened to what Jesus was saying. They ate meals with him. They watched, as he healed people. They heard him teach, and they heard him answer peoples’ questions.

They walked with him for miles, down hot, dusty roads. They visited with Jesus in peoples’ homes. In all likelihood, the slept beside Jesus on the floor at night. It was a total immersion experience with Jesus.

The other thing about Jesus calling them, was that he took people as they were, but he took them to a deeper or higher level.

In today’s story, Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll send you out to fish for people. . .”
It’s like they were fishermen, and he turned them into fishers of men and women and children. He took who they already were, and invited them to take it to another level.

Jesus called Luke, who was a physician, and showed Luke about healing not just bodies, but souls. He called people who were outcasts from society, because they had horrible diseases or mental illness, and he sent them home again, to show how much God had done for them.

Jesus called people who were already teachers, and called them to teach hearts as well as minds. He talked with people who were outside the Jewish faith, and he said, “You’re part of my family!”

Over and over, Jesus called people, and took their lives to another level. He told people to give to the poor, and learn about treasure in heaven. He told people who had prayed all their lives, how to pray more simply and confidently. He told people to go and find out what it really means to help your neighbor, and who your neighbors really are.

The whole time, Jesus was calling people, and expanding their horizons. He was inviting them to follow him, and see things the way God sees them.

Every day, every place they went, Jesus saw new lessons from God. In nature, in family life, in meals, in traditions, in worn-out customs, Jesus kept seeing things that were brand-new.

The kingdom of God is very near you,” Jesus kept saying. “Come, follow me, and you’ll see it happening, every day!”

Jesus wasn’t talking about joining a club, or even about being adopted into a tribe. He was talking about a walk, a way, and a new kind of life.

Jesus calls us to a walk, to a way, to a life-changing journey that never ends.

Membership is fine! It’s GREAT to belong, to know you’re loved and accepted. It’s great to feel you’ve got a family and a spiritual home. I encourage people to become members.

But this is something deeper. This is something more. Jesus calls us, not just to a church, but to himself. He says, “Come, follow me!” and if we do, our lives are changed forever.

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