14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and told the good news that comes from God.[a] 15 He said, “The time has come! God’s kingdom will soon be here.[b] Turn back to God and believe the good news!”
Jesus Chooses Four Fishermen
16 As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen and were casting their nets into the lake. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.” 18 Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
19 Jesus walked on and soon saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat, mending their nets. 20 At once Jesus asked them to come with him. They left their father in the boat with the hired workers and went with him.
It is important to remember how Jesus started his ministry. He transitioned into ministry through his cousin, John the Baptist. If you look at the lives of the cousins side by side, the transition is smooth, but not without violence and confusion.
John began his ministry along the Jordan River. King Herod brought John’s ministry to a violent end, but not before Jesus had stepped into John’s sandals. We don’t know the names of John’s disciples, but we know that he he had disciples.
35 The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Here is the Lamb of God!” 37 John’s two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus.
38 When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”
They answered, “Rabbi, where do you live?” The Hebrew word “Rabbi” means “Teacher.”
39 Jesus replied, “Come and see!” It was already about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.
Until John was arrested, John and Jesus were both preaching…there may have been some rivalry, not between John and Jesus, but between their followers. John baptized Jesus…a symbolic act that can be viewed from a number of perspectives. It’s important to note that John did not discourage Jesus as a rival, but rather encouraged him as a colleague. When John was imprisoned by Herod, he directed his own disciples to Jesus.
Matthew 11: 2-3
2 John was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing. So John sent some of his followers 3 to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we should be looking for? Or must we wait for someone else?”
I admit, that question does not sound like it could come from the same person who baptized Jesus, but we’ll save that query for another day. Suffice it to say that the Israelites had a long history of preachers who seemed to be or claimed to be the Messiah.
After Jesus’ baptism and his trial in the wilderness, Jesus had a clearer idea of who he was and what he must do. The way the Gospels tell the story, he built his company, just like one would build a business, by gathering a staff. He had neither capital nor real estate, nor did he need any. He needed people.
In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson we read in John 1:43-51 that Jesus chose Philip and Nathanael.
Today, Jesus finds four men, two sets of brothers: Andrew and Simon and James and John. They do not apply for the job, not do they have any apparent need for a job. They are fishermen, hardworking men who earn a living to support themselves and their families. They are responsible not only to themselves, but to their employers.
The fishing industry was owned by the government, just like the rest of the country’s infrastructure. They worked for Caesar. They weren’t necessarily working for a family -owned business. But they were responsible to those with whom they worked. They were not day laborers, a status that many were forced into. They had full-time jobs. How many people today would love to have a full-time job, instead of a rickety balance of several part-time jobs? These fisherman were pretty lucky, even if their wages were barely enough to keep their families alive. My point is this: they had a lot to lose by walking off the job to follow Jesus, who had no way to pay them. Jesus’ miracles never included making money appear out of nowhere. So following Jesus was not the answer to prayers…that’s my guess, anyway. We don’t know about Andrew, but we do know that Simon (later called Peter) had a family. We also know that James and John worked with their father, Zebedee.
What possessed these men to quit what most men would kill for? One word. Jesus. Or maybe two words: Holy Spirit.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. Who would follow Jesus if it meant quitting a job, abdicating all responsibilities to employees, employers, and families, and depending on the largesse of others? Who does that? There are only so many Mother Theresa’s and I’ve met very few.
For followers of Jesus, today, the church gives lip-service to provide, half-heartedly, what a person needs to do ministry. Interestingly, the only institution I know of today that provides a way for a person to focus exclusively on ministry is the Roman Catholic Church. A hundred or even fifty years ago, the institutional church in many denominations provided housing, transportation, and an allowance to those who dedicated themselves to doing the works of Jesus. I’m thinking particularly of Roman Catholic priests and nuns and Lutheran and Reformed Deaconesses. The only examples I know of today are nuns and priests and those who work for such places as L’Arche and Catholic Worker House. In other words, some of those who serve the homeless and the sick and the helpless are provided for so that they can dedicate all their energy to service. The rest volunteer their time and energy.
