Gracious God, thank you for catching us in your net of grace, calling us into relationship, discipleship, and service, and for guiding us along life’s journey. May we open our hearts today, once more, to the movement of your Spirit. Amen.
I love today’s gospel story. I always have. Here we find Jesus, ready to begin his public ministry, going down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to seek out and call his first disciples. I love it, in part, because this call to discipleship is not something that is relegated to the past, to only those original disciples, but is extended also to us. It always has been an invitation to all who want to follow in the way of Jesus.
And I love it because right here at the beginning of this story of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we are reminded that the life of faith, including our various forms of ministry, is something we are called to do in community with other people. Jesus, having been baptized by John and then spending forty days alone in the wilderness facing temptation, now comes back into society, settles in Capernaum, and gets to work building a community with whom he can minister. Inviting these fishermen to join him is the first thing he does.
There are a variety of ways it may take shape, but community is central to the Christian faith.
Jesus was a good leader, self-differentiated and passionate about his mission, but he wasn’t a lone wolf. Good leaders know that if you want to get anything done (and done well), if you want to build something that will last, you need to build a good team. Jesus had a few precious years to build a team that would carry on his message and work into the future, and who would then pass the torch to the next generation.
Jesus also knew it wasn’t just about him. In fact, he said so. Over and over, he talked about the Kingdom of God drawing near. Jesus’ vision, hope, and dream, was that this world would be transformed and renewed in God’s love, that this world would know the kind of peaceful, just, and equitable existence that is possible when we remember that we belong to each other and that all this beloved creation belongs to God.
Everything Jesus lived and taught was in service to this big vision. And so, of course, he had to bring others along with him. And he had to teach them how to go out and share this vision and live this mission more broadly.
Jesus told these fishermen that he would teach them to fish for people. These guys were everyday folks – working class people, not religious elites. But they were people who knew their Jewish roots and religion, knew their local region of Galilee and its people – their culture, their joys and their struggles.
“Follow me. And I will make you fish for people.”
Often people read this invitation as a call to evangelism (and it is). But sometimes we tend to equate evangelism with a kind of pushy proselytizing, perhaps of a very narrow form of Christianity that makes many of us (including me) really uncomfortable.
But I don’t think that is what this fishing for people thing is about because that is not what Jesus was about. He wasn’t pushy and manipulative. Jesus taught and modeled some challenging ideas, he was clearly passionate, and he didn’t shy away from calling people to repentance for the harm we do to each other. But he didn’t use fear, shame, and guilt to try and get people to join him.
Instead, Jesus taught and modeled love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, care for the hurting, help for the poor, and inclusion of those who felt like society had cast them out.
Evangelism simply means to “bring good news.” That’s why the gospel writers are also called evangelists. And it’s not good news unless it’s for anyone and everyone. It’s not good news if it brings about more harm than good.
But Jesus’ way of evangelism was love. God’s deep, wide, and abiding love was the message he shared and love was the method he employed to convey it. He offered that to everyone, including his disciples, and he taught them to “go and do likewise.”
When we answer the call to discipleship, we say yes to community, yes to seeking relationships with others – those we already know, those we haven’t yet met. We say yes to relationships that are grounded in God’s love and that seek to bring more love into the world.
When we do that, we are all on team Jesus. We have varied perspectives, ideas, experiences, and backgrounds, but as long as love is our guiding principle, we’re all on the same team.
In a little while we’re going to commission and bless our lay leaders for this new year. Today we celebrate and offer our support to all of you who have said yes to God’s call; you who have stepped up to help lead this church community, our local team.
As you probably know, it takes a lot of people to keep our various ministries going. And we are so very blessed to have such a wonderful group of people with a wealth of abilities and talents who are willing to give of your time and energy to contribute to the life of this church.
Whether or not you will be serving in a leadership position this year, each of you is an important contributor to our collective ministry. Simply by showing up and being yourself, you are stepping out in faith, saying yes to God’s invitation, and helping to shape this church community. So, thank you!
Another reason I love today’s story is because sometimes when I feel like I have made a mistake or I’m trying to figure out how to respond to some challenge or dilemma, I can always return to the beginning of this discipleship journey and remember that simple invitation Jesus offered: “Follow me.”
Peter, Andrew, James, and John didn’t know where following Jesus would take them. And a lot of the time (well, most of the time) they didn’t know what they were doing. They made plenty of missteps and needed a lot of help, instruction, and grace along the way.
