Matthew 4: 12-23
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 26, 2014
Go Therefore and Make Relationships
The shore of Lake Galilee would have had many sets of footprints on any given day, going in many directions. (Actually I don’t know if the shoreline was sandy, but let’s just imagine it was!) There would have been people walking to and from neighboring villages along the shoreline. There would have been children playing. There would have been fisherman climbing into boats, laying out nets to dry on the beach, and bringing their catch back home or to the market. We should imagine footprints of all shapes and sizes, going in a multitude of directions.
Our anthem this morning, “Footprints in the Sand,” gives us another image. There might also have been several sets of footprints following in the same direction. Jesus called “follow me and I will make you fish for people” and Peter, Andrew, James, and John did follow. Those men had to leave a lot behind in order to follow. They left behind a livelihood of fishing. The Sons of Zebedee left their father behind. You couldn’t tell from looking at those footprints the sacrifices that would be made, the hard choices that would be confronted, or even what the call would ask of them. All you could see from the footprints was that some fisherman followed Jesus. Last week in our reading (John 1:29-42) Jesus said Come and See. This week Jesus simply says “Follow me.”
Irresistible authority and radical obedience—those two qualities are what best characterize Matthew’s story of Jesus calling the disciples. So says theologian Douglas Hare, and we can certainly see that in this story, as well as the call story we read in John ( 1: 29-52) last week. No explanation is offered for why Peter, Andrew, James and John drop their fishing nets and follow this man they don’t even know, going to a place not yet revealed. But we should underscore in our Bibles the word “immediately,” repeated twice in this short account. They immediately drop their nets, they immediately leave their boat. No hesitation, just launching into a brand new life. What sort of person commands that sort of radical obedience?
Scripture tells what sort– a person who is announcing something brand new, a new kind of kingdom in which people who had been sitting in darkness will see a great light. A person who announces that sinners and outsiders are welcome in this new kingdom commands that sort of obedience. A person who walks with you in the new life to which you are called is the sort of person who commands of us radical obedience. In short, Jesus shone with the light he was announcing. That light was so pure, so irresistible, that those first disciples went with Jesus. Grown men followed like baby ducks after their mother. It was as though they were responding to some ancient memory deep within them. They saw something in Jesus that pulled them along.
Why wouldn’t they recognize the Word made flesh, present since the beginning of time? Psalm 139 says that “my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…your eyes beheld my unformed substance, in your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them as yet existed.” As one writer puts it we are imprinted with a memory of God and God is imprinted with a memory of us. Our lives are a journey back to God, and we find our way by following those footprints of Jesus.
But sometimes we need a little help to nudge our memory, to recognize our call. In John’s account of the calling of the disciples, Andrew was called and then he went and found his brother Simon Peter and brought him along. Philip found Nathaniel and said, “come and see.” We need the help of someone who is already following Jesus, somebody who is already in the boat. As I have mentioned numerous times, we are sitting here in the nave, a Latin term referring to the sanctuary, but also a term meaning “boat.” To fish for people means to pull people into the boat, but we’re not supposed to drag them over the side. It helps if they want to get into the boat with us!
We don’t have the irresistible authority with which Jesus commanded the fisherman to follow. And heaven knows radical obedience just isn’t a feature of the age in which we live. Teachers sometimes can’t even get kids to sit down and behave in school! But Jesus does model something that we can emulate. Jesus built relationships with people in ordinary ways, ways just as available to us.
David Lose (Working Preacher) said the following in a Jan. 20, 2014 blog post: “…. perhaps we might re-imagine just what it is that Jesus is calling these first disciples to be and do: fishers of people. And that implies relationships. Jesus issues the same call to us — to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us, and to be in those relationships the way Jesus was and is in relationship with his disciples and with us: bearing each other’s burdens, caring for each other…, holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope and promise of God’s abundant grace… Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to be in relationship with the ordinary people all around them and through that did extraordinary things … and he still does.
This week I had an email from a former co-worker, who is feeling a call to go in a different direction in her vocation. She would like to shift from being a clinical therapist, to serving her mental health clients more as a spiritual guide. I was so pleased to have been asked for advice, as I have more than my fair share of personal experience with shifting vocations! This individual wanted to deepen her relationship with those she was already serving, in a way that would help her clients grow spiritually as well as improve in their mental health. She listened to God guiding her to another direction and she is following.
I think about all those who have served as mentors of our confirmands over the years. Some of you have really gone out of your way to let a young person know that you are interested in him or her. By your presence in his or her life you demonstrate interest in forming a relationship that may help that young person to know Jesus better. The adults that work with our Reach youth mission camp have really impressed me with their genuine compassion and sense of caring. There is a lot of practical joking and teasing that goes on at the camp, but underlying that is a real sense of call. These youth leaders take their vacation time to go on that trip, not because they have to but because they want to. Each one of those adult leaders wants those teens in the boat, not floundering out in the deep. They are fishing for people.
Terrell McDaniel, writing in our Disciplines devotional this week, says that just by being themselves those youth leaders are extending God’s shalom. When we fish for people we are God’s instrument of transformation, pointing others to God’s light. Our individual presence, just being ourselves as we relate to people around us, is vital to God’s work. We are part of a community of love and affirmation and we offer that love and affirmation to a world that desperately needs it.
It has been observed that the book of Matthew ends pretty much where it starts. We are called to “go therefore” and make relationships, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our mission is to live in a way that brings people to the source of Light, people who have been waiting in darkness. Every one of us has everything we need to be part of this great work, to be fishers of people. Caught anybody lately?