What I said on Sunday

Here’s my sermon from yesterday.

Matthew 4.12-23 – The call of the disciples

What did Peter and Andrew and James and John expect they would end up doing when they just left everything and followed Jesus?

One of the great things about the internet is that you can find out the answer to almost anything. And if you can’t find the answer, there are websites where you can ask a question and then other people answer it. On one well-known website, Yahoo! Answers, someone had asked this: Is becoming a vicar a good career move? With respectability, good wages, a house and a car and even maybe a housekeeper!

And someone has replied: You’ll get a small stipend. A small flat or shared house. A clapped out telly and a banger donated by a sadistic parishioner. Welcome to the church my friend! At least things aren’t as bad as that in the church of England!

This morning our gospel reading is essentially about Jesus choosing and appointing some workers for his new venture. How would he choose them today, I wonder?

Of course, when it’s time for a Church to look for a new vicar PCCs usually come up with extensive lists of requirements for the right person. Not just anyone will do when a parish wants a new priest! A glance through the job advertisements in the Church Times will show you a whole range of abilities and requirements that are being asked for. Clergy, of course, have learned to interpret these requirements, because they so often have a hidden meaning, and even, often, don’t conform to the law.

Take some of the advertisements in this week’s Church Times for example. Here are some of the things that parishes have included in their lists of requirements.

The new Rector will be someone who is a servant leader …
– for that read the new Rector will do what we tell them to. Even on their day off!

We are seeking an engaging and approachable leader with a pastoral heart and sympathy for village and country life and traditions …
– we didn’t like the last vicar, we never saw him, he never took funerals, and he was an incomer so never fitted in.

We are seeking a priest willing to honour with integrity and enthusiasm the existing mix of traditional and contemporary worship while also being open to new and developing forms of worship …
– the choir and the music group don’t get on but the music group has the upper hand

Willing to inspire and encourage lay participation …
– nobody does anything and we’re getting desperate

Encourage the participation of young people in church activities …
– we’re all over 50

Is committed to planning and praying for growth
– no-one comes

I quite liked this one from another diocese advertising for an archdeacon:
The Bishop is seeking a senior colleague who will bring vision as well as attention to detail …

– the last archdeacon was always making mistakes and forgetting things

And finally, this last one which is actually against the law because it is held to discriminate against older applicants or those with disabilities:
– We are looking for someone with energy …

– which clergy always read as: don’t expect to get a day off. In fact, don’t even expect to get time to just sit and pray. We want to see you out and about at all times and be available 24/7

We all, of course, have our own ideas about what workers in the Church should be like. Yet here Jesus finds the leaders of the early Church simply by walking beside the local lake and suggesting to four men — who were already busy at some other trade – that they should follow him! It seems a remarkable and inefficient way of filling a major appointment. Can you picture the Church today ever recruiting its leaders in this way? These men were being called to an amazing new life. They were to see miracles, to hear teaching, to be put in danger and fear. They were to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain, and crucified on the hill. They were to face death themselves because on that morning by the lake they “immediately left their nets and followed him”.

Of course, our gospel reading this morning isn’t just about Jesus choosing leaders by a seashore two thousand years ago. It poses a question for all of us, for the Bible is God’s Word to us today. This is how God speaks to us. And this morning Jesus is saying to each and every one of us, through this gospel reading from Matthew, ‘Follow me’. How do we respond to the invitation?

Matthew was writing to people who knew the Jewish scriptures. His readers would be familiar with phrases like: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” — but here he begins to explain to them that a new light has dawned, and its beginnings are at the Sea of Galilee. Peter and John — whom the Sanhedrin would later on call “ignorant laymen” — with James and Andrew, are the first of the chosen twelve. Their acceptance of Jesus’ call meant a complete change in their lives. They were to be taught new concepts, to witness enthusiastic crowds and growing hostility. They were to realise that this man who had called them was the Messiah. They were to be among the first to realise that although he had been crucified and killed, yet he conquered death and was alive again, and the Gospels tell us of the transformation in their lives.

Of course not all those who were called to follow Jesus, did so. Some found the teaching too hard to take and stopped following him. One of the chosen twelve betrayed Jesus. The religious leaders of the day for the most part rejected Jesus’ call to change their lives, their worship and their concept of God.

It must be obvious, from the Gospel, that to follow Jesus faithfully has never been an easy option. And sometimes we need to reflect upon what following him means in our own lives. Well, I could now go on to talk about what it means to follow Jesus – what your life should be like, what you should be doing as a Christian, and so on. And yet, following Jesus means something different for each one of us, just as it didn’t necessarily mean the same thing for his first followers.

So today, we’re going to do something a little different. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. Usually, of course, I like to see you keep your eyes open – that way I know you haven’t fallen asleep during my sermon.

But today, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to imagine in your mind’s eye that you are on a seashore – just like those first disciples long ago.

You might be fishing like them, but probably you are just enjoying a walk, or sitting in the sun, listening to the sound of the waves.

And then a man approaches you. You know who it is – it is the man who has been going around preaching, Jesus of Nazareth. And he calls you by name and says to you, “Follow me.”

Ponder for a moment. What do you think he means? Follow me. That’s all he says. Follow me. What would it mean for you to follow Jesus? For Peter and Andrew and James and John it meant a different way of life. What would it mean for you? What would following Jesus, just leaving everything from your exisiting way of life behind, mean to you – how would it make your life different? How should it make your life different?

Jesus wanted Peter and Andrew and James and John to fish for people. What do you think Jesus is asking of you? What particular task or work or role do you think Jesus might have in mind for you – for which he needs you to follow him? Can you accept that he might not, at this point, tell you or make it clear – that he is just asking you to follow him and take a risk.

Think carefully, for he waits for your answer. Follow me. What do you want to say? In your imagination give him your answer. Is it – no, I’m not ready to follow you. Or is it – yes Lord, I want to follow you. Just give him your answer now.

I’m just going to close with some words from our last hymn today – just keep your eyes closed while I say them, and if your answer was ‘yes’ join me in saying Amen at the end.

Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.