Epiphany: Come and Follow

Sermon from January 23, 2011

Matthew 4:13-23

He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’


As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

I ordered Andy’s Christmas present off Amazon – isn’t Amazon super? – Volume 1 of something called “30 for 30” – a collection of short documentaries from some of today’s finest storytellers. According to the description – “Each filmmaker brings their passion and personal point of view to their film detailing the issues, trends, athletes, teams, rivalries, games and events that transformed the sports landscape from 1979 to 2009.”

There are some amazing stories – many of which we have already watched on ESPN. One such story is called “Into the Wind,” and it is about an almost real-life Forrest Gump – Terry Fox.

Growing up, Terry was an enthusiastic athlete – he was passionate about basketball but had to work hard to make the team in high school. Terry became “Player of the Year,” as a senior. He went to college to study to become a Phys Ed teacher, and earned a spot on the JV basketball team ahead of better players because of his determination. In the fall of 1976, he was in a car accident that left him only with a sore knee. But, eventually he discovered a form of cancer in his leg called osteosarcoma that resulted in amputation and chemotherapy. He only had a 50%c chance for survival.

In 1980, Terry felt he needed to do something to continue his fight against bone cancer. He decided to run across Canada. According to the documentary, he set out to cover more than a marathon’s distance each day on one good leg and his prosthetic until he reached the shores of Victoria, British Columbia. Anonymous at the start of his journey, he steadily captured the heart of a nation with his Marathon of Hope. However the 21-year old BC native’s goal was not fame, but to spread awareness and raise funds for cancer research. Soon, folks from the various towns began to run with him. Some ran alongside him for a few miles, some followed him for much longer distances, but all were clearly transformed by any amount of time they had with him. Perhaps the one who was moved the most was a childhood friend, Doug Alward, who drove the van and cooked meals for Terry, who continues his legacy even today.

I often wonder what it would be like to be living in a town where Terry was running through at that moment. Would I stand on the street to cheer him on? Would I try to get a video of him somehow? Would I lace up my shoes to run with him? Would I follow this extraordinary person?

I ask similar questions of myself whenever I read today’s passage. What was it like for those first disciples when Jesus walked by and said to them, “Follow me,”? By now, they have surely heard something of this man, and somehow his presence was so compelling that even though they had were dealing with their nets, they immediately left and followed him. Forget the fish, forget the nets, forget the sea…follow me.

Now, this text might sound familiar – we heard a slightly different version of it last week from the Gospel of John. A couple of disciples encounter Jesus, in fact, they start following him, and he tells them, “Come and see.” Come and see who I really am. Come and see what I will do. Come and see how your life will change forever. In Matthew’s version, it is almost an extension of Jesus’ words – expect this time he says directly, “Come and follow.”

Come and follow.

These are the words of the epiphany season. But, this time it is more than a star that beckons to us, we see and follow more than a beam of light in the sky, more than angels’ voices, more than the tracks of wisemen. It is Jesus himself who invites us. Jesus seeks us. Jesus calls us. It doesn’t matter what tax bracket or class, or what your job, your passion, your ambition.

In today’s story, Jesus approaches Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea. The nets they used were circular with heavy weights on the perimeter. They’d throw their nets into the sea and would have to drag and pull them back to shore, hopefully with some fish in tow. It was labor intensive activity, and low-tech even by that culture’s standards. What is of note is that Peter and Andrew were casting from the shore. They did not have a boat and had to cast their net from the beach – so they were possibly poor.

Jesus next encounters the sons of Zebedee, who are perhaps more affluent because they have a boat (in Mark’s version, we read that they even have employees; they are a small family business, and their father undoubtedly needs their strong arms). In fact, these four disciples as “representative” of those who will follow Jesus in the future: Thomas Long writes, “Jesus summons people from the fabric of family relationships…and from the midst of the workaday world…into a new set of relationships…” I would add “into a new way of life – into a new way of being and seeing in this world.” And the call is for every single person.

Come and follow.

Deep seeing necessitates some kind of response whether it is to stay or to go – to be changed forever. What does it mean to follow? Three times a form of the verb “follow” is used: “follow me” (4:19); they “followed” him (4:20, 22). What is striking is that the image is clearly a master seeking his followers, a sharp contrast to the traditional pattern of people seeking a master. From the very beginning, the conventional relationship between master and disciples is radically overturned in Jesus’ pursuit of his disciples. The call is to do something with what you have just witnessed with your own eyes…but, it is also deeper than discovering a new job or new lifestyle; it is a call to a relationship…which is the basis of Christian discipleship. Following is more than imitating or apprenticing, it is relating and connecting to the one you commit to the rest of your life.

For us the call to follow Jesus is first simply the call to love and be loved by him. It means dropping whatever is safe and familiar to you, the basis of your identity now, and allowing yourself to be open to the possibility of much, more more.

Come and follow.

Jesus invites these four fishermen to “follow” him, and they do so, but as the story says, specifically in order to become “fishers” of other people. Some people will say this is about evangelism – going door to door or inviting coworkers to church. Others still will say this is about mission – going around with Jesus and being a part of his ministry by helping the poor and feeding the hungry. Even some might say this is about formation – helping others become more of who they are meant to be in Christ. Honestly, it seems that all of these are relevant, and even overlap in so many ways.

But perhaps it is a lot simpler than any of these church programs. I grew up fishing with my dad, of course, we didn’t use nets. What I remember the most, and what is maybe relevant here, is that, I wasn’t an expert by any means, I was just there ready to jump up as soon as there was the slightest quiver in the pole. I was just present. I was just with my dad.

Maybe it’s the same with fishing for people. Could it be about being present with Jesus in every moment – in relationship with him – and being open to the slightest quiver in the pole? In a world flooded with bad news, surely there is a sea full of folks just waiting to encounter Jesus – whether through personal testimony or simply a listening ear, whether over a cup of coffee or in line at a soup kitchen, whether in a shared prayer or a genuine hug. What is amazing here is that Jesus called the disciples to follow him, and it changed their lives, but they were still able to be fishermen.

Come and follow.

BBT says, “Remember, there is always risk involved in answering the call of Jesus to follow Him. We cannot know where the call to follow will take us. But ours is not the only risk. Jesus also took a risk on the disciples. For reasons known only to heaven, God is constantly taking risks on all kinds of people — people who fish for a living, people who are too young to have jobs, people who have retired. Every day God takes risks on the human race, takes risks on people like you and me.”

So, in this Epiphany season, come and see, come and follow, come and be changed by a relationship with God and with this community, come and be the change others need in their lives. Whether you need to grab your shoes or grab your poles, know and believe that the One you follow, the “One who calls us is the same One who gives us the strength, the resources, to follow him.”