This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Third Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel text was Matthew 4:12-23. I’ll have to explain how some of the sermon worked.
I started by walking through the congregation, tapping five people on the shoulder, and telling each of them, “Follow me.” I led them to the chancel, and invited them to stand in a line. I said to the congregation:
I wonder why they followed me. I mean, I didn’t tell them what we were going to do. I could have led them out the front door, and locked them outside. I could have led them to my office, where I might have scolded them for some reason. I could have led them up front, where I will now ask them to sing for you all.
No, none of those things. No, I led them up here just so I could ask a question. The key question to my sermon. The question is this: why did they follow? And I’ve taken the liberty of typing up answers for them.
I handed out slips of paper to each person, and invited them to read them aloud.
- I followed you because I figured, “what the heck.” What was the worst that could happen? It’s not like anything you’d lead me to here would make me lose my job or anything.
- I followed you because I figured there was a chance that you were going to give each of us a hundred dollars. I knew it probably wouldn’t happen, but it was worth the risk! I thought it might be a good investment.
- I followed you because I was scared. I thought that if I didn’t, you might embarrass me or nag me until I did.
- I followed you because I like to be the center of attention, and I thought that we’d have all the attention, which we do right now!
- I followed you because I trust you. You’ve been our pastor long enough that I knew you wouldn’t embarrass or hurt me. I knew it was safe.
I thanked the five for being good sports, and invited them to return to their seats. At this point, projected on the screen behind me were the five reasons one might follow:
- Doesn’t cost anything.
- Center of attention.
Would you have followed me if I had tapped you? If so, why? If not, why not? What if a stranger did this? What if you were at work, and a stranger tapped you on the shoulder and said, “Follow me”? Would you do it? Because that’s exactly what those four fishermen did in today’s gospel.
Four fishermen, hard at work. Two of them were throwing nets into the sea, the other two were fixing their nets in the boat. To them, fishing wasn’t a leisure activity. These were career fishermen; they made their living on bringing in nets full of fish. It was hard work, and unpredictable. They needed a good catch every day if they were going to feed their families.
Jesus walked up to them and said, “Follow me.” At once, Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him. Jesus walked further and said, “Follow me.” At once, James and John left their father in the boat, and followed him. Why? Why did they follow?
Well, what about the five answers we’ve had so far today?
Well, let’s take a look. It couldn’t be because they thought it wouldn’t cost anything. They left their jobs behind when they followed Jesus!
For the same reason, it couldn’t be because of the thought of an investment. There’s no way Peter and Andrew thought that “fishing for people” was a good financial investment. They probably had no idea what Jesus even meant by that.
It wouldn’t be fear. What would they be afraid of? Jesus didn’t threaten them or anything, didn’t say anything about “if you don’t follow me, you’re going to hell.”
Center of attention? There’s nothing in the story to support that, but I guess there’s also nothing in the text to speak against it. So I guess that’s possible.
But I think the reason they followed, the reason all four brothers just dropped everything and followed, is because of trust. Even though they didn’t know Jesus yet, they somehow trusted him. They trusted that he wouldn’t lead them astray. They trusted that even though they didn’t know where they were going, they would be okay.
And they were. They followed Jesus for about three years or so. During that time, they faced some big challenges. One time, a huge storm arose while they were on the lake, and they thought they would drown. But Jesus told the wind and the lake to be calm, and they were.
Another time, they stood before a crowd of more than five thousand people, and Jesus told them to feed all those people. They had no idea how to do that, but Jesus blessed a few loaves and fish, and everyone was fed.
Another time, they tried to prevent children from coming to Jesus, to guard his important time. Jesus scolded them, teaching them that the kingdom of heaven is for those who approach it like children, full of complete trust.
Another time, they ate the Passover with Jesus, and just afterward, he was arrested, and killed the next day. They all scattered in fear. Peter himself denied even knowing Jesus. And yet, Jesus returned, forgave them, and gave them a job: to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching.
Every time they thought they had to protect themselves, or protect Jesus, he provided. He protected. He proved worthy of their trust. Every time. And he did, in the end, teach them how to fish for people.
This is still true for us today. Has Jesus been tapping on your shoulder lately? I remember vividly the day I finally realized that Jesus had been tapping on my shoulder for years, to tell me to become a pastor. I had always been scared of that, and I ignored the tapping for a long time. The day I finally accepted it, fifteen years ago today, I said to God, “Okay. I will do this. But you’d better go with me every step of the way.” And you know what? He has been here, every step of the way.
Has God been tapping on your shoulder lately? Inviting you to do something new? Or inviting you to take a deeper step into your faith? Have you been ignoring it? God is faithful. God is trustworthy. God will never abandon you or forsake you. If God asks you to do something, God will provide everything you need to do it. You can follow. You can trust.