I’ve Been Meaning to Ask…Will You Come and Follow Me?
August 29, 2021
This Week’s Conversation Questions
Where are you now – physically…spiritually…emotionally…?
Where are you going?
When might you get there?
Are you following anyone along the way?
Who are your travel companions?
Toward what end are you leading those around you?
Describe a time when your congregation was following Jesus.
Describe a time when you were following Jesus.
Seek to discern what is the next right thing to do.
Are you prepared to be amazed?
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter,
and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John,
in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.
Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news
of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Prior to following Jesus, two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John,
were professional fishermen. They sailed the Sea of Galilee on small boats.
They provided their village with an almost daily supply of fresh fish.
It was not easy work, but it was steady. They were able to support their families.
They were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery on the sea and the camaraderie among the boats.
This was what their fathers had done, and their grandfathers before them.
This was their way of life, what was expected of them, what they had always known.
I had good friend in college named Robbie Baker.
Robbie was an excellent student as well as an exceptional athlete.
Not only was Robbie the starting safety on the football team,
he was also the starter catcher on the baseball team.
Robbie is from Mobile, Alabama and spent many of his childhood days on Dog River,
between Mobile Bay and Bellingrath Gardens.
Robbie had become an amazing barefoot skier.
He would start by holding onto a boogie board and then would quickly stand on his bare feet
while being pulled behind a ski boat.
And Robbie was a master fisherman who caught his own bait with a net.
Robbie had become very proficient with his shrimp net. He would hold one of the weights in his mouth,
gather the net just so, and fling it far and wide from the dock.
Sometimes Robbie would pull the net back up to the surface
and absolutely nothing would be there.
Other times, he would cast that net, pull the net back up,
and discover a dozen or more shrimp entangled in the net,
along with a few small fish or crabs or various other creatures.
For Robbie, in addition to his exploits on the football and baseball fields,
life on the river was a way of life. He knew all the local fish, knew what baits to use, knew where to fish.
He was as comfortable and at home on the river as he was on the sports fields.
After graduation, I took Robbie and several others to the Grand Tetons to go mountain climbing.
Climbing in the Tetons in the early summer involves the use of an ice ax,
because we often had to cross a few ice fields or glaciers.
When you first carry an ice ax, it is important to practice using it.
So I got Robbie out there on an ice field and told him to fall backwards, begin sliding,
and then practice a safe arrest by digging his toes into the snow and holding the ice ax just so.
I had more fun watching Robbie Baker, star athlete and bare foot skier and skilled fisherman,
trying to become proficient with an ice ax on a glacier.
This was unfamiliar territory for Robbie. He was way outside of his comfort zone.
I am not sure I had ever seen Robbie Baker scared before that experience in the Tetons.
And yet, eventually, Robbie became amazed with the beauty of the mountains,
and even overcome with amazement and wonder
at the challenge and joy of the climbing the Middle Teton.
Jesus left Nazareth after the locals almost threw him off a cliff and walked over the hills to Capernaum.
Capernaum was a vibrant village at the intersection of major international trading routes.
It sat on the north shore of the beautiful Sea of Galilee.
There were healing springs there, emanating from the mountains.
People came from miles away, from countries near and far, to trade goods,
and to find refuge and healing at Capernaum.
Jesus too came to Capernaum. This is where he called his first disciples.
After Simon and Andrew responded to his call, Jesus soon saw two other brothers, James and John.
They were in the boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets, and Jesus called out to them.
Immediately, Matthew reports, they left their boat. And not only their boat,
they also left their father, Zebedee, sitting there in the boat mending the nets.
They left behind their family’s way of life.
For these early disciples, Zebedee’s way of life was not negative.
It had probably been a very positive thing to do for many years for James and John,
and for Simon and Andrew.
But when Jesus came calling, suddenly priorities shifted. Loyalties shifted. Life direction changed.
Zebedee must have been a well-known and respected man in Capernaum.
Nearly every time James and John are mentioned in the gospels, the writer includes “sons of Zebedee.”
That is not typically the case for the other disciples. Only two others’ fathers are mentioned.
It appears that Zebedee may have been a respected member of the Capernaum community.
We know not whether the respected Zebedee was happy or not so happy with his sons
departing to follow this rabbi Jesus.
Who might be your Zebedee? What is your way of life that has felt comfortable, expected even?
In order to follow Jesus more closely, might there be some way of life that you must leave behind?
Are there some nets you must drop?
Is there some respected person from whom you must detach?
Notice that Simon and Andrew responded to this call together, as did James and John.
