The call of Jesus on our lives is completely countercultural. It goes completely against our expectations of what it should be. It turns a whole world on its head, following Jesus does not take us where we expect to go. We might think that becoming a Christian or coming to church will result in one way of living. But when we truly give our lives to Jesus, things often take a very different turn.
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son And the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Didn’t know whether I need to preach this morning that that last hymn says it all really doesn’t it? wonderful words.
‘Will you come and follow me?’
As you know, our family has been lucky enough to be able to do quite a lot of travelling over the years leading adventure and discovery groups, as well as pilgrimages or visiting charity groups that we’ve been working with. I’m sure many of you have already heard stories about the many times when we have been led astray, or taken ourselves on unintentional adventures. Like the time when we followed someone who purported to be a guide into the desert in a rather rickety old 4×4, which once we were far from civilization broke down. Guide promptly phoned a friend who turned up in his Landrover about half an hour or so later, he hopped in; said he would be back and bring help and disappeared into the distant horizon. He never did return. So that left the four of us in the midday sun in the middle of the desert, and we had no choice to move, something they usually tell you not to do. Stay with your vehicle is the advice. Luckily, it was not our first time in the Arabian desert and we knew that if we headed towards the mountains; at the base, we were likely to find a Bedouin camp. Luckily enough, there was the familiar brown and white goat haired tents and we were taken in given tea and eventually, we made it back to civilization.
Or the time that we followed our guide through Hebron in the occupied territories of the West Bank, probably one of the most disputed towns in Palestine, probably one of the most disputed towns in the world actually. He took us along a street, which had been taken over by Jewish settlers, who became very angry at our presence and began to throw things at us. Very soon, I found myself face to face with an AK47 the muzzle touching my skin. Well, we go out of that one too. Or another time, when we followed our own desire for adventure and fell through the ice cap in the centre of Iceland. In our 4×4. We spent many hours trying to dig ourselves out, climbing the nearby mountain ridge to see if we could get a signal or see some kind of settlement. We could walk to, to no avail. To cut a long story short, we were joined eventually by equally adventurous Austrians, who also got stuck. But they had been clever enough to tell someone that where they were going, and they were eventually missed. And Mountain Rescue got us all out. Or the time we walked home from Damascus, or, okay, well, that’s enough of that.
But who or what is it safe to follow? And when do we take a risk? And then how risky would it be to hand our life over to God? Andrew, Simon, James and John got up and followed Jesus. It appeared they just got up from their boats, left everything and followed. I wonder, could we do such a thing? And what are these four men called to?
Follow me and be ‘fishers of men’, says Jesus. These first disciples would probably have heard of Jesus. He was, after all, walking around Galilee proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as a Gallilean as Galilean fishermen, they would probably have either seen him in action, or at the very least least heard all about him. Galilee was a small place. Undoubtedly, Jesus was making a name for himself. So it was very likely that these fishermen would have been aware of him. They would also perhaps have heard of John the Baptist, and his proclamation that Jesus was mightier than he. And as good Jews, they would probably have been aware of the verse in Jeremiah, chapter 16, verse 16, where spiritual fishing meant overcoming God’s enemies. I wonder what would have been going through their minds when they decided to leave all behind and follow this new radical teacher who had come back from Galilee from the …. wilderness, adventure, excitement, a chance to spread God’s love and healing or power and authority?
These fishermen were powerless men, fairly poor men, looking forward only to a life of daily grind to earn a living under the regime of the Roman Empire. These fishermen weren’t part of the social elite. They weren’t movers or shakers in society, they weren’t able to exercise any political power. They weren’t the type of people who had any authority in society. And yet here was a man in their midst, a man declared by John as a ‘mighty judge’, now using a phrase that seemed to indicate that those who follow Him will share in His power and authority, and the right to judge others.
They didn’t really know who Jesus was. They didn’t understand the implications of his ministry. But they had a hunch that following him would be the way for them to achieve power, authority, glory, respect. And of course, that was a fundamental misunderstanding that stayed with them through the rest of their time with Jesus, as we hear, recorded in the gospels, fighting over who would be sitting on Jesus’s left or his right in heaven, refusing to serve others, but wanting to be served, not understanding that they had to die in order to live shooing away Jesus… children from Jesus so that they could have more time with him. Enjoying the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, rejoicing at the turning over the tables in the temple. Then being utterly distraught at the crucifixion, running away, refusing to stand with Jesus in His last hour, going back to their fishing boats after the crucifixion. Peter, Andrew, James and John, were all called by Jesus to fish for people. And the ambiguity of that phrase led them to fundamentally misunderstand their call. And that resulted in the spiritual struggles that they had to work through over the coming years.
I think we need to redeem this passage for what it is, rather than just sit in a simplistic call to mission and evangelism, which is what we’ve turned it into in the modern day church. The call of Jesus on our lives is completely countercultural. It goes completely against our expectations of what it should be. It turns a whole world on its head, following Jesus does not take us where we expect to go. We might think that becoming a Christian or coming to church will result in one way of living. But when we truly give our lives to Jesus, things often take a very different turn. I don’t think it would be too much to say that there is a certain shock and emotional realisation attached to Christian living, something that we see in the lives of so many of our biblical characters, and and those who continue to inspire us today in their faith that leads them to the unknown, to be witnesses to Christ in some of the most godforsaken places, but power and authority, they are never part of the Christian life. We will always be taking the way of the cross and instead and we will always be called to die in order to live.
Jesus said, follow me and I will help you fish People, the church throughout history has taken this as a call to mission and evangelism.And so it is. But underlying it is the personal challenge that all of us face when we become Christians, that Jesus will take us in a direction that we least expect. This part of Matthew’s Gospel, well in fact, a lot of Matthew’s Gospel should leave us feeling a little uncomfortable about what it means really to be a Christian. We’re not called to an easy life. We’re not called to power and authority, but to a life that will constantly surprise and challeng us. This is why as a benefice we are taking on the 5P’s this year, Planet, Poverty, Peace, Politics, and People. All difficult and thought provoking subjects. Jesus constantly calls us His disciples constantly calls each one of us to a new way of living. And the disciples constantly misunderstand. And I wonder if sometimes we can be guilty of that misunderstanding too. And so we are called to constantly assess why we are followers of Christ. And what it is we want to get out of this lifestyle we have chosen, it may give us comfort and peace. But then we are called to share that with all our fellow human beings, not just keep it for ourselves. We are seeking honour and glory and power and authority and respect or a quiet life
Or are we prepared to take on the risk and walk the way of the cross and all that it will mean for everyday lives? If we do one thing we can be assured of that once we have agreed to follow Him, taking that step, given our lives over, he will never leave us in the middle of the desert, on the melting ice cap, or with a metaphorical gun in our faces. But we will, but he will be there as our guide, our mentor, mentor, our helper, always and forever, to all eternity. We can put our complete trust in Him and He will never let us down Amen.