I find that enormously comforting! And I hope you do too.
Part of discipleship, part of faith, is simply embracing the journey – wherever it may lead. There is so much about life and death, God, truth, reality that we don’t know. We don’t have all the answers. We can’t. We’re only human.
But part of faith is entering into the unknown, making peace with the mystery, and accepting our own human limitations. And, in doing so, we place our trust in God to accompany us along the journey and help guide our steps wherever they may lead.
This acceptance of the unknown can really bring so much freedom. Our calling is not to be extraordinary superheroes of faith who have it all figured out.
I used to aspire to be a superhero. As a kid, I called myself Super Susie liked to practice my superhero leaps off of the living room sofa – I even had a uniform that included a Wonder Woman t-shirt and a mixing bowl helmet.
But my calling is not to be Super Susie. It’s just to be Susie. And yours is just to be you – because you are already wondrous, precious, beloved, and super.
Jesus called ordinary folks like you and me to join him in his ministry and mission. And he’s still calling.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John literally dropped what they were doing (at least according to Matthew – they abandoned their nets and James and John even left their poor father Zebedee in the boat) and they said yes to Jesus’ invitation to follow.
They didn’t know where they were going or what they would endure along the way. And, as we know, this journey took them to some difficult places. But they stepped out in faith and trust anyway.
They could have taken a pass and stayed comfortably in the familiar and routine. But instead, they chose an adventure with Jesus. And that’s what I think discipleship is. An adventure with Jesus. For however many precious years we have upon this earth, we have an opportunity each day to respond to God’s call to love, to relationship, to community. And each day we can take that opportunity to say yes, to choose trust, to follow as best we can in the way of Jesus, the way of love, and see where this adventure might lead.
In the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins told his nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
It’s true. Discipleship. Faith. This adventure of life itself. All are dangerous in some ways.
But given that we can’t really escape the inherent risk of being alive, shouldn’t we embrace it to some extent? Not recklessly, not carelessly, not in ways that cause harm.
But discipleship does call us to a certain level of risk. Faith involves some risk. Relationships involve some risk. Building community involves some risk. But it’s worth it. And the benefits outweigh the risk. And God is there every step of the way, loving us along this discipleship adventure.
We’ve probably already learned a lot and will, no doubt, learn more as we go because this path of discipleship involves many things.
Discipleship involves openness to new learning, growth, and change. It’s a life-long process, so we shouldn’t assume that we’ll end up in the same place we started.
Discipleship involves becoming healers like Jesus. And not all healing is physical. We are called to be healers of broken relationships, of a wounded world; consolers and caregivers to those with broken hearts, those who are sick, those who are struggling.
Discipleship also involves an openness to being cared for, to receiving the healing love of others. For some people being cared for is actually harder than being the caregiver. But that is part of the call to create a mutual community of care.
Discipleship asks us to be courageous. Courageous in our faith. Courageous in our work for a more just and peaceful world for all.
Discipleship asks us to have the courage to face the difficult things in this world – including confronting our own privilege in order to help dismantle the structures and systems we have built over the centuries that harm people.
Instead, discipleship asks us to give our all to build up a Beloved Community.
Discipleship calls us to stay open and optimistic in the face of big challenges. There are big issues in our world that call for a faithful response.
For example, how do we offer sustainable help people who are experiencing homelessness or who are maybe only one missed paycheck away from losing their housing? Homelessness and poverty are complex. There’s no one obvious solution. People are diverse and so are their struggles and their needs. It can get frustrating sometimes. Even when we want to help, not all offers of help are always welcome. Or we might feel like any help we are able to give is just a drop in the ocean because the overarching problem is so big. It’s not simple.
Sometimes I think discipleship is the willingness not to quit, not to give up, not to become cynical, the willingness to carry on and keep trying even when we’re frustrated or discouraged.
And I suppose that’s when we also have to remember the importance of community once again because discipleship also involves encouraging one another. We don’t walk alone. We are part of the same team.
Jesus invites us to follow in the path of love, to build up the Beloved Community, and to embrace the joy and mystery of the journey, wherever it may lead.
And though we don’t have to be superheroes, we are here to be each other’s cheerleaders, teammates, biggest fans, and co-conspirators in the work of faithful love.