Third Sunday of Epiphany B
Preached at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Muskegon, MI, while on Internship.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
I’ve always wanted to try this—walking up to people and saying, “This way, follow me,” and seeing what happened. Hopefully, my childhood wouldn’t repeat myself, in which my cousins would put me up in front to lead and then turn around and go the other way.
Guess I don’t always have that charming charisma that makes people want to drop what they are doing and follow me. Heck, sometimes, I can’t even get my parents’ dogs to listen to me. The smaller one, Shawnee, got out of her room on Christmas Day when forty members of my family were present, and let me tell you, getting her back up the stairs was quite the challenge.
So when Jesus approaches Simon and Andrew and says, “Follow me,” I am shocked when they actually do so. And then again, Jesus approaches James and John. I think, “this can’t happen again, can it?” But with just those simple words, “Follow me,” he convinces them to leave behind their father and their livelihood. I guess this Jesus guy is a big deal.
Well of course, we know that now, but I wonder what it was about Jesus that convinced these four men to join him that day. They were simple lower class men who, for all we know, were perfectly happy with the jobs they were doing. Maybe Jesus was looking particularly dashing that day, and the four fishermen perhaps hoped that they could get a quick buck by attaching themselves to this itinerant preacher. Televangelists of our own day after all often pull down paychecks far and above what most of us make.
Maybe the four of them were in some of sort of cosmically-linked mid-life crisis, and the arrival of Jesus on the scene coincided precisely with the moment of their greatest desire to effect a change in their lives. Okay, maybe that one’s not quite so plausible… any time. But still, what was it about that day that called four men away from their lives and their families?
I wonder if the answer isn’t much simpler than we think. Maybe, just maybe, they went and followed Jesus because he asked them to.
An invitation can make all the difference in the world to a person. Take this for instance. As a kid in grade school, I would have given up almost anything to be invited to the cool kid parties, or to hang out with the popular kids. When a classmate of mine, Joshua, invited me over to his house one afternoon just to hang out, I thought the world had stopped turning.
An invitation can make all the difference in the world. Who an invitation comes from, though, is where the power of the invitation truly lies. When Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, it is very likely that they had heard about him. Jesus probably preached for a while before calling his disciples, and who knows, he may have started his career in the camp of John the Baptist. John gets arrested, and someone has to fill the empty space left behind. It seems that that man was Jesus.
For these fishermen, Jesus must have appeared to be the one whom John talked about, the one greater than he. They had heard his preaching, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” They probably thought, “This Jesus guy is a big deal.” And then he shows up, and gives them an invitation. Join me. Follow me. Be my students, and be my disciples. Can more powerful words have ever been spoken?
An invitation. And they jump at it. They take it. It had been exactly what they were waiting for. That invitation, they hoped, would make all the difference in the world. And, as we know, it did. The world changed on that day, because out of that invitation came a new world, a new way of thinking and acting. For two thousand years we have felt the effects of that invitation as the Good News has spread throughout the whole world. All of it came about through this one invitation. Follow me.
Stories like this convince me that the Gospel writers were really closet-Lutherans. These first disciples didn’t go out seeking for Jesus. They didn’t make a choice to believe in him. They didn’t “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” In fact… they didn’t do anything at all. Jesus invited them himself. His invitation made the difference. Jesus was the big deal, not Simon, Andrew, James or John. It’s a very Lutheran principle, this idea that God goes out of the way to call people and invite them without their consent. I mean, it happens all the time.
God calls Abraham and gets laughed at. Isaiah has a vision that puts him reluctantly on the path of a prophet. And Jonah—oh goodness, Jonah, what else could possibly go wrong. Not only does he run away from God, get caught in a storm, eaten and puked up by a fish, but when it’s all over, who shows up but God, saying, “Now Jonah. I have a job for you. Please go to Nineveh and give them my message.”
Where would the world be if God didn’t take the initiative to call us? We’d be in a lot worse places than we are now. If I had to choose between God’s way and my way, it would be my way every time. My way is just easier. It’s simpler, it’s less burdensome, it’s more fun, and it’s probably a little on the edge. Not too much on the edge, this is me we are talking about, after all. But man, God has a tendency to ask things of us that we would not ask of ourselves.
When we pile up our possessions, building bigger and better houses to keep them in, God says, “Give them up.” When we ignore the needy in our community, whether it is Family Promise folks or people coming for food God says, “Look again. Don’t ignore them.” When we hold on to old hatreds and quarrels, refusing to seek reconciliation, God says, “Get over yourselves.” I’m particularly bad at that one. God’s way is not our way. But God doesn’t put us on that way alone.
I have always been struck by the fact that when Jesus sends out the disciples, he sends them out in groups. He sends them out as a community, and they return as a community. So when Jesus calls his first disciples, it doesn’t surprise me that they are called in prayers, as a community—as a family.
Look around you. All of those people on the other side of the pews, whom you may never have met before. They are part of your family. They are part of my family. The church is a community called together for God’s work together. This is your invitation to go out and do great things.