“Follow Me…”

Following Jesus
Text: Matthew 4:18-25

In the gospel this morning, we encounter Jesus calling his first disciples.
We’ve heard this story so many times I would imagine that, to some, it maybe has gotten a little…stale.
Yep, yep. Jesus is walking on the beach, he sees some brothers, he says to them, “follow me” and BOOM they drop everything and follow him.
And thus begins the ministry of Jesus and in turn the radical transformation of the world through Christianity.
Right?
Well…not so much.
I mean, to a point, yes.
But let’s look at this story a little closer.

Jesus approaches the men—who are fishing because they are, you guessed it!- fishermen.
And he says to them:

“Follow me and I will show you how to double your income in just 5 easy steps!”

ok, ok. That didn’t happen.

He says them:

“Follow me and I will show you how to be an even BETTER fisherman than you already are!”

Nope. ok, that didn’t happen either.

So what did Jesus say?
He said:
“Follow me and I will make you fish…for people”

And immediately….Immediately, the men dropped everything and

followed
Jesus.

Now at this time, being a fisherman wasn’t this idyllic life of peaceful production;
it didn’t carry with it the freedom of self-employment where you could control your own hours,
make as much as you were willing to fish,
and so on and so forth
No
At this time, the Roman Empire controlled all aspects of land and sea.

Rome asserted control over all of their production
their transportation
their marketing
their contracts and customers
The fishermen are merely cogs in a vast, imperial economy.
But
This was their trade
This was their lifeline

And yet, this man approaches them and— offers them something more.
And the fact that Jesus approaches them is significant and says a lot about God
Because in ancient culture fishermen aren’t among the elite
They don’t have personal wealth
or really any power at all.
And yet, they will later play a critical role in the early days of the church

But on this day, they are simply ordinary men
doing ordinary work.

And yet
They jump.
They don’t hesitate.
They don’t say,
“This sounds like an interesting proposal, Rabbi, let me review the terms, consult with my wife and financial planner and get back to you by the close of business tomorrow.”
No way
They jump

Because following Jesus offers a life of meaning.
Even though all of them had steady jobs and familial ties to the jobs to boot
this call was a call to a life of deeper meaning

A life with God
is irresistible.

Fishing for people touched that inner part of their soul
That deep longing I believe we all have
A place in our hearts and our very bodies that yearns to make a difference in the world and participate in something bigger than ourselves.

This is God at work in our lives.
planting that seed of desire in everyone’s hearts.
As the body of Christ we long to make the world a better place— to build a more loving and peaceful kingdom using the gifts we’ve been blessed with.
And not just through our vocations, but with our very lives.
How we treat our neighbor
How we treat each other.

Follow me.

So all the men—Peter and his brother Andrew
James and his brother, John
all abandon their predictable lives and set forth on this adventure with this little known rabbi.

In the text, our translation says “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”
But others translate it as
I will show you how to fish for people
I think that better describes what Jesus does here
Because what happens next in the story?

He travels throughout Galilee, these brothers in tow, and teaches in the synagogues sharing the good news of the kingdom.
But what else does he do?

He cures diseases
He treats sicknesses.
He eases pain
He CARES for people.

Follow me, he says.

Have you ever noticed that wherever Jesus goes, there seems to be a lot of sick people?

This is actually a reflection of the imperial world at this point in time.
Lives lived under the close control of the Roman Empire.
This type of oppressive living was bad for people’s health.
One commentary I read noted that 70-90 percent of folks in Rome’s empire experienced some level of poverty.
70-90 percent!

At this time
people didn’t really understand hygiene
water quality was poor
they had little food and the food they had was poor quality
Such factors resulted in widespread diseases
and these kinds of diseases were death-bringing in a world that required physical labor for survival.
And lest we get too comfortable and think we are safely removed from this, all we have to do is travel to a 3rd world country— or even some parts of our own city—to experience the same realities

Jesus’ healings and caregiving aren’t just loving acts, but acts that seek to reverse the damage inflicted by an oppressive system
and usher in a new reality—
the kingdom of God.

Yes, following Jesus shows the men how to care for others
But also
How to reverse injustice
How to love the neighbor.
Following Jesus is a radical departure from the predictable life they’ve known.

God in Jesus calls these men to follow him
into a new life
follow him to a new existence
God calls them to participate in this new way of being
To help build a new kingdom.

God continues to do this today.

Where is God calling you?

I was talking to my friend Karen
We were discussing this passage and I asked her about her thoughts on following Jesus
What does it mean, What does it look like-
all that stuff
And she shared with me a challenge I think many of us struggle with-
knowing when it is actually God inviting us

Because there are so many competing influences in our lives
so many pulls and temptations
How do we know if it’s Jesus calling us into action—
How do we know if it Jesus inviting us into new spaces—
How do we know if what we are doing with our lives
and our time
and our money
is pleasing to God?
How do we know?

