January 22, 2017/Matthew 4:12-23
Something about Jesus must have spoken to Simon and Andrew, to James and John – something other than his words, his simple command to “Follow me!” Something must have suggested that this man walking along the lakeshore was special, was different, that he mattered.
Whatever the case, when Jesus called, Simon and Andrew dropped their nets immediately. James and John left their boat and their father immediately. Immediately when they heard his voice, they turned their backs on their work and their property and their families and followed Jesus.
“It is as if they were compelled to follow Jesus and to obey him, almost as if they had been waiting all their lives to hear his voice, to be issued this call, so that when it came, they dropped what they were doing.” St. Augustine understood how they felt. The opening words of his Confessions state simply, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” “Perhaps they were simply responding to what had already been imprinted on their souls from birth – the knowledge of the voice of God – so that when they heard the voice, all they could do was obey.”
“The kingdom of heaven is drawing near,” Jesus proclaimed. He didn’t teach about some future salvation. He didn’t talk about “our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule ‘coming on earth as it is in heaven.’” Jesus announced God’s kingdom and then called disciples to spread the word. Follow me. Fish for people.
It was a radical call. Those first four disciples demonstrated a radical response. In the 2000-plus years since, nothing has changed about the call or the response. “Jesus is the one who seeks out followers, learners, apprentices who do not have to qualify for such a relationship, save the willingness to lay down everything else.”
Sometimes a call can be a dangerous thing.
In 1965, Georgia Congressman John Lewis was a 25-year-old organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A leading group in the civil rights movement, SNCC played a major role in the nonviolent sit-ins, freedom drives, and voter registration efforts across the South. In March of 1965, that work would lead Lewis to join a group of fellow civil rights workers in marching from Selma, Alabama, to push for voting rights for African-Americans.
Fifty years later, a reporter asked Lewis – who was badly injured during the protest – why he marched. “I mean, you saw the weapons the police arrayed against you. What propelled you forward, Congressmember Lewis?” she asked.
Well, my mother, my father, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and people all around me had never registered to vote. I had been working all across the South. The state of Mississippi had a black voting age population of more than 450,000, and only about 16,000 were registered to vote. On that day, we didn’t have a choice. I think we had been tracked down by what I call the spirit of history, and we couldn’t—we couldn’t turn back. We had to go forward. We became like trees planted by the rivers of water. We were anchored. And I thought we would die. I first thought we would be arrested and go to jail, but I thought it was a real possibility that some of us would die on that bridge that day, after the confrontation occurred. I thought it was the last protest for me. But somehow and some way, you have to keep going. You go to a hospital, you go to a doctor’s office, you get mended, and you get up and try it again.
Theologian Paul Tillich echoes St. Augustine when he talks about the inescapable nature of God’s call. We respond, he says, at that moment when the call from without corresponds with the longing from within. Jesus calls us to step into the dream that God has for us. He calls us to step away from safety and security and routine into a “life of unheard-of newness.”
That is what Isaiah envisioned, all those centuries ago, when he spoke to a people living in exile of a time when the darkness would be lifted and they would once more live awash in light. “The brightness of the light Isaiah proclaims shines on a people walking in darkness like a brilliant dawn suddenly breaking. This, surely, is the kind of light that illuminates every secret place, bringing a path obscured by shadows suddenly into view. It is the kind of light that gives direction and drives out fear.”
Jesus began his ministry by preaching a dream. “He [unveiled] and [revealed] the heart of God for all the world.” That dream was God’s dream for us – the dream of the kingdom of God here among us, surrounding us, upholding us.
Jesus called those first disciples not to a job but to a relationship. We tend to think that only pastors are called, or maybe pastors and Christian educators, and perhaps church musicians. We tend to look at religious calling as a call into sacrifice and long hours and low wages. We certainly don’t want to be called. But from the moment Jesus began his public ministry with a call to turn away from the bad in our lives and to turn toward the kingdom of heaven that he would usher in, we were called. We just have to decide what we’re going to do about it.
As Presbyterians, we consider each congregation to be “engaged in the mission of God” (G-1.0101). All members of the congregation are called to participate in that mission, which includes worship, prayer, studying Scripture, and serving others.
Walking in God’s light, with faith in the one who calls us to follow, we can become good fishers of people. Whether our call is to leadership or teaching or ministry or service, it always will involve people – “not simply a mission or a ministry or a movement, but actual, flesh-and-blood persons.”
That’s a call any of us can answer.
 Rodger Y. Nishioka, Feasting on the Word A/1, 286
 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 18
 Troy A. Miller, Feasting on the Word A/1, 289
 democracynow.org, “I Thought I Saw Death,” accessed January 16, 2017
 Texts for Preaching, Year A, 117
 Stephanie A. Paulsell, Daily Feast, Year A, 89
 Dan Clendenin, “Living a Dream,” journeywithjesus.org, 15 January 2017
 David Lose, “Fishers of People,” workingpreacher.org, January 20, 2014