The followers of Jesus had no plan, no institution to keep them alive. They basically declared that it was worth being homeless to follow Jesus. Would you follow Jesus if it required you to be homeless? In my cousin’s sermon last Sunday, he quoted another pastor who observed that it is harder to join Costco or Sam’s than to join the Church. He mused: “What if you had to parachute from an airplane to join the church?”
At what point would you say, it’s not worth the trouble? Where would you draw the line?
I will tell you that my choice of ministry as a profession has never sat well with some of my family members. (Praise God, others are thrilled.) I admit that I plowed ahead into this without consulting anyone. The compulsion and the impulsion of the power of the Holy Spirit has propelled me from teacher to preacher. But the fact remains, that I am still financially and socially secure. I did not give up everything I owned or loved as I moved up the path to this pulpit. I still have a loyal family, a roof over my head, plenty of stuff to dust and fret over. And I’ll never go hungry.
That brings me back to the disciples. In the first century, poverty was not unusual; yet it was never held up as a standard to which one should aspire. Poverty has always been an enemy to human decency. But the disciples, Nathan, Phillip, Andrew, Simon, John, James found new, unheard of riches. Those riches were counted in the heart, in the soul. The tokens were not minted; they were acted…..actions of healing, of love, of generosity, even when there was little to share.
Many of you have been studying and following Jesus long enough to know that the riches of the spirit cannot be replaced by a bank full of CDs or a thousand acres of Iowa farm land. You may have prime rib or deer sausage in your freezer. You can drive a Lexus SUV or a Pinto. None of those is a symbol or a token or a sign of the richness of your life.
One of my friends and I were talking about Civil Rights. We disagreed on how far the Civil Rights movement has progressed since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a white person in a white community, she optimistically believes that all the promises made in the voting rights act and the housing rights act have been kept. From my window into the world of black life, I see continued racism, which leads to poverty in all its forms.
But my friend said one thing that resonated with me. “There is a poverty of spirit that holds people down.” A richness of spirit does not put food on the table, but it does enable one to go on, to hope, to have faith.
That richness of spirit is what we nurture here.
Think about your career: farmer, machinist, teacher, waitress, nurse, homemaker, clerk, ….think of the jobs for which you got a paycheck. Would you have left that job to follow Jesus? What if the institutional church required you to sell everything and give it to the poor before you could join? What if the church required you to leave your family? Jesus made it clear that following him meant losing everything else. As a preacher and as a Christian, I like to find ways around that. I’m happy to admire nuns and priests who sell everything and give it to the poor, but that’s not going to be me. Can I just slap myself with the label “hypocrite” so I can have it both ways?
I think the Church has been trying to have it both ways for a long time. We are more than willing to spend money on our buildings, but when it comes to sharing with the hungry, the silly, the foolish, the lazy, the sick, the addicted, we are often reluctant. “They” haven’t earned our Jesus-money. “They” don’t do enough to deserve our “church bucks.” Is that richness of Spirit or poverty of Spirit? Who is poorer, me or them?
How can we stop hoarding our riches, both of body and of Spirit? Is there a way to share both? How can we follow Jesus? The First Century lifestyle wasn’t too hard to abandon. Going from poverty to homeless to follow a really awesome guy wasn’t that big of a stretch. In the Twenty-First Century, following Jesus is more challenging for us than it was for James and John, Simon and Andrew, Phillip and Nathaniel. I sure don’t like the sound of that.
Today’s sermon does not leave me in a comfortable place. If you came hear for some Good News today, you’re probably disappointed.
All right. The Good News is……Jesus love us, no matter how selfish, how blind, how conceited, how oblivious, how rich or poor, silly or smart. That’s why following Jesus turned out to be the best choice. Follow anybody else, and in the long run, you’ll be disappointed. A good example would be Patriots fans. Follow Jesus, and everyday–EVERY DAY–you can try to follow in those giant, impossible, loving footsteps. But in the meantime, think about this: how far would you go, if it were required, to follow Jesus? Amen.