Sunday 22



1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23

Whom or what do you follow? For example, what football team do you follow? The Blues? The Baggies? The Villans? The Wolves? Of course, that’s if you like football.

Or, who’s your favourite cricketer or tennis player that you follow with interest? Who are your favourite actors or musicians? Do you watch their movies, buy their CD’s, and follow their careers with interest? What television program do you like to follow as the story develops? What stocks are you interested in? What authors do you read? What hobbies or other interests do you have and follow the developments of?

Sometimes we have such a choice of things and people to follow that it’s hard to know where we should place our time and effort. We can choose from so many different sports teams, players, actors, musicians, hobbies and so on.

You may find you don’t just follow one person or one thing, but follow quite a number. Some people even swap what or whom they follow according to their mood or desire at the time. For example, not even a generation ago it was            unheard of to change which team you follow in the footy. Now it’s quite common to swap teams just because a team isn’t going so well or if a favourite player changes sides.

Well, even though there are already so many things and people to follow, Jesus comes along and says ‘Follow me’.

Great! Another demand on our time and energies! As if we don’t have enough people and ideas to follow already!

So what’s your reaction to this challenging call? Should we choose to follow Jesus or not?

And this is the way people often describe their faith – it’s all about choice. You want to choose what you do with your life. You want to be in control. You want to be the decision maker. Therefore you might consider faith and following       Jesus as a choice. You may even like to think you have the right to choose where and how you worship.

For example, if you don’t like one church and what they tell you then go to another one, after all, don’t you have the freedom to choose for yourself!

But is following Jesus really as simple as making a choice? Can you really choose to follow Jesus?

Let’s think about it. Do children naturally choose to do what their parents tell them? No, they have to learn to do that. Do people naturally choose to obey traffic signs, keep to the speed limit, and always do the right thing? No, you’ll find that people are naturally rebellious and self-centred. They choose to do things only if it suits them or if they can get away with it.

Is it any different in regards to your relationship with God? Although you’d like to think you’re naturally attracted to him,  it’s actually the opposite.  Because of your sinful, selfish and rebellious nature, you’re naturally against him! How can you choose to follow him when you’re naturally against him?

Just think of all the people you’d like to have here in church but don’t come. Many people think if we tell them about Jesus, they’ll naturally be attracted to him and we’ll fill the church quickly. But what’s your experience? They’re more likely to choose not to follow Jesus and not to come to church where Jesus is.

In the same way, I’ve come across many parents who politely think they should let their children decide for themselves whether they would like to follow Jesus or not. Since they’re naturally going to say no, is it wise to let them decide for themselves? Doesn’t Jesus call children to come to him also?

So can you choose to follow Jesus? I believe it’s a miracle if anyone does, because sinful humans are naturally going to choose not to!

In today’s gospel reading, the disciples weren’t asked, ‘Would you like to follow Jesus?’ They were told to. For them it wasn’t a choice of whether they wanted to or not. It was a question of obedience. They could either obey his call or remain rebellious against him. We too are asked to follow him.

You’ll note there’s no special qualities mentioned as to why Jesus chose Peter, Andrew, James and John. The only thing we know is that they all happened to be fishermen. But other apostles weren’t fishermen, so knowing how to fish  isn’t a pre-requisite to following Jesus.

We don’t need to be anyone special to be chosen by Jesus. It’s his choice. If he wants to choose a ‘no-hoper’ or someone who seems to have no special qualities, then that’s his choice, and thank God it’s his choice! We probably wouldn’t choose half the people we’re sitting next to at the moment, but that’s not our choice either. It’s not up to us to choose who can or can’t follow Jesus! After all, who are we to think we know better than Jesus on who should follow him? It’s Jesus’ choice and his alone, and he calls us to follow him.

Now Jesus’ call to follow isn’t easy. To follow him might mean leaving behind certain things that bring us comfort, glory, financial security, and pleasure. To follow him might mean uncertainty about our future and being reliant on him; after all, the decision is now taken out of our hands and placed in Jesus’ hands. To follow him may sometimes mean leaving behind family and friends. To follow him may mean a total change in the way we live.

But in this age of freedom of choice, we may struggle to follow him obediently, so we may choose to do it part-time. So for example, we may act all pious and perfect on Sunday mornings, but then go back to our normal routines during the rest of the week. We might choose to come to church only when it suits us and our lifestyle. Even though some of us may dedicate some extra time to serve on a committee or two at church, we might choose to do it only on our terms or for our own interests, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us too much.

The other thing we might struggle with is that these days most of our following is done from the armchair.  For example,  if you follow a certain footy team, you follow them from the armchair. If we follow cricketers, tennis players, movie stars and so on, we do it from our armchair. We live in a society that passively sits and gets involved only from a distance. Of course, now and again we may actually see the teams or people we follow in a live situation, but again it’s from an armchair.

When Jesus tells us to follow him, do we think he expects us to follow him from an armchair?

Unlike the schooling system today where students sit behind desks, following Jesus as his disciples meant getting off their backsides so they could eat with him, sleep where he slept, listen to his conversations, walk with him, pray with him and in a sense, even imitate him.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he doesn’t want us to sit back in our comfortable armchairs and say ‘yes Jesus, I’ll follow you’, but then stay sitting down and watching him from a distance. It means actively walking in his ways, listening to his Words. It means walking away from things that stop us from following him, and walking the way of the cross.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: ‘The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus)’.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, we’re dragged out of a life which seems well ordered, controlled and pleasurable into a life that seems uncertain, unreliable and devoid of pleasure. But in reality we’re taken out of our chaotic and out-of-control life so that we can walk with Jesus who orders our life, and gives it meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ call to follow him isn’t a call to follow a set of laws and to stop enjoying our life. It’s a gracious call to freedom and true joy in obedience as we walk in his ways as his disciple.

If we’re an armchair Christian who has an idea of who Jesus is, but yet we choose not to walk his ways and be his disciple, then I can be as bold to say we’re a Christian without Christ. Sure, we may feel sorrow for his suffering and even rejoice in his victory over death, but we remain a spectator.

It’s a bit like watching a football match. We may suffer with the team if they’re struggling and rejoice with the team if they win, but unless we’re actually  playing for the team on the field, we don’t get to share the trophy. Spectators don’t get recognised for their hard work from their armchairs, but only the players who trained and played hard get the prize.

It’s the same with Jesus. Jesus has already graciously chosen us to join his team, not just to follow him from an armchair. Unless we follow him, and walk in his ways, we won’t receive the prize as one of his disciples. Thankfully, he’s gracious and forgiving to those who do follow him, even if they struggle to live up to his ways. He sends his Holy Spirit to encourage and comfort those who follow him in faith. Even if you fail to follow him obediently, his call comes again and again, patiently calling you to discipleship. He calls you out of a life darkened by sin, and death, into a life of hope, peace, forgiveness, and eternity.

Rejoice in the fact that Jesus chose you as part of his team and calls you to be one of his very own. He calls you to follow in his footsteps. He calls you to learn from his ways. He calls you to listen to his word. He calls you to talk to him in prayer He calls you to eat and drink with him in his communion. He calls you to suffer with him as he journeys to and beyond the cross. He calls you to live with him, forever. Amen.