Friends, I say we know by knowing Jesus
By getting to know the character of Jesus
Reading the stories in Scripture and observing
what he does
how he acts
who he favors
what he says

When we do this, we not only learn about Jesus, we get to know Jesus.
And what following him looks like today.

God is always beckoning us
Asking us to follow
But do we?
How often does God approach us and beckon us to follow and we DON’T “immediately” follow?
It happens all the time
We get too busy
Or too self-interested
oftentimes we get so caught up in the cares of life that we slip into this rhythm that sort of pushes God into the background
We completely miss Jesus’ invitation.
Or misunderstand it.

And to be fair, knowing how to follow Jesus has gotten a bit hijacked
By extremists
And fundamentalists
And even some politicians
Who insist that following Jesus involves an approach I certainly don’t see evidenced in Scripture
and certainly not one embraced by Jesus.

There are young people today who want no part in following this Jesus because all they read about and all they see in the news and in media is a complete misrepresentation of what it truly means to follow Jesus.
What it means to lead an authentic Christian life.
And who can blame them when all they’re seeing are these distorted efforts and claims all done in the name of faith.

So let me help clear up a few things—

Following Jesus is NOT

Building structures and crafting policies to keep out refugees fleeing violence in their home countries

Following Jesus is NOT

Hatred, rooted in fear like
Homophobia
or Transphobia
Xenopobia
or frankly any phobia.

Following Jesus is not shunning your neighbor

Following Jesus is not shaming someone because they’ve made some mistakes or might disagree with your point of view.

Following Jesus IS

answering the gentle call of love
Following Jesus is caring
Following Jesus is compassion
Following Jesus is connection

The fishermen in today’s gospel were lucky enough to have a human encounter with God in Jesus
and were blessed with a very stark and direct invitation to follow him.

Today ours might be more subtle
But they are nevertheless there
In all kinds of ways Jesus calls us to follow him
If we could just pause long enough to listen for it
To engage our senses and our heart to receive it.

FOLLOW ME

Listen for it
in a whisper
Listen for it
in a roar
Listen for it
in music
In laughter
In tears

Listen for it
And you’ll hear it.

Follow me.

And let the adventure begin.

Amen.

New Year’s Day Sermon

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

As a father of young kids, I can’t help but think about Joseph in this passage.

Here’s a man thrown into—let’s be honest— pretty frightening situations.
And everything seems to be happening at once
His newborn son is being proclaimed as the savior of all people
How does a dad even respond to that?
I mean sure, every dad is proud of his kids
And let’s be clear, he wouldn’t be the first dad to consider his first born “God’s gift to the world”
But this is legit Messiah activity here—
This is prophecy-fulfilling type action!

People are coming from all over to worship him—
And it’s not like this is typical behavior in Joseph’s world
he was a simple carpenter
not some king—
A craftsman
Whose existence is so humble that his pregnant wife has to deliver their first born child in the midst of animals and lay the child in a feeding trough
Not exactly the Hilton
I can just imagine Joseph feeling completely unequipped for the circumstances presented to him.
I know I would feel the same way
Wouldn’t you?
But Joseph responds to the circumstances in the way I believe is a model of faith.
Obedience.
And courage.

Because Joseph recognizes that somehow, someway God is at work
But it hasn’t been easy

First, he learns his fiancé was already pregnant, which even for today would have been a scandal- more so even in those days. And rather than follow the Jewish customs of the day (which would have spelled BAD NEWS for young Mary) he decided he would divorce her quietly to honor her dignity and frankly, save her life.
Few realize that this was actually breaking the law at the time.
So not only was he protective of her, but he’s also non-protective of himself!
Courageous indeed.
Joseph obediently trusts in God and agrees to marry her.

THEN

His boy is finally born and in the midst of all this newfound fame and fanfare, learns that the current king is so threatened by him that he has ordered him to be killed.

So In yet another dream, God tells Joseph to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt for safety.
So Joseph
courageously
obediently
trusts in God and does as he is told.

