It’s difficult for us to imagine any circumstance where we would actually drop everything…our jobs, our families, our home…to go follow someone we just met…The idea of it sounds a little crazy to us today. Yet that is exactly what this morning’s gospel story is about. There must be more to this story…What is it that would cause these men to give up everything and follow Jesus?
The movie “March of the Penguins” offers us tremendous insight into the complex creativity of the God who created our universe. In the hostile frozen land of Antarctica, the beautiful Emperor Penguins mate for life and raise their chicks against incredible odds. The mother entrusts her egg to the father as she goes off to replenish her own energy and gather food for the chick that will be hatched by the time she returns. The unique sound and scent of her mate is imprinted on her so that she will be able to find her family when she returns. Her unique sound and scent is imprinted on her mate so that he will recognize and welcome her home. Among the hundreds of calling penguins, each mate recognizes their own partner.
I think this is how God is with each of us…We are imprinted with a memory of God and God is imprinted with a memory of us…No matter how far we are separated from God and no matter how long it takes, we will find each other. We will recognize God when he calls our name.
Our text this morning describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry…Matthew describes Jesus walking along by the Sea of Galilee and calling his first four disciples…It seems so simple…Jesus walks up to these fishermen and calls them to follow him…Matthew says that they immediately left whatever they were doing and followed Jesus…It’s almost as if they were compelled to follow Jesus and to obey him; as if they had been waiting all their lives to hear this voice, to be issued this call, so that when it came, they dropped whatever they were doing.
In his Confessions Augustine writes: “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Maybe this has something to do with prevenient grace that draws us toward God before we know we need God; it certainly seems that these four fishermen had restless hearts; so restless that when they heard Jesus’ voice they could do nothing else but leave everything behind and follow. Maybe they were simply responding to that memory already imprinted on their souls from birth…The knowledge of the voice of God…So that when they heard that voice, all they could do was obey. This story doesn’t end with the disciples following Jesus; it ends by reminding us what Jesus is doing in Galilee…“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.” Jesus has begun talking about the kingdom of heaven and how it is “drawing near”…It’s a message of Good News…The issue may be that many of us misunderstand this “kingdom of heaven”, which shapes the way we respond to the call we hear in this lesson.
Bible scholar Bishop N.T. Wright tells us that Jesus’ references to the kingdom of heaven are not teachings about how to go to heaven…They are not about “our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’” We need to be reminded that Jesus’ call in this text is not a call to future salvation…It is a call to contemporary action – to fish for human beings. This story is about the same thing most of the Bible is about…sharing the story of God with God’s people…helping them to hear the voice imprinted on their soul. This is how Jesus began and then taught his followers to be evangelists – bearers of Good News. The first disciples responded to their call by leaving everything behind and following Jesus around the countryside…Is this the same way we are being asked to respond to the call placed on our lives? It might seem easy for us to imagine these ancient fishermen dropping everything to follow Jesus…It is the stuff of the Bible narrative we have heard all our lives and we may have never thought about what that really meant for them. Sometimes we forget that the stories of the Bible represent real-life…Fishing was their livelihood; it was the family business, often passed down for generations…Fishing remains an important part of the economy around the Sea of Galilee…In fact, we had the chance to enjoy the delicious fish still carried from the sea in large nets. These men gave up everything when they heard that voice imprinted on their souls.
Something to consider as we move two thousand years beyond that story is that what those men gave up to follow Jesus is not what we are being asked to give up…Joseph Campbell, a writer best known for his work in comparative religion, spoke of the beginning of something, as a Call to Adventure. In this moment at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he has begun calling those persons who will go on this challenging adventure with him…Only he knows what to expect in the years ahead; his followers must simply trust him…I wonder if that is the real lesson to be learned here. Is Jesus calling you to give up your job, your family, everything you have to go follow him into the unknown? I don’t think that is the “take-away” this morning. I think Jesus wants us to drop everything that is holding us back from being his faithful disciples. I wonder what it might look like if we were to examine our call from that perspective. Could Jesus be calling you to give up a few hours of free time to mentor a youth or be a Confirmation sponsor? Maybe Jesus is calling you to give up a bad habit to spend more time reading the Bible. What do you think? What is Jesus really calling you to leave behind? “Come, follow me” means different things to each person. To what does Jesus call us? Too often perhaps, we answer this question in terms that do not require enough of us. Some Christians would say we are called to belief; others might say we are called to church membership; others would point to service as our calling. There are many answers to this question.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the call to “follow me” was a call “to absolute discipleship.” That means surrendering ourselves completely to Jesus’ command in order to know our greatest joy. The first disciples may have led a simpler life than we do and they may not even have had “as much to lose” as we think we do…Nonetheless, the first disciples did not hesitate to make a radical response to “come, follow me”. Absolute discipleship means that we listen to Jesus’ call, recognize what we need to leave behind, and then step out in faith, trusting that Jesus will lead us forward into a great new adventure. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.