Sermon was co-written by Women’s Retreat Participants
Jesus comes to us and says, “Follow Me!” Amen.
In today’s gospel story we heard the calling of the first disciples. Passing along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to follow him. Jesus has begun his public ministry, having just been baptized by John the Baptist, when he was called God’s Son by a voice from heaven, and then immediately driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Jesus goes town to town, in the region of Galilee, to invite ordinary people, “come and follow me.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus called two sets of brothers who were fishermen. Simon and Andrew and James and John were going about their everyday work when Jesus appeared. As part of a small fishing enterprise, Simon and Andrew were casting their nets into the sea, when Jesus appeared. James and John, part of a larger fishing operation, were in a boat with their father and day laborers, mending their nets, when Jesus appeared and said, “follow me.”
As fisherman in a town whose economy was based on fishing, these first disciples enjoyed economic security. They had families, established businesses, and financial security.
As fisherman, they were most likely healthy and strong, able to weather the elements and perform a long day’s labor. They knew what it was like to put in a 12-hour day, to be away from home for long stretches, to use skills of observation and teamwork, to help each other mend their nets, and rely on one another to haul in heavy loads. Their profession had cultivated in them a certain amount of patience as they waited to catch fish. If they didn’t catch anything in one spot, they would move to another and try again. That wasn’t a failure, just part of the job. They were used to being disappointed and surprised.
Their community would have trusted and respected their profession as one that provided food to sustain the wider community.
And these fishermen knew their perfunctory chores. They were raised to perform them. This was the life they were raised to live. This was the only life they had known. That is, until Jesus appeared. That is, until Jesus invited them to “follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Until Jesus called them to leave life as they knew it and follow him, using their skills to advance this movement.
Jesus’s summons to leave the familiar in order to become what God was calling them to become was marked by the same unknown, with the same sacrifice, of countless call stories in the Bible. Be it Samuel, whom we heard about last week, or Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jonah, or Mary Magdalene: the pattern emerges that when God calls, we often have to let go of something in order to become what God is calling us to be.
You have to wonder, had these fishermen heard about Jesus before their meeting? Was this a meeting of strangers? Or was it an encounter that echoed the Samaritan woman’s experience who said, upon meeting Jesus for the first time, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did.”
Was there something in Jesus’s voice that they just had to listen to? Was there something about his appearing at that particular moment in their lives that they just could not shake? Was this their moment, as young men, to use their free will, to choose the life that they wanted to live, as opposed to living the life that was scripted out for them? Did they just have to find out more about this person, who was calling them to make a first step in their faith?
Without hesitation, with an almost primal response, these fishermen Simon, Andrew, John, and James immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus.
As fishermen, in a profession that alleviated hunger, they found themselves hungry for the message that Jesus proclaimed. They answered the summons to go and to feed others with the same spiritual food that ended their own aching hunger.
They dropped their fishing nets so they could go cast a different kind of net, a safety net, so that the men and women they drew to Christ would know that regardless of how much they messed up, they would be loved by God. They dropped their fishing net to cast a safety net, so that women and men would know that regardless of how hard life can be, God will always be with them.
They would use their skills of fishermen. They would need their skills of observation and teamwork. They would need the patience cultivated in them by their former profession. As they spread the gospel, they would need to move to the next place when they did not catch anything, knowing that part of the job was disappointment and surprise, feast and famine.
But you have to wonder, had the disciples any clue what they were signing up for?
Could they have foreseen the future and how it would end, and then begin again?
Did they know about the healing that Jesus would perform that would reunite families? Could they have anticipated the radical transformation that they would encounter as fellow human beings encountered Christ? Could they have foreseen Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection? Did they know that for all but one of them, martyrdom awaited?
How could they have known?
Jesus, standing on the bank of the Sea of Galilee, knows the power of one ripple. He knows the ripple effect in emanating God’s love as God’s kingdom breaks into time. He knows the power of sending out messengers to advance this message, this movement.
I wonder, can you think of a time when Jesus appeared to you, in the ordinariness of your life, and called you to “follow me?”
Have you ever had an experience in life when you just knew you had to respond to the call? You knew in your heart that you just had to drop your net, so you could pick up a new one.
Do you remember that time when you did not know you were tired, you did not know you were hopeless, you did not know you were missing out on the more of life, until He came to the bank of your heart and said, “follow me?”
Follow me into a new life, into a new place. Follow me into hope, into rest, into love. Follow me into the margins of society and into the margins of your life, and watch how I transform it. Watch what is unleashed as the movement spreads like wildfire.
This weekend I had the opportunity to lead the women’s retreat. The retreat is a time when the women of St. Thomas’ Church take a pause to reflect on how Jesus is inviting them into a deeper life in Christ.
We shared many stories over the retreat about our experience answering this call.
For one woman, it happened when she showed up to Pendle Hill. She was on campus and lost. It was night and she could not find the building we were meeting in. Out of nowhere a staff person showed up and said, “follow me, I will show you the way.”
For another woman, her response to Jesus’s call meant a career change. She felt compelled to give up her line of work and become a horticultural therapist for children going through some sort of hardship. She shared that she just had to do it, though she knew it would be a difficult change. Reflecting on her decision, she gave thanks, for she felt like she got more out of her service than did the people she served.
For another woman, following Jesus meant to be watchful, to keep awake, each and every day, during each and every moment that Jesus shows up in our lives. For her this meant opening up her life to be interruptible by Jesus’s unexpected and unannounced appearances. One day it might be listening to a child try to explain something in a new way, or helping out her neighbor that she ran into in the CVS.
In this season after the Epiphany, in the ordinariness of your life, how is Jesus calling you? What net do you need to drop in order to follow Jesus? How might Jesus call you to use the gifts that you’ve already been given, to spread this movement of love?
Jesus never promised it would be easy.
There will be times when it feels like feast or famine, there will be times when nets are broken nets, and inclement weather forces you to change course. There will be times when we need to throw out the net altogether. There will be times when you may wonder why you left your life as you knew it, and times when you give thanks for taking a step further on the journey as you respond to the call of discipleship.
One of the gifts of the church is that we don’t have to discern this call alone. The church is here for you to help you answer the call. If we don’t have a way to help you follow Christ, help us chart new waters, as we try to follow Jesus together.
On the banks of the Sea of Galilee, the first disciples heard Jesus calling them. They heard something in his voice that made them drop their nets.
Can you hear that same voice today, inviting you to “follow me?”