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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

2007-01-27 Matthew 4:12-23

“Defining (the) Moments: Called”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

What would YOU have done, if you were one of the fishermen whom Jesus told, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”? The Bible says Peter and Andrew “immediately... dropped their nets and followed him.” It says of James and John, “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Just like that. What would you have done? This itinerant rabbi shows up along the beach, preaching his one-sentence sermon, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” One sentence? That’s all? And these fishermen are dropping their nets?

OK, now. I know there are days. I know there are days when any of us, if someone looking remotely like Jesus showed up, saying, “Drop everything and follow me” -- there are days when you’d seriously consider chucking it all. After all, the Bible never says Peter, Andrew, James and John LIKED fishing. Those of you who are fishermen might find this near impossible to comprehend, but there’s no guarantee these guys LIKED their jobs, or were even any good at it. If you’re a starving fisherman and someone says, hey, try... the ministry... you’d probably give it a go. Maybe they were just waiting for someone, anyone, to come along and invite them to another life. But if that were so, they’d probably have run off with some other itinerant rabbi long ago. If you’re looking for an excuse to run away from your responsibilities, you don’t need Jesus. As far as we can tell, the disciples were responsible citizens, fishing responsively, boating responsibly -- some of them with their dad, right there in the boat alongside them. What would you have done, if you were in their shoes, their sandals, their boatshoes, their waders?

On one hand, I ask that question, “What would you have done?” and I think I am preaching to the choir. And I am. Not exclusively, but I am. It’s a good example. Here’s a group God has called out of the ranks of normal people -- I mean, average singing-voiced people. Here’s a group of people God has called to sit in an elevated place and sing in public. Now, I’ll talk in public; but it would take Jesus himself, taking me by the hand and leading me to the loft to get me to sing in the choir. I walk around the house, singing, and my own children ask me to stop. “Please Daddy,” they say, “you’re hurting my ears.”

In a less literal sense, I’m preaching to you, as a chorus of people Jesus has already called to and said, “Follow me.” How do I know that? Because you’re here. Somehow, some way, Jesus or God or your mom told you to get up and follow them to church, and here you are. You have chosen to follow Jesus, just by being here today. On that one hand, Jesus has already said, “Follow me,” and you already are. Good for you. You go to church, you give money to the church, you give time to the church, you pray with and for the church. On this hand, you’ve already answered the call, you’re here, you’ve dropped your net. What would you have done? Well, here’s the answer, all around us.

However. And this is the other hand. On one hand you’ve already answered the call, but on the other hand, the Bible tells us, Jesus said more than just, “Follow me.” “Follow me,” is only half the story, maybe less than half. There are times when simply attending church makes us feel redeemed. Mother’s Day, for example, comes to mind. But, if worship is being done anywhere near right, sometime during the hour, you ought to realize you’re not here to score points with your mom, or with yourself, or even with God. If we’re doing worship anywhere near right, at some point in each worship service you ought to realize you’re here not just because God has said, “Follow me.” At some point, you ought to realize, or be reminded, that you’re here - we’re all here - not so much because we choose to be, but because we need to be. If we’re doing worship right, you ought to be reminded - maybe during the Prayer of Confession, maybe during the reading of the scripture - you ought to be reminded that you are here not so much because you’ve answered God’s call, but because you haven’t. At some point in worship it ought to dawn on all of us, we’re here not because we’re saints, but because we’re not. Some people say they won’t go to church because it’s filled with hypocrites. What better place for hypocrites to go than the house of God?

