When Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, when he called James and John, I wonder if they knew what they were getting into. They were just going about a normal day, heading out onto their boats. Perhaps the fishing was slow that day. Maybe they were thinking about what they would have for dinner that night. I am not sure any of them expected what happened. A young rabbi walks past on the shoreline and they look up from their work. “Follow me” calls Jesus to their distant boats and immediately they left their nets and followed him.
That’s one of the things that amazes me in this passage. The disciples all just left their nets behind and followed this man. They might have heard of Jesus previously, after all, they live in a small community and Jesus had began to preach in that area. They would know about this wandering rabbi who was seemingly following in the footsteps of John the baptist. But would that have been enough to leave everything behind and follow? Would it be enough for you?
I’d like to tell myself that it would. That sure, I would recognize what was happening and jump at the chance to join in. To be with Jesus from the very beginning. That I would be astute enough to recognize that call for what it is. But really, would I?
You see, Jesus still calls us today. In the midst of our ordinary lives Jesus is still calling. The question is, do we hear? And when we do manage to hear, do we respond?
The Presbyterian church likes to use the word call a lot. Our pastors are called to their positions. Elders are called to serve on session. You are responding to God’s call when you accept these positions. But that makes it seem like only some people are called. Only a few are given the responsibilities and everyone else is free to simply show up for worship on Sunday mornings. But calls are more than that.
We are called in the middle of our ordinary lives to follow Christ. It does not matter what your vocation is, you can still respond to Christ’s call, still serve as a disciple. The men Jesus first called were fishermen. They were working class people at best, getting by with what they could and finding ways to work with what they had. The disciples were not the most educated guys. They weren’t the most faithful Jews. All of the best torah scholars were apprenticed to rabbis somewhere. These guys didn’t make it that far. They had the basic education in the Torah and that’s it.
But Christ calls them. And Christ calls us.
It’s easier for me to see where God calls me to serve in my vocation, it’s kind of built into the job. But that doesn’t mean that God only calls those who work in churches or as missionaries to serve. We all serve doing whatever vocation God has called us to do. As a grocery store clerk, we can serve faithfully, offering smiles and friendly words to those who go by. As a doctor, we serve by healing and caring about the person we are healing, seeing them as more than just a statistic. There are always ways we can serve in the place we find ourselves.
In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”
“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The King learned to rule by being obedient.”
King Henry was a different king because he followed Christ. He didn’t have to leave everything behind and become a monk to be a follower. He had to follow Christ where he already was.
Now, while follow me doesn’t mean that everyone who wants to be a disciple needs to quit their jobs and apply to be missionaries, at the same time, it doesn’t mean that our daily life doesn’t change. Our life does change when we follow Christ. King Henry did not go anywhere, but his outlook and behavior changed. When we hear Jesus’ call and accept what it means, our lives should change.
There are many different kinds of calls that change our lives. There are calls to a particular place, to a spec
ific faith community. There are calls to a task, and there are calls to stop what you are doing and find refreshment for your tired spirit. There are calls into and out of relationships. There are calls to regret what you have done, to repent and make amends for your wrongdoing. And there are calls to stop regretting, to accept the fact that you are forgiven and get on with your life.
The words “Come, follow me” invite us to take a journey. When we follow someone, we go from where we are to a place that is completely different, sometimes without going anywhere at all. When Jesus invites us to follow him, it is precisely that – an invitation. We can choose to accept or decline, but if we accept then we must be prepared for challenges to come our way, challenges to how we think, how we live, what we do, even where we are. Following is not always an easy thing, at times we will be following uphill, not understanding why we have taken the route that we are on – but following has its advantages too. Following Jesus brings us to a place where we can see firsthand the power of God at work, and that is worth all the challenges that being a follower can bring.
But we have to focus on our call.
That was one of the problems in the church in Corinth. They became so obsessed with who they belonged to, which teacher they called “theirs”, they forgot who called them in the first place, who they were supposed to follow. When we focus on our differences, our divisions, we lose sight of where Jesus calls us. We get so preoccupied with bickering, we miss Jesus walking past on the shore.
And look, some days we will be like Zebedee, the father of John and James. He was still in the boat when his sons left. He too heard the call, but he stayed. Maybe he thought that someone needed to bring the boat in. Maybe he thought he was too old to follow this call to leave his life behind. Perhaps he realized someone needed to tell their mother what happened to them. There are a myriad of very good reasons why he might have continued on fishing that day, but the point is, he missed the call.
And some days, we too miss the call. We didn’t sleep well the night before or we are having a bad day thanks to an argument at home. We snap at people we shouldn’t. We respond with selfishness instead of generosity. We yell as opposed to ask why. There are days when we are going to fail to follow Christ’s call.
So did the disciples. Peter betrayed Jesus, despite swearing left and right the night before that he would do no such thing. James and John got into an argument about who would sit at the right hand of Jesus when they got into heaven. There were days when they all mentally stayed in the boat, ignoring Jesus’ call to something better. Something greater.
But Jesus keeps calling. He asked Peter, despite the betrayal, to watch his sheep. To care for those he was leaving behind. He asks John to watch his mother after he dies. Missing the call once never means that Jesus stops calling.
Jesus calls to us, “Follow Me” and keeps calling for our entire lives. We can ignore the call, or get so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t hear it at all. We can follow the call one day and slip the next, but the call is always there. Follow me. Change the way you approach the world. Live your life using the example Christ sets for you. Forgive those who have wronged you. Devote your time to others, offering comfort and teaching where you can. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Offer hope to the oppressed. That is what following the call means, that you do these things, no matter where you are at in life. No matter what your job.
Jesus calls “Follow me.” How will you respond?