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by Cindy Weber fromLville
Matthew 4:8-22, Mark 1:13-20

The way Matthew tells it, it’s really a very a dramatic story. Jesus is walking along by the Sea of Galilee, and he sees this first set of brothers, Andrew and Simon, fishermen, and he says, "Follow me, and I’ll teach you to catch people," which we always say dead serious, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men," but which he must have said with a smile, I mean, it’s a very clever invitation, a call with a grin, and they respond to it immediately, dramatically, just like that, they leave everything, their day’s catch, their nets, their livelihood, and they follow him.

He sees James and John next, friends of Andrew and Simon, and he calls them, too, this second set of brothers, and as they shield their eyes from the sun that has suddenly become so bright that they can barely see him standing there, they see Andrew and Simon standing there behind him, beckoning, nodding, 'c'mon, c'mon." They follow him, too, this second set of brothers, just like Andrew and Simon, they leave everything, their half-mended nets, their boat, their father, they leave everything, and follow him.

Now, if we’re familiar with the other gospels, we know that Jesus has probably already had some conversations with these guys along the way, at least with Andrew and Simon. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and he brought Simon to meet Jesus prior to this experience. We also know, from other scripture, that Peter and Andrew and James and John are partners, fishing partners, and so we can kind of figure that they’ve probably had some pretty good conversations about Jesus along the way. Which helps us to understand how they could just up and do that, just drop everything and follow, just like that. But even knowing that, it’s still pretty sudden, pretty dramatic, isn’t it, especially when you think about the part about Zebedee, the father of James and John: "immediately they left the boat," says Matthew, "and their father, and followed him."

You can almost see him, the father, can’t you, in your mind’s eye, you can almost see him standing there, holding on to his end of the net, saying in his most disgusted voice, "What do you think you’re doing? Where do you boys think you’re going? We’re not finished here. These nets aren’t mended yet. You get back here, James, John, you hear me?" You can almost see him, can’t you, giving Jesus the evil eye as he walks away with Zebedee’s sons. And if James and John, the Sons of Thunder, as they were so called, were called the Sons of Thunder, not so much because of their own behavior, but because of their father’s, well, you can imagine that he had a few other choice words to say, as well!

Or maybe it didn’t go that way at all, maybe Zebedee had overheard, or taken part in, enough of those conversations about Jesus that he wasn’t surprised at all when they took off with him. Maybe he was proud as punch. Maybe he considered going along, too.

Whatever his outward reponse, as he stood there holding the half-mended net and cursing, or as he tenderly hugged his boys goodbye, I wonder if he knew somewhere deep inside that day that his sons would never return. Because they never did, not really. Now, I’m not suggesting that they never came home again at all. We know from other scripture that their mother caught hold of Jesus’ vision, too, and was among Jesus’ followers as he entered into Jerusalem several years later. Remember, she’s the one who sidled up to Jesus, just like any of us good mothers would do, her two beloved boys in tow, and asked him if her boys could be the ones to sit on his right and left side in his new realm, meaning, if her boys could have the choicest place of honor. "Look at them, look at how good and strong and faithful they are, Jesus. Look at how smart they are." She, like the other disciples, didn’t understand what Jesus’ new realm was all about, but at least she knew that there was going to be one, and we can credit her for that. It started a huge argument among all the other disciples, by the way, who became instantly angry, not at her, but at James and John. "Thanks, Mom!"

So when I say that James and John never returned, I’m not suggesting that they never came home again at all, that they never fished with their father again or ate their mother’s famous leg of lamb casserole. What I’m suggesting when I say that they never returned is that when they did come home, that came home as different people in a way, with different priorities and different allegiances, with a different family, a bigger, more diverse family, with different values and a different vision. They’d joined the God Movement, they’d cast their lot with the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, they’d seen a glimpse of the realm of God, and it would never again be business as usual. Once they’d caught fish for a living, and now they’d been caught instead, caught by Jesus of Nazareth, for ever and always.

Did Zebedee see that coming as he stood there on the shore that day, watching them as they walked away with Jesus? Did James and John see that coming that day, did they have the least idea, as they left their nets and their dear old dad, that they were leaving behind an old way of life, a way of life with which they would never again be entirely at home?

Indeed, can any of us see it, when it first happens? When Jesus catches us, catches us for ever and always, when his vision grabs hold of our hearts and our lives and refuses to let us go, when we find ourselves so caught by his words and his call and his spirit that we can’t be comfortable anymore with business as usual? Can any of us ever see it coming?

