Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
“Follow me,” Jesus says to Simon, also called Peter, and his brother Andrew. Then, down the shore, a similar invitation is offered to two other brothers, James and John. Can you picture the scene? Here are two sets of brothers, working hard in the family business, casting nets into the sea, hoping to catch enough fish to make a living. And here comes this man with an invitation that seems to come out of nowhere. And yet, the brothers respond. There must have been something about this stranger on the shore that gave the disciples the confidence to drop their nets. Both times, Matthew uses the same word to describe the timing of their reaction – IMMEDIATELY – and both times, Matthew tells us how they respond. They follow him.
Clearly there was something different about Jesus. There must have been something so unusual about Jesus’ invitation that these four fishermen were willing to take a risk. Maybe it’s because rather than just some singular instruction, he provided additional information that resonated with something they knew.
He said, “I will make you fish for people.” Jesus piqued their interest. He spoke to something that was close to their hearts and maybe at the root of who they were. He nurtured and kindled a part of them that became inspired to move forward and join him.
“Follow me.” It’s a command that comes over and over again in Scripture. God called Abraham and Sarah to leave their home, their family, their identity, and move into an unfamiliar land. God called Rahab to shelter undercover agents sent to Jericho. God called Samuel, three times as a young boy, to be God’s servant, who later would anoint Israel’s first king. God called prophets like Isaiah to call the people of Israel to open their eyes and see God in their midst. God called Mary to give birth to God incarnate. And God called fishermen from their nets to follow Jesus.
The Presbyterian pastor Rev. James Chatham has written:
From the beginning, God has called people; God has stepped into their lives and pointed them in new directions. God does this throughout the Bible; few pages go by without it. Is this not a strong signal that God is going to call us too; that in some moment when we are involved in a normal day’s pursuits, God will walk up to the lake shore and beckon us to leave our fishing boats for a future we had not planned?
I was reminded of my own calling to ministry just yesterday, when I attended a memorial service at the church that most nurtured my sense of calling 30-plus years ago – Old South Church in Boston. When I first moved to Massachusetts in the early 1980s with only a couple of friends and no clear career path, I found a spiritual home at Old South, where I was inspired by worship, phenomenal preaching, active mission work, and individuals who shared their love and encouragement with me. Yesterday, simply upon entering the sanctuary and seeing many of those old friends, I was reminded of how God opened my eyes, stirred my heart and soul, and nudged me – sometimes subtly, sometimes with a little more of a push – into ordained ministry, by speaking to something in my heart and helping me understand some of the roots of who I was. God nurtured and kindled a part of me that became inspired to move forward into an unknown future.
Pastor Bruce experienced his own sense of calling when he too was ordained 30-plus years ago – he expressed it to me recently as a sense of a “tugging” from God, even when he tried to move away or resist it. And during the last few years, Gary Gumuchian has been in the process of discerning his call to ordained ministry, the next step being his Ecclesiastical Council in March, during which he will be given the opportunity to share his own sense of God’s calling him.
Yet this sense of calling isn’t reserved for just us ordained minister types. Today’s Gospel lesson illustrates that anyone, everyone, is called by God. Jesus first called fishermen – ordinary, everyday people, going about their very ordinary, everyday lives. They were people who worked with their hands, who probably lived day to day, hoping they would catch enough fish to survive. Their hands and faces were weathered and worn, and I suspect they complained and cursed a bit. And yet, this was Jesus’ target audience. Just like the shepherds on the hillsides heard the news of Jesus’ birth, God brought unlikely people into God’s extraordinary story of salvation. God calls all of us into the story – if we are open enough to hearing Jesus’ voice, saying “Follow me.”
Follow me – on a cold morning in January, when the warmth of a cozy bed is even more alluring on a Sunday morning – into a time of worship, prayer, and fellowship.
Follow me – when you see that your friend, coworker, or neighbor who seems to not have anyone to talk to, is longing for someone to hear his or her story and you’re the one who can offer support.
Follow me – at a party where comments become increasingly crude, and you can’t quite bring yourself to laugh at yet another rude, racist or sexist joke. Follow me – to speak out for what is right.
Follow me – when you see those who are hungry, or without shelter, or who lack decent clothing, or who are oppressed and without voice. Recognize them as fellow children of God and respond in action – from contributing to Loaves & Fishes, to donating clothing items for immigrants and refugees, to working for real changes in our social and political systems.
Follow me. God’s calls are all around us.
Rev. James Chatham goes on to say:
If the Bible says anything clearly, it says this: God calls us. Calls us to do whatever God has in mind. Calls us to set a great many other things aside and follow God’s bidding.
Of course, it can be difficult to hear God’s call. There are many other places in our lives and world that make a lot of noise, too, in hopes that we’ll follow.
Follow me – you need this list of products in order to make yourself look or feel your very best. With the right combination of them, you’ll definitely be successful.
Follow me – on social media, so you can keep up with the latest news and thoughts of celebrities, politicians, and friends.
Follow me – just make up some plausible excuse, even if it isn’t quite true, to spare your friend’s feelings and avoid an invitation. Because you really just don’t FEEL like going.
The challenge is for us to discern which of these “follow me’s” are from God, and which might be from places that don’t quite lead us down the path of discipleship. So we need to be open to hearing God’s call in the first place, making space in our lives, minds, and hearts to be open to the kind of change God’s call might bring to us.
Discovering our vocation, hearing the voice that speaks to each of us as disciples, is a unique call, based on the skills and gifts and passions we have. Gifts of music like Jen Hamilton and Chris Dupuis and Nolan and Aidan have, gifts of teaching like Michele Wenz, gifts of caring and compassion like so many in our church have. Our myriad gifts need to be matched and balanced with the needs of the world. The theologian and author Frederick Buechner is often quoted for his definition of vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Each of us in our own way is being called by God, whether we’re fishermen or financial advisors or firefighters. Jesus nurtured and kindled a part of his followers that became inspired to move forward and join him. However God has spoken to you, touched you, and brought you to where you are, you’re called to be one of God’s people. And you’ve been called to help God turn the world around.
One way or another, I believe God finds a way to touch us, even grab us. God calls us to get moving. God tells us to go to unexpected places, and to do difficult things. God expects us to be God’s hands and feet.