Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Follow Me?" MCC Windsor, January 26, 2014

Isaiah 9:1-4
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine.
 You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
    and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest
    and like warriors dividing the plunder.
 For you will break the yoke of their slavery
    and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
    just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

Matthew 4:12-23
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee.  He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.  This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:
“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali,
    beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River,
    in Galilee where so many Gentiles live,
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.”
From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your wrongdoing and turn to God, for the realm of Heaven is near.”
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”  And they left their nets at once and followed him.
A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too.  They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.


Will you pray with and for me? Light of the World, remind us of your presence with us; give us grace to hear your true words and courage to act on them. May all that we hear and see and speak and do be a reflection of your love for us and for the world. Amen.

Next Sunday, February 2, is a special day for millions of people in North America and, indeed, around the world, on military installations and embassies. It is a day when friends and family gather in each other’s homes to celebrate, to eat more than they should of foods they know are unhealthy, and, for some, to drink more than they should. It is a day that sometimes unites families, and sometimes, sadly, divides them.

I am speaking, of course, of the Superbowl. For those of you who are sports-challenged, that’s the championship-deciding game of USA football. It is played in four quarters with a football on a field; for every time a team gets the ball across the opposing team’s goalline, they receive 6 points—if they then are able to kick the ball through the goalposts, they receive another point. It is played in a different place each year—this year, it is in New Jersey, in what may prove to be the coldest Superbowl ever. The two teams who are the finalists this year are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.

Now, if you are going to a Superbowl party, you will be asked who you are rooting for to win. Since neither of these teams are located near us here in Windsor, that may be a difficult call for you—I tend to root for the team from my home town, or from somewhere I have lived. Last year, for example, I backed the Baltimore Ravens, with great glee—they won. But this year, I don’t have an easy way to make that decision—so who will I root for this year? Who will I follow?

Peter, Andrew, James, and John had a similar, if vastly more important, decision to make when Jesus called them away from their nets to follow him. Would they follow him?

Now my choice is harmless, and at the worst will get me some ribbing if my chosen team loses. It won’t affect my livelihood or my way of life or relationships. It cannot cost me my life.

But for those first four disciples, this was a crucial decision—one that would very much affect their lives. Jesus is asking them to give up their way of life, their work, to change their relationship with their families—Peter and Andrew were working with their father—to make a choice that might, in fact ultimately did, cost them their lives.

How do you make a decision like that? How is it possible to choose, in a moment, whether to follow this teacher or stay where you know everyone and everything, where you have a place and are comfortable?

And yet they did. It is always possible that they had already heard Jesus teach, or had heard of him—but they still had to make that choice, that decision, in that moment when he spoke to them—“Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”—to follow him.

And from that choice grew the whole Christian church. These four are the only disciples that we know that Jesus called personally. All the rest came to Jesus from hearing and seeing the other disciples, from watching the group and learning from them. Only Peter, Andrew, James and John were directly called by Jesus.

That call to follow him made such an impact on their lives that in spite of occasional back-sliding, they were the four cornerstones of the church. We usually think of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as being the foundation of the church, but that’s because we think of the four Gospels that bear their names. But in reality, it was the first four disciples, followers, that Jesus called that were the basis of all that came later.

Our decisions, our choices, about whom or what to follow matter just as much—whether we choose allegiance to things that pull us away from our true selves, like addictions to substances or money or food, or acting out of spite or anger, and so on--or whether we choose alliance to what allows our best selves to shine—caring for others, patience with ourselves, openness to the guiding of Spirit. Sometimes it is hard to know that it is such a decisive moment—and sometimes we know clearly that it is such a time.

Who do you follow? Who is your role model? If your role model is a human being, you are bound to be disappointed. Even Peter, the first disciple Jesus called, the one who was closest to him—even Peter failed in the acid test, and, in fear, denied knowing Jesus three times. Don’t pin your hopes for guidance and an example on a human being—we all fail, at some point or another—in courage, in understanding, in integrity, in strength.

The one to follow is the one who doesn’t fail, who in fact gives us courage, and strength, and leads us to understanding. Jesus called his first disciples directly, and the rest saw what they did and how it changed their lives—and so they wanted to follow Jesus, too. When we can live lives that offer a glimpse of what that life is like—then others may follow Jesus too. It is not because we are wonderful or marvellous, but because we show them what following Jesus has done for us.

Setting that example of following Jesus will guide others onto that same path. It is not because we speak well, or become perfect once we begin following Jesus, or because we are just like Jesus. It is because Jesus shines through what we do, and others can see that we are trying to be the best of ourselves—that is why they come, because they want to be able to do that too.

Those four fishermen saw something wonderful in Jesus—and so they left everything they had known and followed him. We aren’t expected to leave everything we have, but we do leave our past—whether it was something to be proud of or not, when we follow Jesus, we move forward into a new part of our lives, a new future. We can leave behind everything that did not serve us well—our old ways of thinking of ourselves, our old behaviour, our fears and our self-destructive ways, and our habits of numbing ourselves to the difficulties of life through addictions to food, sex, drugs, work… All that is not building us up, but is pulling us down—we can step away from that when we turn and follow Jesus.

Just as Peter, Andrew, James and John turned away from fishing and began a new life, we can too—and as often as we need to do it. They went back to fishing once or twice…and Peter denied knowing Jesus…and Thomas doubted…and they all ran away when the soldiers came. And yet in the end they returned, and claimed Jesus, and refused to turn away from the better way he had shown them, even being willing to die for that better way and the faith they had in what he had taught them.

As often as we need to, we too can return to Jesus, can try again—and again and again and again—to be like him, to follow him.

In all God’s names, amen.

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