Season after Epiphany 2017
LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD
Follow Me Click here for audio
Matthew 4:12-25, Genesis 12:1-5
Pastor Donna Buell
Most of us probably cannot remember a time when we did not know the name of Jesus, when we did not know something about who he was, and what he did during his days on this earth. And so Jesus’ invitation to the fishermen on the beach to “Follow him” is old news for us; it is a story we have known all our lives and about which we have likely become complacent. But when you think about it: when you really think about the fact that these people knew none of the things that we know about Jesus, that they had no idea who this man really was, you can’t help but be amazed that they simply left their nets behind and followed him.
Barbara Brown Taylor has written about this story in a sermon called Miracle on the Beach. She writes:
Most people hear [this story] and right away start worrying about whether they have what it takes to be a disciple. Could you do it? If a clear call were to come to you tomorrow afternoon, could you get up from your chair and walk out the door, without taking your keys or turning off the lights? Could you abandon your grocery cart in front of the frozen food case…and set off for parts unknown without stopping to call home?
(Home By Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 38)
But then she goes on to say that the miracle on the beach that day is not to be found in what the disciples did. The miracle is in what Jesus did.
She draws attention to the language of miracle stories as recorded in the Gospels, particularly in the Gospel of Mark. “Be made clean” Jesus said to a leper, “and immediately he was made clean.” “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home,” Jesus said to a paralyzed man, “and the man stood up and immediately took his mat and went home.” “Go, your faith has made you well,” Jesus said to a blind man, “and immediately he regained his sight.” “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus said to the fishermen, “and immediately they left their nets and followed him.” There’s a repeating pattern there.
Can you hear it? This is not a story about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow. This is a story about the power of God—to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith were there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.
This is not a story about us. This is a story about God, and about God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as a people who are able to follow – able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us, because he interests us more than anything else in our lives, because he seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be food. (p. 40)
In each of these miracle stories, Jesus speaks a word and immediately what he has spoken comes into being: fishermen follow him, unclean spirits depart, leprosy, paralysis, deafness and blindness are healed, a storm is calmed. Matthew tells us that after the Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-9) There was clearly something about this Jesus that was incredibly compelling.
I remember that 40 years ago, when my sister, Jean, was starting her first job as an elementary school teacher in upstate New York, she had a principle who was a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy. And she often told the story about the time Mr. Ranieri was laying out his expectations for his teachers. He said, “When I say, ‘jump’ – you’ll ask, ‘How high?’”
I don’t think that’s quite how people experienced Jesus. His was not an authority experienced through intimidation. He did not wield his power over people. He did not use his position to bully or to threaten or to coerce people into doing things his way.
I came across a great story recently:
Once upon a time, there was a vault containing gold, diamonds and gems. A sturdy lock guarded the door to this vault, to keep its contents secure. The mighty crowbar came by and saw the lock as a challenge…The crowbar was a thick and heavy bar of iron. Countless crates, chests, and cabinets disintegrated before his attack. He took considerable pride in his strength and destructive power. Looking at the lock, he decided he should smash it, just to make a point.
The crowbar struck the lock, expecting it to break apart, but it was unaffected. This surprised him. He struck again, putting more force into it. He got the same result – the lock didn’t even show a dent! Now he was becoming annoyed. Using his full strength, the crowbar struck again and again. Sparks flew and the noise was deafening. When finally he stopped due to exhaustion, he was amazed to see that the lock was still in one piece. This was the toughest obstacle he had ever faced.
He was still trying to figure out what to do next when the key came along. He looked at the key and saw that she was very small compared to him. The difference between them was dramatic. He was massive and muscular; she seemed insignificant and weak.
She asked him: “Were you the one making all that racket?”
“Oh, you ain’t heard nothing yet,” replied the crowbar. “Just let me catch my breath and I’ll show this lock who’s boss.”
“No need,” said the key. She slipped into the lock and turned slightly. The crowbar heard a click, and then the lock fell open. He couldn’t believe it. “Wait a minute. This makes no sense,” he said. “I am a lot more powerful than you are. How can you open it so easily when I couldn’t do it after all that effort?”