We’re here because Jesus says, “Follow me,” but that’s less than half what he says in this passage, when the fishermen drop their fish and follow. The other two-thirds of what Jesus says begins with his one-sentence sermon: “Repent.” “Repent,” he says, “because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It’s a short sermon. Just one sentence. You have to figure he preached his sermon a couple of hundred times a day. Peter and Andrew, James and John, the disciples who repented of everything in their old lives - did you ever think, these guys must have gotten so tired of hearing that same sermon over, and over? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Did you ever stop to wonder, did they ever want to take Jesus aside and say, “Master, no offense, but you’ve really got to work on developing your theme”? All they heard, all day long, was repent, repent, repent. If this was the case, and I’m guessing it might have been, maybe Jesus was intentionally preaching to his little fisherman choir. Maybe Jesus was looking for converts, but maybe he was making a point with the people who were already listening to him. Maybe he wanted his followers to know that following is more than just showing up, more than a one-time decision. Maybe Jesus wanted his disciples to repent - and keep repenting - over and over again.

Anyone can say, “Lord, Lord.” But not all who do are his followers. And, not all who follow are repenters. Repenting, in a way, is the act of reminding ourselves, over and over again, that we ARE followers of Jesus... and not the other way around. Repenting is the act of reminding ourselves that we are a bunch of hypocrites, deeply, deeply in need of the loving forgiveness of Jesus Christ our risen Lord. We are here, not so much because we proudly choose to follow Jesus, but because we humbly know we need to follow him. Boy, do we need to follow him. Because without his guidance, the whole thing just falls apart.

And, on yet one more hand - there’s one more thing Jesus says to the disciples. He starts by saying to repent, then to follow him. But why? What’s the point of the repentance and the following? Is it to make the disciples’ lives fulfilled? Is it the point of the repenting and following to make us feel good about ourselves? Is the point to assure us that we’re OK, that we’re on our way to heaven? That’s not what Jesus says. He doesn’t say, “Hey Peter and Andrew, James and John - Repent, and then follow me... because your lives will be so much richer.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me, and I will make you sin-free, debt-free and attractive to the opposite sex.” No. He says, “Follow me, and I will make you...” Well, in the old Revised Standard Version, he says, “I will make you fishers of men.” In the less poetic, but probably more accurate New Revised Standard Version, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Either way, the point is NOT that following Jesus is a self-glorifying end unto itself. Following is not how we get in touch with our inner Jesus. The point of following Jesus points us away from ourselves, away from our needs and toward the needs of the people out there. Out there, outside those doors, there’s a whole wide world of people who don’t know about Jesus. Or if they do, their opinion of Jesus, or their opinion of us in here, has so nailed their feet to the ground that they can’t turn around, or they won’t repent. Why? I’m guessing one big reason is because somewhere along the way the church got the part about repenting, the church got the part about following, but the church forgot the part about going fishing. Or maybe the church treated them like fish, instead of people.

A basic tenet of faith - in this church’s tradition of faith - is that the church does not exist for itself. The church exists for the world. Now, naturally, if you’re going to exist for the world, you’ve got to exist, and have a healthy existence. We’ve got to have a healthy life together if we’re going to share it with the world. Otherwise, the world just gets more messed up. So we have worship, we have fellowship dinners, we have education, we have... did I mention we have dinners? We do these things not only to make ourselves better people, but to make ourselves better fishers of people. No matter how hard you try, you can’t fish inside - at least, not very well, and not for very long. You’ve got to get out, into the world, if you’re going to meet the people who need the food we’ve got to offer.


Jesus had followers. He was (and is) the one who called (and who calls); he was and is the one whom people follow. He calls; we follow. That’s how the relationship is defined. That’s how our moments are defined. He calls; we follow. But there’s more. We follow, but we follow with a purpose. We follow as repenting people. We follow as repenting people who know they ought to be repenting, again and again and again. And, we follow as fishing people. We follow as repenting fishers of men and fishers of women, who follow because Jesus leads us out into the world, to be teachers of faith, proclaimers of the good news, and healers of every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people - physical, mental, spiritual - whatever.

He calls. We repent. We follow. We fish. You have heard the call of Jesus Christ, saying to you, “Follow me.” There is no, “How would you have responded,” because you’ve already heard him. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t. So, how ARE you responding? What ARE you doing, now that you’ve heard Jesus calling you? Are you still clinging to the net? Or are you going live, without a net, walking that treacherous but glorious walk where he leads?