Because Joseph recognizes that somehow, God is at work

It’s a long journey to Egypt
All to protect his bride and young child
Approximately 429 miles.
lets think about this—
I learned that it takes an average person about 20 minutes to walk a mile, which is about 3 miles an hour.
Let’s assume they walk 8 hours straight a day—
No easy task—
That would mean they would cover about 24 miles a day.
So that would have meant to get to Egypt- under IDEAL circumstances, would take about 18 days.
honorable for sure
And all to be obedient to God who is sending these messages to him

In my imagination I think of the long days and long nights hiking to Egypt
Frightened at what could happen if they’re found by Herod and his soldiers
And not just that
In these days, robbers frequented the well-traveled roads, preying on parties just like this one- most likely vulnerable
and most likely weary
And I imagine they were also traveling with everything they owned
At the very least everything precious to them

So I envision Joseph laying awake at night on the side of the road as they camped
Likely tucked away out of sight
with hopes of safety
His little boy and his wife sleeping
Their breathing soft and rhythmic—
He’s tired but unable to sleep,
wrestling with the fears many men wrestle with
Those fears that keep us up at night
How do I protect my family?
How do I provide for them?
What if it’s not enough?
What if I’m not enough?

Sometimes we dads feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders.
And not just dads- all of us.
Moms-Brothers-Sisters
Aunts- uncles, Grandparents
Cousins- friends
I think all of us— at one time or another— get overwhelmed with the responsibilities of life
How are we going to make it work
How are we going to take care of the people looking to us for provision and protection

But just like with Joseph, God is always at work

behind the scenes
helping guide us and protect us

Just to recap—

God warns the Magi to return home by a different way to avoid the murderous efforts of Herod

then

God protects Joseph and his family by urging him in a dream to flee to safety to Egypt.

And then, Once in the clear, God, again in a dream, intervenes and advises Joseph to return to a different town upon hearing that danger still awaited him at the hands of another oppressive ruler.

God is always at work.

This isn’t the first story of God intervening in daily lives to deliver God’s people.
In fact, this story recalls an earlier Joseph in the bible
Whom God spoke to in dreams
and whose guidance delivered God’s people to safety
The first Joseph in the book of Genesis (46) helped deliver God’s people from Egyptian slavery
And ironically, this second Joseph finds Egypt a place of safety.

God is always moving on our behalf
urging us to safety.
We aren’t always able to see God at work
and frankly there are times when we don’t think God is active in our lives at all.
Lousy things still happen to us

And just like Joseph we might even be fearful of the world
A world that seems to be turning toward the same type of violence which threatened this early family
Many around the world live in the fear Joseph and his family lived in
Where tyrannical rulers lash out violently at the perception of threat
There are dads just like Joseph out there right this second
Frightened
And anxious to keep their families safe
to feed their hungry children
and comfort them

I’ve been touched recently by news articles detailing the plights of recent refugees

There is one about a 35 year old Syrian refugee dad who was selling pens on the street of Beirut, Lebanon to provide for his two young children.
A photographer took a picture of him selling his pens while his daughter slept on his shoulder.
And you can see in his face the fatigue and anguish of a man trying to make it happen for his family
The scene appears hopeless

But God is indeed at work
Behind the scenes.

How?

Well, the photographer who took the picture of the refugee dad started an online fundraising campaign for him that raised $190,000
The man used the money to open not 1 but 3 businesses- a bakery, a kebob shop, and a small restaurant which not only allowed the man and his two young children to move into a safer apartment, but also allowed him to employ 16 other fellow Syrian refugees.

Our God is at work.

Today is the first day of a new year.
For some, 2016 was a year of joy, accomplishment, and good cheer.
For others, it was a tough year.
Maybe you lost someone you love
Maybe your career fell apart
Maybe you learned of an illness that has sent you reeling
Maybe you are just so weighed down by the cares of the world that you can hardly imagine the next day
or week
let alone the next year.

But remember friends
God is at work
Just like God was at work with the first Joseph
and the second Joseph
guiding them to safety
We are not in this alone

God is at work redeeming the world
often through us—
Moving us to act in solidarity with those like refugees
who are feeling oppression and fear.

God is at work
We are never alone

We just celebrated the Christmas holiday which reminds us of Emmanuel- God is with us
God taking on human flesh to live among us and to walk with us
Experiencing everything we experience

the joy and sadness
the pleasure and the pain
All of this we share with the God who is with us

We are not promised to come out without any scratches
no
But we are promised that we are never alone
that God is at work
behind the scenes

And just like Joseph emerged from the darkness of life to the safety of the other side
We too will emerge
We don’t know what that will look like
or when it will happen
Joseph didn’t know how long he would be in Egypt
he certainly never expected to be there in the first place
But we do know that with God with us
We are ever alone
and that ultimately all will be well.
that’s the comfort of our faith

Yes, today is the first day of a new year.
It is ripe with potential
pregnant with possibility

As you begin this year
Moving forward
Step by step into the unknown of which a new year offers.
Rest assured that God is with you
Just like with Joseph
you are never alone
And that behind the scenes
God is active at work on your behalf.
Guiding you and walking with you

Thanks be to God.

Amen.