At least in this call narrative in Holy Scripture, God did not call the individuals by themselves.
Just as Moses had been granted the presence of Aaron, Jesus called out to two pairs of brothers.
Simon and Andrew, James and John, would not begin this journey alone,
but would have trusted companions.
In the Western Church, we tend to individualize our faith.
Some conservatives tend to lean towards a “me and Jesus” mentality;
some liberals tend to lean toward the “I am spiritual but not religious” mentality,
neither of which are necessarily a good thing.
We do better when we collaborate with others, when we have mutual support,
when a community of faith is encouraging us and holding us accountable.
Today’s narrative begs the question: Who are your brothers or sisters?
Who are or will be your companions along the journey of faith?
Who, when you drop your nets, will drop theirs as well and embark with you on an uncertain future?
Those early disciples left their jobs, left their way of life, left their source of food and income,
and they trusted their lives to an itinerant rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.
Some would call that courage. Others might call it foolishness.
There is much we do not know about what happened that day on the shores of Galilee,
but that same question from Jesus echoes down through the generations:
Will you come and follow me?
Though we posed this as a question to ponder today, in the biblical narrative,
when Jesus comes calling, he does not typically ask.
He requests. He demands even. “Follow me”, he told those fishermen,
“and I will make you fishers of people”.
18 months ago, we held our annual elder retreat in the Church parlor.
We explored our current cultural context in the light of DPC’s long history.
We held an open mind toward what the future may hold.
And, after some months of discernment, we decided to alter our basic structure of governance.
We need to make a shift in order to balance our inward focus and our outward focus as a congregation.
We realized that our very structure, our “way of life”, if you will,
was hindering us from following Jesus into the neighborhoods.
We talked about DPC needs a major shift of mindset about being church, a new ecclesiology,
because the ground has shifted underneath us.
We are seeking to move from the old way of being, which was that
“new people will show up to Sunday morning worship and children will be born to them and to us
and we will nurture them here in this place”…to a new way of being, which requires that…
“We will continually reach out to and invite new people to participate in our worship and other events,
often by going to where they are and building relationships with them there.”
The next week, Neal Davies and Dudley Larus had blue buttons printed that asked “What next?”
We were hopeful and excited about the coming future of Decatur Presbyterian Church….
and we had no idea whatsoever that six weeks later
the whole world would begin to shut down from a coronavirus pandemic.
I am so proud of this church.
I am so grateful for you and my fellow staff members.
Each one of our staff members and elders has creatively and courageously
handled the challenges we have faced.
And the session and I are still very much excited about the future of Decatur Presbyterian Church.
In September, in a response to the 18 month old question: What next?,
we will begin a new integrated curriculum called Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living.
This curriculum will guide our worship and faith formation for all ages for the coming year.
The biblical practices explored in this curriculum will encourage our congregation,
and the friends we invite to join us, to follow Jesus, here and now, in a faithful manner.
This journey will be for lifelong Christians as well as for those who are just beginning to ask
hard questions of faith and life.
Of course, following Jesus is always more than a church curriculum.
Following Jesus is a lifelong journey,
a journey that involves far more than head knowledge or special emotional experiences.
Following Jesus involves seeking to live daily biblical practices that are grounded
in love for God and neighbor, that encourage us to put our faith into action.
Our prayer is that, through this exploration and practice, we will experience daily
the joy and the strength of the One who came that all may have life and have it abundantly.
Last week, Alex asked us whether we were prepared to be amazed.
She opened the door to our imagination by asking: Are you prepared to be amazed?
I love it when I see that word in the gospel texts – “amazed”.
“Amazed” or “amazement” appears some 32 times in the four gospels
and another 11 times in the Acts of the Apostles.
When Jesus came on the scene,
the disciples were amazed, the crowds were amazed, the governor was amazed,
a mother and a father were amazed, the Pharisee was amazed, Pontius Pilate was amazed,
all who heard him were amazed, everyone was amazed.
They were overcome with amazement; they were filled with wonder and amazement.
At times, the “follow me” curriculum will be challenging.
We will be encouraged to step out of our comfort zone, to leave behind some aspects of our way of life.
There may be times when we feel as uncomfortable as Robbie Baker on an ice field
holding an unfamiliar ice ax.
And yet, our journey will always be about following Jesus, seeking to follow his ways,
so that he can show us something amazing, so that he can show us what we have been looking for.
When we follow Jesus closely, when we listen to what he says, when we recognize what he is doing,
eventually, we will be amazed; we will become filled with wonder and joy!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church