I was talking to Kenny B. yesterday. Kenny is this remarkable young man who first came to Jeff Street back when he was still addicted to drugs. He’s been clean for a long time now, is about to finish his Associate degree at Jefferson Community College, and has started his own ministry now, a ministry where he works with kids through the YMCA in order to keep them from making the same mistakes that he made along the way. He was telling me how he gets asked to speak a lot now, asked to tell his story, because it’s such a good one, and he says that he always talks about us, that he always talks about that first night when he stood out in front of our church, it was when we were still on Jefferson Street, and as he looked up at the building, he heard God saying to him, "Will you go in, or will you stay out? Will you go in, or will you stay out?" He came in, and his life was changed, inch by inch and bit by bit, drastically, dramatically, gradually his life was changed. Jesus caught him, you might say, and hasn’t turned loose since.

Most of us are here this morning because we’ve been caught, too. Our stories might not be so dramatic as Kenny’s, or as the two sets of brothers. While some of us can name the day, not just the day, but the very time of day, when we decided to follow Jesus, others of aren’t so sure of when it happened exactly. While some of us can look back and say, "This is when I realized that there was no turning back, that Jesus had that kind of hold on me," others of us have realized it gradually, or are maybe just beginning to realize it, hey, this call to follow Jesus is more important than any other call or conversation or invitation that I will ever have.

And though we often talk about Jesus’ call as a one-time occurrence, it’s something that comes to us again and again. While this story tells us about the first time that the two sets of brothers responded to Jesus’ call, it was the first time of many that they responded to his call. Other folks would be dropping off like flies as Jesus challenged the powers that be on an increasingly regular basis, as Jesus welcomed the dregs of society into his inner circle, as Jesus began to talk about his impending, certain death. Let the dead bury their own dead, you come and follow me. "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head. No one, after putting his or her hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God." Yep, people were dropping off like flies. And I’d just bet that just about everyday of their lives, the two sets of brothers had to rethink that call…"follow you, there, now?"

We have to rethink our call, too, don’t we? Jesus might be calling us to do something altogether different than what we signed on for back when we first started, Jesus might be calling us to grow, to stretch, to sacrifice, to change, to forgive, to love. Jesus might be calling us to a whole new level of involvement with this congregation, with his body in this place. Jesus might be calling us to leave behind our nets, something that has become comfortable, easy, in order to take on something new and difficult. Jesus might be calling us to love someone that we can barely tolerate, to form community with someone that we would rather never see again. Jesus might be calling us to be less serious about some things, and more serious about others, to forsake some of our most important priorities, and to take on some others. Jesus might be calling us to take a risk, or to settle down and be serious about what we’re doing. Jesus might be calling us to find out what it is that we’re good at and then to do that for him. Jesus might be calling us to quit doing what we’re good at and start doing something that we’re not so good at for him. Jesus might be calling us to be still, to listen, to pray. Jesus might be calling us to think, to just think. Jesus might be calling us to wait, to just wait. Jesus might be calling us to go, to just go. Jesus might be calling us to bring a friend to church, or to join a ministry team. Jesus might be calling us to do all kinds of things.

How do we know what Jesus is calling us to do? Well, sometimes we don’t, and we set off, as did the two sets of brothers, with little information and no real feel for the future. But we listen, and we talk to each other, because we’re not alone in this, we are part of a body here, and we pray, and we try our best to keep open hearts and minds, and then we act on what we know, we take that next step, which is really all that we can ever do, which is really all that the two sets of brothers could ever do, take that next step.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, Preaching Life, tells about a struggle that she had in discerning God’s call, about how she struggled with her decision to become an Episcopal priest. Was this God’s will for her? And then one night, after she’d asked God as plainly as possible to tell her what to do, she heard this answer:

"Anything that pleases you."

"What kind of an answer is that?" she asked. She’d been expecting something more specific.

"Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me," said the voice.

She says, "That simplified things considerably. I could pump gas in Idaho or dig latrines in Pago Pago, as far as God was concerned, as long as I remembered whose I was. With no further distress, I decided that it would please me to become a priest, and to spend the rest of my life with a community willing to help me figure out what that meant."

That’s what happens when we’ve been caught, really caught by Jesus. We find that what pleases us pleases him, too. Andrew and Simon and James and John didn’t follow Jesus because they had to. They hadn’t sat in church all their lives and heard a million sermons about being a good Christian, following Jesus. They hadn’t sung all those old hymns that sound like funeral dirges about following Jesus. No, they followed Jesus, not out of guilt, or out of ought to, but because they wanted to. They sensed that he would provide for them an adventure like no other, life overflowing, rich and right and full. Same life he provides for us.

It’s a dramatic story, it’s our story. Calls heard, nets thrown down, boats left, lives changed, lives found. Come, let’s follow him.