3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 22, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
One of the best innovations the telephone company ever developed is Caller ID. If there’s someone you don’t want to talk to, a telemarketer or your pastor, you can look at the little screen and know if you should ignore the call. In the not too distant past, it wasn’t this easy. If you wanted to screen your calls, you had to wait until the person said their name on the answering machine, and then you’d pick up the phone or let it go. Then if you did answer, there was always the joke, “Are you screening your calls?” and you’d say something like, “No, I just couldn’t get to the phone.” But nobody ever completely believed that, because a lot of us did it. In the days before Caller ID answering the call was kind of a gamble, you never knew who was at the other end. There’s another call that we can’t screen and is also a gamble, but it’s the most important call we’ll ever get – it’s the call to be a disciple of Jesus.
As the account from Matthew takes place, Jesus has recently begun His public ministry. He’s been baptized, tempted by the devil for forty days, and now He’s going to do is gather disciples; men He’ll teach so they can continue His ministry after He’s gone. If you remember from last week, Peter and Andrew have already met Jesus, and Andrew at least, believes that Jesus is the Savior. Jesus was preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and those words brought Andrew to faith. But now Jesus has greater plans for Andrew and the others, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
When Jesus was gathering the first twelve disciples He didn’t put an ad in the Galilee News or put a note on a bulletin board. The disciples didn’t sign up on a sheet that said they were interested in learning more. They were brought to faith and Jesus came for them. He sought them out and was going to teach them what they really believed and how He was going to make their lives, and this world, completely different. So He called them, “Follow me.”
You may not have been fishing when Jesus called you to be His disciple, but you were near the water. It was at your baptism that Jesus gave you faith and made you His disciple. The words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” are the equivalent of “Follow me” and you’ve been following ever since. Some church bodies teach that a person has to make a decision to become a Christian disciple, but is inaccurate because we can’t go to Jesus and tell Him we’d like to tag along to see what He’s teaching. We can’t bring ourselves to faith and make ourselves His disciples. Rather, the faith and the call come from Him.
One of the things that people really hated about Jesus was that He spent a lot of time with those who were say, less desirable. Jesus loved all people and He would’ve loved to have had everyone has disciples, but it wasn’t meant to be. Jesus was rejected a lot, especially by the intellecutal and religious people, so He gathered those who did believe. He called tax collectors, fishermen, and other ordinary people. They weren’t the scholars of Jerusalem or the pillars of society, they were just like you and me.
Christ calls all people to be disciples, and He calls all of you “ordinary” people. I think you’re all extraordinary, but strictly speaking, we’re all average. And yet, Jesus calls us to follow Him. It doesn’t matter if you’re not famous, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old, smart or not so smart, Jesus calls you. This is one of the things about Christianity that is so wonderful, you don’t need to be special. You don’t need to do anything or earn anything or work for anything. You are His disciple, He has given you faith, and He calls you to follow Him. As He says right before His death, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”
“Follow me” are two simple words but they are loaded with meaning and expectations. When Jesus called the disciples today, both sets of brothers immediately left behind their lives to follow Jesus. They didn’t finish out the day, they didn’t head home and wrap up some projects. They didn’t wait until they were at a better place in their lives to be disciples. They didn’t tell Jesus that they’d follow Him as soon as they got out of college, or got married, or had kids, or retired. They followed Jesus immediately.
They followed Him even though they didn’t know what being a disciple entailed. Jesus would teach them though that discipleship meant completely submitting to God and His will for their lives. They couldn’t pick and choose which part of the Disciple Job Description they would do. They submitted to Christ and they would do all that He called them to do, they would even die as martyrs in the name of Jesus.
I pray that none of us is called to die a martyr’s death, but even if that were to happen, we submit to God and His will for our lives as well. When He calls us, He is confiscating us for Himself and wants us to follow Him and only Him, and we’re to follow Him immediately. I know that nowadays there are so many things that call to people, but they can be ignored, not the call of Jesus though. We can’t wait for a better time to be a disciple, because that better time might never come! What if we don’t finish college, get married or have children, because we die? As disciples, we follow Jesus, never looking back at what we’ve left behind. As Jesus told a potential disciple, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
To be a disciple requires sacrifice on our part. You may not like to hear that, but it’s true. To be a called disciple of Jesus means that things will never again be the same. The first faithful twelve gave up careers, wealth, maybe even friends when they became disciples. We too are called, not necessarily to give up careers, although you might be, but certainly to give up on those things which may keep us from following Jesus as we should. What must you sacrifice to faithfully follow Christ wherever He may lead you? It’s not appealing to think about giving up certain behaviors, habits, friends, or distractions, but to be a disciple is a life of sacrifice.
How can we follow Jesus and not be willing to sacrifice? He who sacrificed everything, including His majesty in Heaven and His life, so that we could be His disciples, wants you as His disciple. His perfect sacrifice, His shedding of His blood, for you is what enables Him to make you disciple in the first place. We didn’t want to seek out Jesus to be our God, He came to us and He called us by the Gospel and gave us faith. He took sinful people, and made you His faithful follower. It’s by His power that we are able to follow Him where He leads and it’s His power of forgiveness, that brings us back when we follow the wrong kinds of leaders. This is what being a disciple is all about – forgiveness. You won’t get forgiveness following anything or anyone else, but you’re a disciple, so you’re forgiven.
After Jesus ascended back into Heaven, He sent the disciples out to preach, teach, baptize, and witness to what Jesus had done, and they did. Legend says that they travelled as far to the west as England and as far to the East as India, and all of them, gave their lives in defense of the Gospel. They demonstrated their faith through their deeds, they proclaimed the Gospel through their words, and the Church we know today is a direct result of Jesus blessing the work of the faithful disciples.
Jesus hasn’t necessarily called you to be a disciple who is a missionary or a pastor. But remember, Jesus calls ordinary people to serve as extraordinary disciples, who live out their faith and who proclaim the Gospel to those who don’t know it. In His ministry, Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” You were in the darkness of Sin and Death, but Jesus called you out it into discipleship. Share this same faith with others that you know are currently trapped in that horrible darkness. It doesn’t have to be much, you don’t have to memorize the Bible, although it can’t hurt, just talk to them, invite them to church and let them see Jesus living in you as you faithfully follow Him. You can tell them that being a disciple isn’t easy, and that they may not be rewarded in this life, but to be a disciple means having a Savior who will lead them all the way to Heaven.
If Jesus was to show up on our Caller ID, I’d like to think we’d all answer, we know it would be an important call. Well, you received that call in your baptism, and now you are blessed to be a disciple. Being a disciple is hard, and we can’t think about the sacrifices that being a disciple requires, we can only think about the rewards. The disciples didn’t know what they were in for when they followed Jesus, but they did anyway. We don’t know all that we’re in for when we follow Jesus either. But like the disciples, we know who Jesus is, that He loves us, forgives us, leads us, and saves us. and that’s what we need to know about the call to be a disciple.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen