What does it mean for us to follow Jesus? That’s the question before us today as we watch Jesus come alongside these fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the water, Matthew tells us, when Jesus walks by and says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” and they do. Just up the road another pair of brothers also fish, and he presumably says something similar to them. They also follow him, leaving behind both the boat and their father without even a second thought.
From that place, we’re told, “Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and and every sickness among the people.” And these four, Andrew, James, John and Peter travel with him.
It’s an easy enough sentence. “Follow me.” Just two words. It’s an imperative sentence for those of you who remember your grammar instruction, because the subject “you” is implied. “Andrew, James, John and Peter, you all (or y’all, if you prefer) follow me.” Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Or as it is in the Greek, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people” because it’s the noun and not the verb. It’s the identity and not the action. “You are currently fishermen whose call is to haul in nets teeming with fish, but I will make you fishers of people.”
And they follow, having no any idea where he will lead them.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to answer God’s call?
We have a bit of a clue of course. It’s tucked in at the very beginning of our reading. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested.…” The John in question happens to be John the Baptist who doesn’t hold back in being prophetic to the ruler of the day, declaring to Herod that he had forsaken God’s way by divorcing his wife in order to marry another woman who just so happened to have been married to his brother. Herod didn’t care for that biting critique, so he jailed John.
Peter, James, John and Andrew likely had not heard any of that news given that they lived some 80 miles to the north, a few day’s journey by foot. The jailing of a prophet by the powers that be would likely not have registered on their radar screens. Especially since there were nets to mend and fish to catch and meals to put on the table. But then they heard this call: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” And they do, immediately. They follow Jesus who calls to them.
We’ll sing a simple hymn at 10:45 (or We just sang a simple hymn) about this call. It’s based on a poem written by William Alexander Percy.
They cast their nets in Galilee
just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk,
before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
homeless in Patmos died,
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for just one thing —
the marvelous peace of God.
Personally, I’m drawn to this poem. It doesn’t hold back, remaining unbelievably honest. Following Jesus does not mean prosperity, greatness and health no matter how many times that gets declared by some so-called proclaimers of the gospel here in our country. I grew up around that theology—that if you faced hardship in life then you were at fault, you had sinned, you didn’t have enough faith in following Jesus. And simultaneously if you experienced financial success, God was blessing you, with nary a reference to the possibility of greed.
Essayist Rebecca Solnit, in her book A Field Guide for Getting Lost, writes, “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from.” She goes on to recount how a student came up one day to her handing her a piece of paper with a quote from a pre-Socratic philosopher named Meno. “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” Solnit is taken by the words, pondering them again and again in the days ahead. She wonders if you can find something that at the current moment remains unknown. And then she suggests, “That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”
She continues, “The word ‘lost’ comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so.”
“That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find.” Our hymn writer suggests that the unknown thing we need to find is the marvelous peace of God. We find it by disbanding our armies — by ending the control of the many forces on our lives—and get lost by following Jesus.
It’s an odd way to put it, but Jesus himself would say something similar to those same disciples who left boats and fathers and nets behind, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” But you have to lose your life—your self, your identity, your way of knowing the world, your certainties, and the armies you have banded together to protect you—to truly find it. You have to head out into the darkness unknown trusting that in following Jesus you will find the marvelous peace of God. You have to head out into the darkness trusting that you will see a great light.
But there’s a catch: you may likely experience hardship. John the Baptist gets thrown in prison. Peter and John will suffer too. We know what happens to Jesus. Any shyster telling you otherwise is peddling something that is not the truth. I have personally been condemned by some I would have considered friends by choosing to respect the dignity of every human being and reaching out to our Muslim neighbors. But I know that my life has been enriched ten-fold by those encounters and new friendships, and I know deep in my bones that that is the way of Christ. “The peace of God it is no peace… yet let us pray for just one thing—the marvelous peace of God.”
Out there before you lies that thing the nature of which you do not know but it is the very thing you need to find. It will mean heading out into the unknown, trusting in the goodness and love of God and venturing out. You will get lost; you will lose yourself. But in return you will find a life you never imagined.
Follow me, Jesus says to those fishermen, and to us. That my friends is the truest mark of being a disciple: Following Jesus. The journey in following is not easy but the life found in return will be filled with God’s marvelous peace. Let go of the nets in your life. Disband the armies. Push against those things in our culture and in our world that hold you back. Follow Jesus and learn from him and see his miracles and watch him love. Follow him into the unknown and uncover peace and light and love. Amen.