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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Follow Me

Date: 01/23/2005

Feast: 3rd s in o

Church: LHPC

James McTyre

Bible text: Matt. 4:12-23

Theme: Mending & Sending

Don’t you wonder what Jesus REALLY said to the fishermen? Don’t you wonder what he really said that made them drop their nets, leave their poor old father alone in the boat, and turn and walk off behind this traveling preacher? Had to say more than, “Follow me.” “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” – that’s a good line (no pun intended). It’s so much catchier (still, no pun intended) than the modern translation, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people (… of indeterminate gender).” But either way, come on. We hear stories like this one of the calling of the fishermen, and we think, “Ah, the Bible’s giving us the Reader’s Digest version. There had to be more. They’d probably heard Jesus preaching. They’d probably been moved by his power, his charisma. He had to say more than, ‘Follow me,’ to get them to walk away from everything.”

Unless they really hated fishing. You ever have days at your work, or house, or school, or whatever – when, you know, if Jesus hollered at you from across the street, “Hey! Follow me!” you’d say, “Sounds good. I’m outta here”? Forget Jesus; there are probably days when any charming stranger with a good line would be all the convincing you’d need.

But we don’t know. We don’t know if the fishermen had been thinking about a career change, going to night school. We don’t know if they woke up every morning thinking, “If I have to clean one more bloody fish, I’ll use that knife on myself.” “If I hear my dad telling me just one more time how I cast like a girl, I’ll…” We don’t know if they loved fishing more than life itself. Some people do. We don’t know if it was the hardest thing they’ve ever done to let that net drop from their hands and see their father with tears rolling down his cheeks, waving goodbye for what may have been the last time. We don’t know.

For that matter, we don’t know either if Jesus wanted to move from
Nazareth to the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali. (And high fives to Megan for nailing them in the reading.) We don’t know if Jesus wanted to move to Capernaum or if he had to do it in order to fulfill scripture. We don’t know if Jesus wanted to pick these fishermen as his disciples. It doesn’t sound like he took time to hold job interviews to find the right apprentice. One morning he walked by the sea and started pointing. “You, you, you and you. Follow me.” And they did. Amazing.

You might be thinking, “Well, duh. Maybe they had… faith. They knew this was God’s plan. And they knew you don’t mess with God’s plan. God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do. You’re Presbyterian, for goodness’ sake. Some things are just predestined.” Sure. We think like that when we’re reading the Bible, or trying to explain why Peyton can beat everyone except the New England Patriots. You’re not supposed to think about it; you just know, because you have faith. But when we’re trying to figure out what the people we live or work with are gonna do, or the people we go to school or church with are gonna do… when we’re trying to figure out what we’re gonna do God’s plan can be… CAN be… a lot less cut and dried.

If Jesus only walked up to our front door every morning, rang the doorbell and led us out to the car. Said, “You drive, I’ll be your co-pilot. Go ahead and apply mascara in the rear view mirror while you’re driving. Don’t you have faith?” If Jesus was as clear and present as he was to the fishermen, life would be easy. We wouldn’t have to agonize over choices. We wouldn’t have regrets over, did we or didn’t we say the right thing or, did or didn’t we make the right decision. Jesus would be our built-in “Easy” Button, like the “Easy” Button in those commercials for Staples. I love those ads.

But no. Life’s not as easy as it is in the commercials. And when we look a little closer, life’s not that easy in the Bible, either. Just because Jesus rings your doorbell one morning and says, “Follow me (You shall have faith),” does NOT mean that the burden of choice is forever more lifted off your shoulders. It’s more like, from that point on, ALL your choices will be complicated by your decision to open that door and get in line. The Bible doesn’t say anything about the psychology of the disciples’ decision to follow Jesus probably because anyone who reads one page further knows these guys wondered (a lot), “Why did I get myself into this?” Jesus himself prayed, “Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from me.” Faith – even the most obedient faith – wonders (with an “o”) – and sometimes wanders (with an “a”). Contrary to what some people might say, faith and doubt are NOT mutually exclusive. Faith and reason are not enemies. Faith and questions about your faith, seeking understanding about your faith, is the strength that makes you go knock on Jesus’ door on the mornings when he’s not standing right at yours.

What made the fishermen drop everything to go become fishers of “men”? What makes you?


A few years back there was a movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Pretty good movie. I mean, it’s no “Cool Hand Luke,” but it’s worth renting. It ought to be required viewing for every underpaid teacher – and that’s, what, ALL of them? Mr. Holland starts out thinking he’s going to be some great musician and composer. That’s his choice. That’s what he’s figured out he’s going to become if he works real hard and makes everyone suffer for his art. And then, because he likes to eat (but not at expensively), he takes a job substitute teaching in the Band Department at the local high school. And then the movie tracks the next thirty years of Mr. Holland’s life as a teacher, his ups and downs, until the school board cuts the band program in order to save money.

There’s a lot of good music in the movie, but the whole thing turns around one verse in one song, that gets acted out over and over again in Mr. Holland’s more-than-average life. It’s a line from John Lennon’s lullaby for his son, Sean, and it says, “Life is just what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”

There’s a part of scripture that says, “It really doesn’t matter what your plans are. God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do… and God’s gonna do with you what God wants.” On one hand, that takes off a lot of the pressure. A line from another song comes to mind, “Don’t worry; be happy.” Or,

If thou but trust in God to guide thee,
With hopeful heart through all thy ways,
God will give strength, whate'er betide thee,
To bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God's unchanging love
Builds on the rock that nought can move.

Rock solid faith. And praise God if you’ve got it, sister or brother. While we’re making other plans, thinking of the opus we’re going to write, or the big new boat we’re going to buy and all the fish we’re going to catch... life happens to us. And if we’re people of faith, we believe God happens to us, too. We may not be able to see it until the board cancels our program, or some other evil betides us (not that school boards are evil. They’re not. Unless they can the music program.) And then we realize, often completely in retrospect, that the times we see one set of footprints are the times that God was carrying us (as the familiar proverb goes).

But on the other hand, God gives us our own two feet. (And I know I just mixed body parts. That’s OK. If sermons were perfect, there’d be no reason to do another one next week.) On the other hand, saying, God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do puts the pressure on us like nothing else can. Because it makes us choose, as it made the fishermen choose. Are we going to get in line... or get out of the way? Our hands, our feet, our choices, our talents, our loves, our hates, our brilliance, our stupidity, our sins, our salvation – all become part of God’s plan, the moment God says, ”Follow me.” The miracle isn’t whether or not we trust God; the miracle is that God entrusts highly imperfect fisher-men and not-quite-as imperfect fisher-women like you and me with any part of God’s perfect plan. That’s the miracle. Whether our faith is rock-solid or sand-slippery matters not. Whether we try to understand the faith God has in us matters immensely. Whether we try to build upon that faith matters eternally. It matters eternally because God loves us enough to give us the choice to align ourselves, our work, our opus – with God’s.


Is that enough to make you drop everything and go become a fisher? It has been said that Jesus chose fishermen because fishermen understand that no matter how well you make your plans, ”you never know what you’re gonna get.” (That’s a different movie.) ”Faith seeks understanding,” said the great Christian saint, Erasmus, many years ago. Even the blindest of blind faith calls us to use our brains as well as our courage. And what we don’t know might... lead us... to know something else, and something else-else about this Jesus, who showed up on our doorstep one day, saying, simply, ”Follow me.”