Written by Pastor Ed
Come and Follow
January 22, 2017
Isaiah 9: 1-4
Matt. 4: 12-23
The other evening when our care group was meeting, I was reminded of an incident in my life back in the Spring of 1970. I was sitting one Spring day on the steps of the art museum in Dusseldorf, Germany. I had hoped to visit the museum and my friend had left me there while she went and ran some other errands. But unfortunately, the museum was closed as they were installing a new exhibit that day. So I sat on the front steps watching the world go by and waiting for Irene to return.
After a bit a man came and sat down beside me and began a conversation. He too was American and I discovered his name was also Ed. And after a bit I learned that he was, in fact, Edward Kienholz, the artist whose work was being installed in the gallery. Now I had never seen his work and didn’t know the name but it was interesting to talk to a fellow American and someone obviously known in the art world. We chatted about a variety of things, and then he offered me a job, saying it was hard to get good help for all the work needed to put up and take down his exhibits. I made some excuses of needing to finish my semester and return home to be in a friend’s wedding, and declined his offer. It was an interesting incident.
However, when I returned to Cambridge and relayed the story to my classmates, some of them were rather astonished because they had seen Kienholz’s exhibit in Amsterdam and been impressed. And when I read about his art and his life now, I wonder what might have been different if I had accepted his invitation. Where might I have had the chance to travel? What would life on the road with an artist been like? It was a random meeting that could have changed my life.
But what would my parents have thought? (Although I’ll admit they were never quite sure what to expect from me.) What about my friends who were expecting me to be a part of their wedding? I would have been labeled crazy, rash, or worse. How would it have changed my life – would I have finished school, met Gay, or gone into ministry? So many questions with no answers when those encounters come up.
So consider for a minute, some fishermen going about their tasks, some of them fishing, some of them tending to their nets alongside their father, Zebedee. One can imagine that this was a normal working day and these were obviously young men, at least James and John since their father was still living, who probably assumed that they would take over their father’s business and spend their lives doing what they had grown up watching their father and perhaps grandfather doing before them. Life was as expected.
And then they had an encounter with an itinerant preacher. Perhaps they had heard of this fellow Jesus, or perhaps not, we don’t really know. According to John’s account that we read last week, John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew, but Matthew has a slightly different account, so we don’t know for sure how it happened, but the amazing thing is – when Jesus invited them to come and follow, they left what they were doing and went off with Jesus!
First of all, let’s think about these four young men. Someone has suggested that instead of the picture you have on the front of the bulletin, it maybe should rather look like this! Who walks up and simply says, “Come and follow me?” Does he have any idea what he’s asking? Who’s going to look after the fishing? What about my friends, and the appointments I already made? “You’ve got to be kidding, we just met!” Can you imagine making that kind of decision on a chance encounter with someone you may or may not have heard much about? I know a bit of what that feels like.
And can you imagine what Zebedee must have thought? “I’m here mending the nets with my sons, and some guy comes along and invites them to go with him, and they just up and leave. Now what am I supposed to do? And how will I explain this to their mother? How could they do this to me?” Just imagine the turmoil and hand-wringing the action of James and John must have caused as the news spread.
At the time it must have been a rather scary thing, both for the people whom he called as well as for those around them. Maybe later on it wasn’t as big a thing, but even then there were lots of movements and leaders who called people to follow them and then led them off on some weird journey into the desert, or turned violent and were eventually wiped out by the government. We tend to look at these accounts and think how great it would have been to actually meet Jesus and follow him.
But wait, isn’t that exactly what we expect to happen now? Isn’t Jesus’ invitation still the same as it was to those first disciples? Come and follow me? Do we think about what that really means or have we become so accustomed to hearing it that we pass it off as simply an invitation to join another club or team? Or maybe we think it doesn’t even take as much commitment as joining a club or team?
Far too often I’m afraid, we find excuses why we’re not ready to answer Jesus’ invitation to come and follow. As a song in the musical revue, “For Heaven’s Sake” once said, “Use me, O Lord, but not just now.” And then goes through all the reasons why it doesn’t work just now, until finally, when he’s dead, “at last he is giving his all.” When I was a Conference Minister I was always somewhat chagrined at pastoral candidates who would state on their Ministerial Leadership Information form that they only wanted to look at churches within a 50 mile radius of some Mennonite centre, or their hometown. I was never quite sure what that said about their commitment to follow wherever God called them.
Thomas Troeger, who has a number of hymns in our hymnal, captures that sentiment in a hymn in our hymnal entitled “If all you want, Lord” #512
- If all you want, Lord, is my heart, my heart is yours alone – providing I may set apart my mind to be my own.
- If all you want, Lord, is my mind, my mind belongs to you, but let my heart remain inclined to do what it would do.
- If heart and mind would both suffice, while I kept strength and soul, at least I would not sacrifice completely my control.
- But since, O God, you want them all to shape with your own hands, I pray for grace to heed your call to live your first command.
For that’s what the invitation of Jesus to his disciples asks for. Come and follow means leaving things behind. It may mean being viewed a bit different or even crazy. It may mean a move across the country, or even to a foreign land. It means having a different set of priorities.
It can be something that you’ve thought about for a long time and finally come to a decision about, or it can be a sudden encounter that catches you unexpectedly and you make a snap decision. But it is a decision that each of us must make somewhere along the way for Jesus still invites us to come and follow. Whether we accept that invitation is up to us.
Those disciples, actively involved in the pursuit of their jobs and livelihood, decided to leave it all behind and follow no matter what others, including their father might have thought. And it changed their lives, probably in ways even they didn’t anticipate. If we truly choose to follow it may also change us, sometimes in ways we least expect.
Following Jesus involves being open to hear his call, and then acting upon it. Following has taken on a different meaning in some circles these days, but this is more than that. It’s not a one-time decision but a daily call to live according to the way of Jesus. We’ll explore that a bit more in a couple weeks as we look at portions of the Sermon on the Mount, but today just to note that it’s a call to a lifestyle marked by an ethic of love and a sharing of that light which comes to us from God.
Will you come and follow? Will you dare, like Andrew and Peter and James and John, to leave what was expected of you behind and follow this one who comes to you and offers a new way of life? The invitation is there, how will you answer?