1-22-17 Matthew 4:12-23 Following Means Leaving

1-22-17 “Following Means Leaving” Matthew 4:12-23
“‘Follow me’, Jesus said, ‘And I will make you fishers of people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

For a video of this sermon, click here.

Dr. Danny Murphy preached on this passage in the fall at Rev. Blaine Hill’s installation.  His emphasis was on listening to the call to the clerical ministry.  I cannot ignore this important passage as we go through Matthew.  But my emphasis is on all of us listening to the call of God. 

Following today means a different thing than it meant 20 years ago.  To follow a philosopher, or a writer means one thing.  But to follow in Social Media is another.  In Twitter you can follow 1,000 people a day.   Technically on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ you can follow 5,000 people or events if you really want to; Instagram is 7,500 and Snapchat 2,500- after that you must leave some in order to follow others.   I have found that Gmail has a limit of 6,500.  That sounds like a huge number but in a business or a church you can reach that number fairly quickly.  There are over 19,000 in the Chapin Zipcode area.  If you add in stores, businesses, relatives you can overwhelm any of those numbers- and we are a semi-rural area.  My point is even with powerful computers, we are limited in who we can follow, and we must leave some in order to follow others.  Most of us don’t care about having 6,500 contacts- as long as we have a few best friends or maybe one ICE- In Case of Emergency person.  Psychologists say that women can have five good friends and men about three.  But, I believe, deep down we can have only God to follow.  There are many stars in the sky but only one North star- one Polaris- that guides us.  Scientists tell us that the universe exploded from one micro dot- one point.  The one point creator is the one God who is worthy of our attention.  To be distracted by the many so that we miss who is worthy of following is a shame.  When you play football there are many players on the field- but only one has the ball.  Follow the ball.  There is such a thing as first place in your heart.  There are many places in your heart.  You can fool yourself into thinking you can always multi-task.  But just as so many think they can text and drive or look down and keep driving forward, or look to the left while driving forward- so many think they can have multiple gods and forget the One who gives life, sustains life, and redeems life.  At some point God will call you.  Maybe He already has and that is why you are here today.  Do not forget this primary call.  Do not be distracted by the evil, the suffering, the busyness, the weariness, or even other good things.  Let God be first- and let His call have priority.  It is the call not only of salvation, but the call of discipleship.  Our mission here is to call the wandering heart home to God- but then to also make flourishing disciples- people who will follow Christ with love and faith, hope and joy. 
     My point is this: if you want to really follow God, you must be willing to leave other things.  When Jesus called these disciples in order to follow, they needed to drop their nets, leave their boat, leave their family- all good things.  
     Matthew lays out (without small print) the real cost of following Christ.  He lays out the cost- of leaving somethings in order to follow.  To walk on the one path of Christ, it is important to be willing to leave the many paths.  I remember my brother used to talk all the time about this when I was young.  You cannot be in such a hurry that you try to go a thousand directions all at once.  There are many roads out there- do not be enamored that there are- instead I invite you to choose the best road.  Jesus even said that as also recorded in Matthew: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  To get on the one way- you have to leave the many ways.  In a pluralistic society this is hard but important to hear.  In a world that values stuff and productivity this is hard to hear too.  But in this passage it speaks of leaving our stuff, our work, and our family- good things in order to focus on the best. 

