A sermon based on Psalm 27:1, 4-9 and Matthew 4:12-23 preached on January 22nd, 2017
These days, it’s awfully difficult to hold our attention. Our culture moves fast. We dart from one thing to another just as fast as our high-speed internet connections can move us. It’s not difficult to get our attention, but it’s almost impossible to hold our attention. Scientific studies have proven this. Since the year 2000, the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, which is the attention span of your average goldfish. If that’s true, it means I’ve already lost you.
Magazine editors also know this about us. The word-count of your average article has dropped from 2,000 words to somewhere around 400 words. Any longer than that, and they lose their readers. I’d like to say that I’m not a part of that easily distracted average, but I know that every time I get my Atlantic Monthly or Smithsonian Magazine in the mail, I turn to the cover article to see how long it is. If it’s anything over 4 pages, there’s a good chance I’ll throw the magazine away before I get to reading it. In this sense and others, we’ve become tourists in our own lives. We visit moments, but we no longer settle down into them. We live out of our suitcases instead of using the chest of drawers, empty and available for us.
And in a lot of ways, our religious lives are like that, too. We enjoy those occasional moments of spiritual highs—the moments when our faith entertains us. We make scarce time to grow in our faith, and if we’re honest, the attention we give to practicing our faith is fleeting—counted only in moments. It’s more akin to a rest stop along the highway than a long, day-in and day-out journey down the road.
We don’t mean to spend so little time attending to our relationship with Jesus, it’s just that, increasingly, Jesus has to be squeezed into our ever-endangered free moments. Whatever attention we pay to Jesus has to be written into our schedules. Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson, puts it this way:
There’s little interest or enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue or of deeper knowledge.
Come, follow me!
Jesus shouts to those first disciples. And right way, Simon Peter and Andrew drop their diversions—the nets they were mending—and follow Him.
One thing missing from this story is all the small print. There’s no clarification of what this commitment these first 4 followers of Jesus would be like. No questions of how long this would project of discipleship would take. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John weren’t given an itinerary or an ETA. Jesus didn’t hand them a syllabus, nor did he present them with a project proposal. Really, no details at all. Jesus simply said,
Come, follow me,
and they dropped everything and went with Him.
Jesus doesn’t want casual fans. He’s not interested in entertaining tourists. Read all 4 gospels. There’s never a moment where Jesus tolerates a distracted follower. Jesus doesn’t care for sightseers. Jesus wants disciples.
A disciple, biblically speaking, is a learner, not a learner in the academic sense of the word, but someone who dedicates her or himself to the slow, careful, intentional, and meticulous ways of apprenticeship. Whether we’ve ever realized it or not, when we call ourselves disciples, we are identifying ourselves as people who learn and work as apprentices under the tutelage of Jesus, our master craftsman.
This means that discipleship is a learning-growing relationship where we live under the guidance and instruction of our Teacher, and we dedicate our everyday, our every moment to paying attention to the ways of Jesus. And like all apprenticeships, discipleship takes every bit of our day, every bit of our focus, our entire mind and heart. The student soaks herself in the life and ways of her teacher. So are we to throw all of ourselves into the careful and meticulous learning as apprentices of Jesus. Casual glances toward Jesus isn’t discipleship. It’s tourism. Freidrich Nietzche calls biblical discipleship “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—none of them were looking for new jobs. If we take this story at face value, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, Jesus simply shows up one day and disrupts their lives. Not asking but telling them to follow Him. Jesus pulled them away from everything they ever knew. The rhythm of their days as fisherman. Their family and friends. Their homes and their mortgages. And for some unknown and thoroughly confounding reason, these first 4 disciples drop everything, including their nets, and follow Jesus. The only thing Jesus says about what’s coming next for them is this ambiguous and mysterious mixed metaphor:
I’ll show you how to fish for people.
“To fish for people.” That’s the calling. That’s the vocation of a disciple, and we have to figure out what that means in our own contexts. Change the metaphor if you need to. I have a hunch that the only reason Jesus used a fishing metaphor is because he was talking to fishermen. If Jesus was talking to construction workers, He might have said,
Come, follow me. I’ll show you how to dig for people and build up a new Kingdom.
If He was talking to a bunch of chiropractors, he might have said,
Come follow me. I’ll show you how to turn your crooked hearts and lives back into their proper alignment.
The point is that you take who you are, how you best understand the world and your place in it, and apply it in a bigger way change the world with it.
Jesus’ call is a summons to be something bigger—to think bigger thoughts about your purpose and place in the world, because God’s call upon your life and mine isn’t merely a call to do something; it’s a call to be something. Jesus calls us as we are, from where we are and how we are, being who we are, and then He takes us farther, changing our focus, expanding our sense of purpose, apprenticing us in the Way until we realize that the Yes we’ve said to Jesus means giving of our entire selves to the call of God upon our lives.
In a world full of people trying their best to take the lead, who seem to define success as the capacity to climb to the highest rung of whatever ladder they’re on, the vocation of discipleship says that being a leader doesn’t hold a candle to being a follower of our Divine Apprentice.
Discipleship is first an abandoning of all the values that our culture holds up highest, and giving ourselves to the project of followership. It’s a changing of loyalties. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a purposeful, determined, and daily humbling of ourselves. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—they had no clue where Jesus was leading them, but they followed and obeyed anyway. Discipleship means going without knowing, being caught up in what Jesus is doing. It’s a call to spend our days and our lives sharing in the life and ways of Jesus, giving our best, apprentice-like attention and devotion to our Fisher King.
A story like this, where four random people simply get up, seemingly abandon their lives as they knew them, and walk away from every one of their relationships makes all of us feel…what? Small? Pithy? Incredulous? This story does have a certain sting to it, doesn’t it?
When we ask ourselves what we would do if we were in the situation, dropping it all and following just doesn’t seem possible. We’re no sea-faring people like the disciples. We spend most of our time on land. We have our feet, as well as our loyalties, firmly grounded in some very specific places with some very specific and beloved people. So, maybe our version of dropping our nets and following Jesus—this going without knowing—looks a little different for most of us. And that’s okay. We’re not all meant to be vagabonds. But just like those first disciples, we come and go, leave and arrive in so many senses of those words. What if we did it all under the apprenticeship of the Master Craftsman of our lives, Jesus the Christ?
Maybe our call to be disciples of Jesus means dropping our own nets—all those heavy things in our lives that only ensnare us, entangle us. All those small things that take up too much of our time and attention, that distract us from seeing how Jesus is always approaching us, saying to us in some way or another, “Come, follow me!” It could be that following where Jesus takes us means considering all of those fears we have that keep us where we are.
Could it be that some of us are trapped inside nets of our own making—the selfish motives we have woven over the years, that feeling we have that we are helpless to undo all the knots we’ve made in our own lives or in the lives of others. Maybe the call to drop our nets means being more receptive to the voice of Jesus. Or, could it be that Going Without Knowing means getting out of our own way so that Jesus can become our way.
That’s not a bad prayer for all us, by the way. What if, before we rolled out of bed in the morning, we prayed a prayer like this:
Jesus, get in my way today! In fact, Jesus, become my way, today!
That’s not the prayer of a casual follower or a sightseer, nor are those words a spiritual tourist would say. Those are the words of an apprentice, a disciple on the Jesus Way.
May we be caught up in the Jesus vocation, this going without knowing, this long apprenticeship in holiness. This long obedience in the same direction.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!