Come, Follow Me

Sunday, January 22, 2023
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Matthew 4:12-22

Some of you may know that my faith journey has been one with quite a few Twists and turns.

When I was in college – I got involved in a campus ministry with a decidedly evangelical outlook. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I loved the passion of the leaders and the students involved. They were “sold out” or “on fire” for Jesus. I was like a sponge, soaking up all I could learn, and I fell more deeply in love with the living God.

Perhaps you too have been stirred by a fervent preacher encouraging you to dedicate your whole heart, your life, and your future to God –to drop your nets and go and share the good news of God’s love and salvation to the whole world. After all, Jesus gave up everything for us. Let’s give up everything for him.

This call to radical discipleship. It can be exciting, exhilarating.

But some of what discipleship involved in this campus ministry made me extremely uncomfortable.

Part of our training was street evangelism.  And I was pretty shy. Especially when it came to strangers. I would rather have a root canal out than go knocking on doors with a tract in my hand. I kept praying to ‘get the victory’ over my dread.  But that never happened.

The problem was, I wasn’t wired to be a street evangelist. I hated being pushy. And besides, I was raised a Lutheran.

Which reminds me of a joke that one of my professors at Luther Seminary told to our class one day. What do you get when you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who knocks on doors but doesn’t know what to say …

But seriously.

As I look back on those years, I realize that I was desperately trying to change myself into some other person’s idea of what a true disciple should be like.

_________

In our Gospel reading we just heard that without a moment’s hesitation, James and John, Andrew and Peter throw down their nets and leave everything behind to follow Jesus. No questions asked.

Talk about radical. These young men abandon their families and business at the drop of a hat to follow a stranger.

However, what was even more strange was that any self-respecting first century rabbi would recruit his own disciples. Quite the opposite. Would be disciples sought out their rabbis – not the other way around.

After years of dedicated study in the synagogue a budding scholar (usually around 15 years old) would approach a rabbi and ask to follow him. The rabbi would then thoroughly examine him to determine if he had the right stuff. If you made the cut, it was like getting accepted at an Ivy League school or making the Olympic team. When the rabbi invited you to follow, it was a statement of high confidence in you, your abilities, potential and capacity to be like him.

Rather than being devastated, I would imagine that Zebedee, the father of James and John, was busting his buttons with pride when his boys took off to follow Jesus. What an honor! This is front page news! Of course, they followed him.

But there is the other thing. Jesus believed in them. In their potential and abilities and gifts. Jesus believed that they could become like him.

But that does not mean they were to abandon who they were.

Jesus wasn’t asking them to leave their true authentic self behind. Rather Jesus called them to live more fully and freely into the person God created them to be.

The fear that we will have to squish into a mold that just doesn’t fit can keep us from fully committing our lives to God. For example, you may be an extrovert who thrives on people and travel and adventure, wondering if discipleship means a life of silent prayer in a monastery. Or you are a nurturing homebody who likes to stay behind the scenes, fearing that radical discipleship means public speaking on the mission field in a far-flung country.

Hear me on this. Your rabbi Jesus, BELIEVES in you. Jesus chooses you. He knows you, treasures you, and he believes you can become like him.

You…with your unique wiring, interests, experience, and skills. He is not out to coerce you to become someone else nor sever you from everything you love. But rather, with gentleness and love, God desires to nurture, develop, and guard everything that you offer to him. Yes, there is transformation involved. You are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. AND also – more fully into the person that God created you to be.

This doesn’t mean that following Jesus is a cake walk. Discipleship involves sacrifice and change, risk, and stepping out in faith.  But when we drop our nets and follow, we walk into a life that is both abundant and authentic.

Jesus’ disciples were common everyday folks, but they also were diverse bunch with very different personalities. Peter was impulsive, Andrew hovered in his brother’s shadow, Thomas was skeptical, Matthew had a checkered past, and Jesus nicknamed James and John the “sons of thunder.” That is just a sample. There were others including women who followed.

Folks like you and me. They were not perfect. They stumbled and screwed up along the way. But they followed. And through them, God changed the history of the world.

And that is still God’s plan today. God chooses ordinary folks like you and me – and through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, God can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or even imagine.

Jesus chooses you. Exactly as you are. Jesus believes in you. And he is calling to you.

Come, Follow Me.

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