Once again, the gospels after Epiphany are all about beginnings. Last week we saw John the Baptist meet Jesus and proclaim him the Lamb of God. This week we see Andrew and Peter, James and John drop everything to follow Christ.
As we start the year, what do these gospels have to tell us? What kind of beginning is Christ calling us to? After all, we’re baptized Christians. We know we’re redeemed. Our sins are mostly small-time misdemeanors. We go to church on Sunday. Hey, we’re even committed enough to give this gospel message a glance. So what more does he want?
Follow me: that is what Jesus wants. Sometimes Christ speaks in parables, other times he poses questions… not this time. Jesus phrases his message in the no-frills imperative mood: Follow me. Put down your nets: and I will make you fishers of men. They did. And he did. And the world has never been the same since.
Follow me: that is what Jesus wants from us, too. Put down your remotes. Get off your couches. Push back from your desks. Stop texting. Stop being so very busy being busy. We pay lip service to the fact that being a Christian is more than a Sunday morning thing. But beyond platitudes, to be a Christian comes down to constantly answering Christ… to following him in all things and at all times. That defines what we are and why we are here. Being a Christian governs every aspect of our lives: our private personal conduct, our family, social and professional lives. It is what God has planned for us from before time began.
- But exactly what does it mean to follow Christ? Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing. Right up front he tells us that he has work for us to do. We are to be disciples. We are to be fishers of men. God does not give us his grace to store away for a rainy day. We are to be channels of his peace, not repositories of his favor. Our lives must proclaim the gospel… or we trivialize the cross. It is the ultimate example of the “use it or lose it” rule.
Let’s ask ourselves: Are we using God’s grace? Or are we letting it slip away? Are we disciples? Or are we just someone who has a baptismal certificate tucked away somewhere? Does our life witness Christ’s love? Or is it a snub to his sacrifice? Are we living with purpose? Or are we drifting along? Do we even have any idea what following Jesus will mean?
For Peter, Andrew and James it eventually meant martyrdom. Only God knows precisely what it will mean for each of us. Every day brings new challenges… new opportunities. That is why every day in Christ starts with a leap of faith. We focus that faith with an active prayer life built around reading and living his word… through organized bible study, through private daily devotionals, through making Christ a real presence at rising, at dining, in idle and in active times… and finally in day’s end reflections. Faith always comes first. Without it there is no Hope, no Charity. Paul instructs us in Hebrews 11:1 that: Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.
Father Mychal Judge made that leap of faith on 9/11. As a New York City Fire Department Chaplain, he followed Jesus to the World Trade Center. But before he did, he left us this prayer: “Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way.” Father Judge put his faith in Christ and followed him all the way home to glory in the company of so many other heroes.
Chances are, following Jesus will not mean martyrdom for any of us. But it certainly does mean struggle and sacrifice… both large and small… for every one of us. That’s the way it was meant to be. As Peter and Andrew could tell you: The fish don’t jump into the boat. It takes long, hard, dedicated, often frustrating, work. And that goes double for the fishers of men. Disciples are not meant to drift along basking in God’s grace. We must work at being disciples, helping Jesus make more disciples… in our families, among our friends… and by our habitual projection of his love… constantly spreading Christ’s net to every one we meet.
Dedicated faith, resilient hope, selfless love… that is what it takes to be a disciple. That’s what it takes to follow wherever Jesus leads…to an earthly life, rich in grace, spent praising God and serving neighbor… then on to an eternal life rejoicing in God’s love. In this gospel Jesus calls across the centuries, leading us to where we were always meant to be. And if we listen, every day he calls again: Follow me.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.