A body of water with a mountain in the background

Follow Me

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Epiphany 3A2023
Matthew 4:12-23

I’m in this to follow Jesus. Granted, there is something alluring about mystery and ritual and the rhythm of the church seasons. Granted, there is gift in connecting with people of various religious traditions as one who also embraces a religious tradition. Granted, there are many fascinating religious questions and rich religious symbols to explore. But if you want to know the truth, I’m not wild about religion. Make no mistake: my entire life is centered in and shaped by religion. I commit the majority of my waking hours to a religious purpose. Nearly everyone I know is a religious person. Still, I’m not wild about religion. Instead, I’m in this to follow Jesus.

I imagine Peter and Andrew, James and John hearing Jesus’ call, throwing down their fishing nets, following him. Why they do so without hesitation we’ll never know. Had Jesus’ fame preceded him? Had God come to them in a dream, like God had done for so many others? Were they just tired of fishing? Whatever the reason, they leave their nets and follow Jesus—immediately. At least according to the biblical witness, there’s no conversation, no negotiation, no “let me go talk to my wife.” They just follow.

What sort of conversations or negotiations or caveats would enter this situation if it were us? I have a mortgage, Jesus, and bills to pay. I signed a contract at work. My kids are in a good school; I don’t want to take them out. My grandchildren live near me. Where are we going? What are we doing? Where will we sleep? How will we eat? Won’t this be dangerous? Or maybe, simply: I’m scared.

These are all legitimate, completely legitimate reasons we might not, at the drop of a hat, follow Jesus. Right? The disciples don’t even know what’s coming. They don’t know they will live on the road, surviving on the generosity of others, that they will be criticized by the religious leaders of their day for embracing Jesus’ way of being in the world. They don’t know that they will be part of scandal, and they certainly don’t know that Jesus will be arrested, crucified, and die a criminal of the state. They don’t know—but we do. And if that doesn’t give us pause, it should.

But then again, imagine Peter and Andrew, James and John standing alongside Jesus as he heals sick people, seeing their joy and relief and their ability to be part of community again, seeing Jesus calm the roaring wind and turbulent sea, receiving power themselves to cure the sick and raise the dead, hearing parable after parable about the kingdom of heaven, distributing a few loaves and fish somehow multiplied to feed more than 5,000 people. Imagine witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop and learning to forgive 70 times 7 times and making friends all over the Judean countryside. Imagine their lives transformed so thoroughly that they never want to go back to the way things were before. Imagine them after Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and the day of Pentecost trying to figure out how to lead and organize and be what we now call the church. They are willing, eager even, to give up everything for what Jesus invites them to do, and to them, it’s worth it. Totally worth it.

I love the stories of the saints like Dr. King and Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Nelson Mandela. I love the stories of those who committed themselves to heroic acts of non-violence and justice. But I also am moved by Art who lived his entire 90-something years in the same small town in Iowa. Who humbly made sausage at the local grocery store and sliced meat at the deli counter as a profession but who poured out his life in service to those around him. Who served in World War II. Who planted trees around his community. Who went to every game and meet and match and every concert and play in which generations of public school children participated. Who stepped into positions of church leadership time and again. Who inspired his children and grandchildren to lives of faith and service and joy. Who asked countless members of his community: Where is God in your life? I am moved by Art, the chief evangelist of a congregation I once served, who is now part of the heavenly communion of saints.

I am moved by, I’ll call him, Derrick. Who raised five amazing children with only the help of his mom. Who attends every one of the basketball and football games at the public high school in his neighborhood to be a surrogate dad to a host of kiddos who don’t know their fathers. Who, when his mother entered the most difficult stage of dementia, brought her to work with him so that she wouldn’t be alone at home or have to enter a nursing home. Who has served on numerous Cursillo teams, consistently prays for the weekends, and always, always goes to manunitas. Who helps out whenever help is needed at church and who will march around the sanctuary, clapping and singing when asked in order to get the gospel heard and seen. I am moved by Derrick, a follower of Jesus.

I am moved by, I’ll call her, Annie. Who lived in a flower-painted van during the late 60s and protested non-violently for civil rights. Who has sheltered in her own home women fleeing domestic violence and family members in difficult situations. Who organizes special nights out for tired moms and regularly writes notes of encouragement and gratitude to the people in her life. Who has endured terrible loss and personal illness and still shows up for prayer group and to lead prayer retreat. Who joyously eliminated all but one meal out per month in order to give more of her financial resources to help alleviate global suffering. Who gently hugs each and every person in her path, prays diligently, lives joyously, and embraces challenges “with God’s help” as she always says. I am moved by Annie, a follower of Jesus.

Imagine a life following Jesus. Serving others through any number of professions. Raising children or nurturing others’ children to be kind and generous. Visiting people who are isolated. Lending a hand to a neighbor or church member when the need arises. Practicing humility and seeking justice for those vulnerable and marginalized. Not perfectly, not without hiccups and mistakes and stubbornness. Just committing daily to a life of love.

Art and Derrick and Annie and perhaps we are followers of Jesus. Art and Derrick and Annie and we are not better than others; we are just as broken as the next person. We go to church, of course (or in Art’s case, he did go to church), but religious duty or obligation is not our focus. Instead, we take the time and resources made available to us by our gracious God and steward them in the direction to love. Love for God and our families. Love for the children of our neighborhoods and those who are most vulnerable around us. Love for our community and the world in concrete ways. That’s what Jesus was calling the disciples to do that day, and that’s what Jesus invites us to do too. To commit daily to a life of love.

It’s a tall order—following Jesus. But what I have learned by trying to follow and by seeing others do it is that the following is itself the gift, the gospel, the life abundant. When Jesus beckons us to follow, we may think it will be drudgery, but in reality, it is joy. Today, Jesus lays down the law and at the same time declares the good news: Come, follow me. For which we say: Thanks be to God! Amen.