Follow me and I will make you fish for people. And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
It all sounds so easy. But as Harry Brown used to say, folks might want to think about the potential cost of committing our lives to God and following in the way of Jesus. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Richard Rohr reminds us Jesus lived a radical way of life. He did not allow himself to get caught up in the political, socio economical or religious corruption of his day. In fact, Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. Jesus lived, preached and died for the kingdom of God. And many of his early followers did the same.
For Peter and Andrew, James and John, following Jesus means leaving behind their lives as fisherman to learn a whole new way of being. As they follow and learn from the master, these unlikely heroes of our faith are transformed into change agents; advocates for the kingdom of God. And it costs them plenty. According to tradition, Peter, Andrew and James are martyred for the cause. Only John gets to die of natural causes.
Following Jesus is risky business. Perhaps that’s why, as one of my colleagues often notes, people are more likely to worship Jesus than follow him. Certainly, that’s a whole lot easier. But Jesus never asks us to worship him. He asks us to follow him. And that can mean a whole more than simply showing up at church and being nice to one another. That’s a good starting point, but following Jesus requires a little more of us. It means actually living out our baptismal vows.
And that begins by setting our hearts on God – the rock of our salvation – and not on those other things that compete for out attention like power, and fame and wealth. And it means allowing ourselves to be transformed into God’s agents of transformation wherever we find ourselves in the world.
We cannot truly follow Jesus without accepting and trying to live into the values of the kingdom. And It’s not a popular way to live. It’s not an easy way to live. It’s like swimming upstream. And if the only reason we are trying to live this way is to get into heaven when we die then we’ve missed the point. Churches are supposed to places where people can come to worship God and be informed, transformed and equipped for the journey of life and transformation of our world.
In some ways Jesus was a very practical person. When he encountered people who were hungry, he fed them and told his followers to do the same. When he encountered people who were sick in body, mind or spirit, he healed them and told his followers to do the same. He also got into all kinds of trouble by challenging the status quo because it left people sick and hungry.
Rohr goes on to say that Jesus was killed. He was rejected because of his worldview much more than his God‑view. Yet these two are intrinsically connected. It’s called love of God and love of neighbour.
The challenge for us all is to learn how to live the way of Jesus in a world that tends to run on completely different values. And that means we need to stay grounded in the gospel of life. It’s not magic. It’s using what we have to respond as Jesus would in any given situation.
I’m going to close with a story from Philip Yancy’s book on Prayer.
In the face of the deadly tsunami that hit Asia in 2004, representatives of various religious leaders were asked for their perspective on tragedy. It’s the Christian aid worker’s response that stuck with me this week.
He said … I have no good explanation for why such a thing happens, and cannot pretend to guess at God’s involvement. We are on the ground because we follow a man who defined love by telling the story of a Good Samaritan reaching out to a person who was his ethnic and religious opponent. Jesus showed that same love, and we believe that by following Jesus, we are doing God’s will on earth…
By the grace of God, we can all follow Jesus and make a difference. We can model his way of life so that people can see there is another, healthier option. We can let it influence the way we speak, vote and shop. We can teach it to our children and grandchildren. And we can practice it in our church.
We will make mistakes. We will fall short. And that’s okay as long as we keep on trying. Let us pray…
Reshape us, good Lord, until in generosity, in faith, and in joyful expectation that the best is yet to come, we are truly Christ-like.
Make us passionate followers of Jesus rather than passive supporters.
Make our churches cells of radical discipleship and signposts of heaven.
Then, in us, through us, and, if need be, despite us, let your kingdom come.