The key told him: “Because I am the one who understands the heart of the lock.”
Jesus, like that key, understood the heart of the lock. He didn’t use force or coercion or intimidation in his ministry. And though the temptation must have been there (that’s what he wrestled with in the wilderness), he consciously chose not to exercise his power for personal gain or glory, but for the sake of others, and always, always, for the sake of God’s kingdom. Jesus didn’t use force or coercion, he used invitation, and he was content to allow people to respond or not, to follow or not. And for some people when Jesus spoke it was as if everything lined up just right, there was a click, and the lock fell open. When Jesus spoke the kingdom of heaven was made real in their lives, and they were able to see and experience and do things they never could have by their own power. When Jesus spoke those fishermen left their nets behind and followed him.
In some ways this authority of Jesus reminds me of the story of creation in Genesis, where God says “Let there be light and there was light.” Just as God spoke creation into being by the power of God’s word, so Jesus, the word made flesh, spoke into being signs and evidence of the kingdom of heaven coming near. And it had a real effect on those around him.
Charles Wesley put it this way in the hymn we sang at the beginning of our service:
“He speaks, and listening to his voice new life the dead receive,
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.”
(O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing)
But it wasn’t only the miracles and healings that drew people to Jesus. For the gospel writers, everything about Jesus’ life and ministry was a sign of God’s kingdom power breaking in to the present order. His healings and miracles, yes; but also his teachings, his actions, his attitudes, the way he treated other people – these were all signs of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven; they were all signs of God doing a new thing, and of God inviting people, not to a new set of beliefs and practices, but to a new way of life.
“Follow me” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people.”
At one point I thought about giving this sermon the title: “What Jesus didn’t say.” Jesus didn’t say, “Stay right where you are, doing just exactly what you’ve always done,” instead he said “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t say, “Leave your nets and go wherever you want to go,” he said, “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t say “Believe these particular beliefs and you will possess the truth,” he said, “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t say “Follow me and I will grant you the desires of your heart,” like some genie in a bottle, he said “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
“And immediately they left their nets behind and followed him.”
I’ve been thinking about those fishing nets this week. They were made up of threads woven together to form a web, which, when cast into the water, made it possible to catch fish, while allowing water to pass through. In a sense we all have nets: a web that is made up of our thoughts and beliefs, our experiences and gifts, our attitudes and perspectives as well as our wounds and griefs, our fears and anxieties, our judgments and prejudices. And these nets give shape to who we are and to how we view the world. They function sort of like a filter, allowing us to hold on to certain things while allowing other things to pass on through. These nets are as much a part of how we go about our lives as were the nets those fishermen used to ply their trade. And like those fishermen, we spend a lot of time and effort mending our nets, reinforcing those perspectives.
But that morning at the lake shore, Jesus invited those fishermen, as he invites us, to a new way of life; a way of life guided and directed, not by the accumulation of their life experiences – their nets – but by his life, which was guided and directed always by the way of God. The Psalmist captured this when he said “make me to know your ways, teach me your paths, lead me in your truth and teach me.” (Psalm 25:4-5)
It is good for us to remember this, for the life of faith isn’t about us – what we think and feel and believe and love and hate – it is not about the things that make up our net. It is about who God is and about what God will do with us and through us if we allow ourselves to enter into this life, walking in the way of the Lord as followers of the one who is the way, and the truth, and the life. Following Jesus doesn’t always mean physically leaving home. And it isn’t that we stop being who we are, or that all that went in to making us who we are is unimportant. It’s just that who we are and our way of being is no longer the primary force which guides our lives. There’s something else that becomes far more compelling.
Jesus says “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Come on this journey with me and not only will you hear and see what God is doing through me, but God will involve you in this ministry of making the kingdom of heaven real in peoples’ lives and in the world. Like Abraham, you will be “blessed to be a blessing.”
Two thousand years later, Jesus is still extending that invitation, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” May God work a miracle in us, so that we too may leave our nets behind and follow in the way that leads to life. So empower us by your Holy Spirit to hear your call.