I. LEAVING STUFF- The disciples left their nets and their boat.  It didn’t matter in the presence of Jesus. 
The Rich Young Ruler wanted to please and glorify God.  He approached Jesus and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus asked him if he kept the commandments.  He said he did.  But even after keeping the commandments there can still be something missing.  He cared more about his abundance than the needs of others.   Jesus told him- Go, sell all you have and give to the poor.”  The man went away very sad for he had great riches.  He couldn’t do it. 
These disciples were called by Jesus to “Come and follow him.”   The nets were heavy and it would make no sense to carry nets to Jerusalem or to the cities they would visit.  To follow Jesus they had to cut themselves free.  We know from other passages in Matthew and the other gospels that these disciples had been to see and hear John the Baptist. 
      The way we are often taught subtly and by example is that we can have our nets and travel too.  It’s okay to have a little bit of Jesus, but do not drop your nets.  Too many want heaven with the devil thrown in.  We want to always be able to say yes and believe we never have to say no/
      To follow, means to leave.  We know this deep down.  If I follow it does mean leaving.  To follow the One who left the normal, left the status quo, left the love of the world means in some way- in some measure we must do this too.  It may mean leaving my stuff.  It may mean giving up my pride or my beliefs to follow Him.   It is important for us to recognize Jesus didn’t hire these guys.  He didn’t say, “Follow me and they immediately ask- what are the hours?  What is the pay?  What are the benefits?”  They followed for free.  They did ministry for free.  They trusted that God would provide the time, the gifts, all that they need to do ministry.  They gave their hearts to Jesus, their time to Jesus, their all to Him as an example to us.  
.  The lesson here is not to walk away from work and live in church all the time.  The lesson is not to become a monk or nun.  But it is to hold onto stuff lightly.  Be generous.  Be giving toward others of your time.  Be giving of yourself toward God. 
II. LEAVING WORK- In our passage work is also emphasized.  They left their fishing jobs- for a job with no pay.   If I was Zebedee, the father, I might have a heart attack- how are you going to make it?  God values work.  The Bible speaks of work as a blessing and a calling.  But work is not our end all.  We do not worship work.  To be able to work is a blessing from God.  But at some point we must leave our work.   Maybe at retirement, or disability, or when our lives change.
     Workaholics allow work to consume them.  They focus on being busy instead of productive and they can easily become a ball of stress and sleep deprived.  Over 10 million Americans average 60 hours of work per week.  The average American gets 13 days of vacation but 34% do not take a single day of vacation all year.  75% of workaholics say they eat lunch at their desk three times a week.  America workers work 500 more hours per year than the French and 175 hours more per year than the Japanese.   We have a problem.  It shows in how volunteerism in church as a whole in America is going down.  57% of Americans did not volunteer in the last year.  28% of Americans have never done volunteer work ever.  This call of Jesus was to volunteer- to give to Him ahead of work. 
God called these disciples to plug into His call.  They didn’t know how far they were called- but they took the first step- they listened.  Maybe God is calling you- not to something glittery- but to serve- maybe teach.  You know we have a lot of new members but we desperately need lay people who are willing to step up to teach a SS class, lead a Bible study, or head up a new circle or GOoDWorks Team.  Our church took in 69 members last year (close to what we do each year).  That is the size of over a third of our churches in our presbytery.  Basically we take in a new church every year.  We need leaders who will answer the call or these new members will not get plugged in and will stay on the periphery of ministry and discipleship.  The church cannot be run by the ministers or professionals alone.  Jesus knew that and he called disciples to drop their nets and follow Him.  The disciples were willing to put God ahead of their work.  When work becomes your God, you become a slave. 

III. LEAVING FAMILY- In our passage family is emphasized.  Twice it mentions James and John as brothers then Zebedee as their father; and Peter and Andrew as brothers.  When Jesus called them- they were willing to drop their home, their family and follow Him.  The tendency for us is to think that the kingdom serves our family instead of the family serves the  kingdom.    As much as we emphasize children here, we do not worship our children.  But the worship of God helps us appreciate, treasure, and yes instruct and discipline our children.  Putting God first doesn’t hurt our families- it helps them.  Similarly, some may feel the best way to love their children is to ignore everyone and everything else.  But some times the best thing a parent can do is to love their spouse and put their spouse ahead of their children.  If we have God’s love first in our hearts it helps us to love our neighbors as ourselves better- and our closest neighbor is our family. 

God has a purpose for you.  He will call you toward that purpose.  It may be through the voice of another, it may be through a miracle, it may be through some wake up call in your life, it may be that you don’t want to hear His call but you have no where else to go (think about Jonah and the whale).  This is not just for young people.  Abraham was in his 70s when he was called to go to the promised land.  Trump started a new job yesterday at 70.  For most of us the call is not to get paid in ministry, but to follow Jesus and do volunteer ministry.  Your job can become a calling- then it is transformed. Your retirement can have a calling in it.  Our church will die a poisonous death if we somehow think our ministry is all up to the professionals.  Ministry begins not with a paycheck- but where you passion meets the world’s great need.  When you know you are doing something for the Lord, giving back out of gratitude, it produces thanksgiving, generosity and peace.  The previous generation knew this.  If your parents went to church, I will bet you can recall that they volunteered somewhere somehow. 
In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”
“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The King learned to rule by being obedient.” When we tire of our roles and responsibilities, it helps to remember God has planted us in a certain place and told us to be a good accountant or teacher or mother or father. Christ expects us to be faithful where he puts us, and when he returns, we’ll rule together with him.