January 26, 2020: “Faithful Attraction”

Reading: Matthew 4:18-23

Let me start by showing you how I get our cats’ attention at home.

“Daisy. Violet.

Daisy. Violet.

Daisy? Violet?”

Walk over and get bag of treats.

Shake treats.

“Treats!”

“There you are!”

The cats come running.

Now let me show you how I get our kids’ attention at home?

“Paul. Maddie.

Paul. Maddie.”

Sighs.

Walk over and gets iPad.

Shake iPad.

“Who wants to play on Daddy’s iPad?”

“There you are!”

You sense a pattern?

Being a cat owner for 10 years, and a parent for almost 6, I have learned that to get their attention, to attract them to what I have to tell them…

They need a little help.

In today’s Gospel, we have the story of Jesus gaining the attention of Peter, Andrew, James and John. 

Did he shake a bag of fish bait?

This gospel lesson has a special place in my heart 

It was the first sermon I ever preached at seminary.

It was for the preaching class and my professor was Dr. Tom Ridenhour

My teacher was Dr. Tom Ridenhour. 

A man I admired.

And feared.

He was a hard grader.

But he wanted us to give the best sermons we could.

So on that fateful day, I preached on Jesus calling the first four disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

I preached for about 10 minutes.

And I thought I made some good points.

I remember proclaiming, “The disciples knew that this Jesus was something special.”

And: “They knew he was the Savior.”

And after I was done, I admit I was quite proud of myself. (Self-high five)

Dr. Ridenhour started to write.

And write.

And write.

He looked up a me,

Shook his head.

Write some more.

I’m not sure how long I stood up there, but I could see my whole short-life as a pastor flash before my eyes.

When he was finally done, he put down his reading glasses, and asked me one question:

“How do you know?”

“How do I know what, sir?”

“How do you KNOW they knew?”

“How do I know they knew what?”

“The disciples! How did they know he was the one?”

“How did they know WHO was the one?”

I think you see where this is going.

Our conversation sounded like a bad Abbott & Costello routine.

Dr. Ridenhour drilled into my head that I had NO CLUE as to what was going on in the heads of those four disciples.

And he was right.

I was guessing.

And these many years later, we are still guessing.

But that is what makes this Gospel lesson so hard.

We really don’t know what was going through their heads!

We really don’t know what moved these four men to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus.

Up until now in Matthew’s Gospel, here is what Jesus has said in public:

“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”

&

“Follow me. And I will make you fish for people.”

Really?

That was enough?

Did Jesus have treats?

Here is one answer.

Between verses 17 and 18, there is a time jump.

It’s not unusual for that to happen in the Bible.

For instance, in Genesis 21, Sarah (the wife of Abraham) gives birth to her son Isaac.

When Chapter 22 comes around, Isaac is no longer a baby but a young boy who can walk and talk with his father.

My point is the periods we see at the end of verses & chapters in the Bible can be “time jumps.”

And I believe that is what is happening here.

Time moves on in an unwritten way.

Between Jesus’ Repent announcement and his going to the Sea of Galilee,

Jesus preached.

Taught.

And his name and his message grew.

So by the time Jesus is inviting these four men to join him, maybe they had heard and seen Jesus.

So that is one way to look at it.

They were attracted to Jesus because of his words.

This passage gets me to think and ponder what makes ME attracted to Jesus, what makes ME want to follow Jesus.

Two reasons:

Jesus’ grace towards all, especially the outsiders, the forgotten ones, the ones in the shadows.

Jesus wanted everyone to follow him.

He saw people as people, no matter what society thought of those people.

Another reason:

Jesus’ belief in the potential of people. 

Back in that time, if someone wanted to become a disciple (a student) of a Rabbi, they would have started at an early age, study the Torah, pass exams to earn the CHANCE to become a student and then finding a Rabbi.

And then these disciples would have to go find a Rabbi that would take them in.

By stating that these four were “fishermen,” meant that they had no business being disciples.

They were not students.

They were not the best of the best.

They were fishermen.

A good trade, but certainly not one that would gain them entry into high society.

But that did not matter to Jesus.

Jesus chose these 4 as his disciples.

He SOUGHT them out!

He saw something in them,

They will no longer be “fishermen,” they will be fishers of MEN!

But in order to do that, these four men had to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus. 

Someone has said that this verse is a true example of what repentance looks like. Turning around and following Jesus.    

And at that time that was a social risk.

Especially for James and John.

They not only leave their nets, they are leaving their father.

Walking away from the father (the family business) was “scandalous.” 

Judith Jones, a professor of religion at Wartburg College says, that in the time of Jesus, family connections were a primary source both of identity and of honor, and the responsibility to care for one’s parents was rooted both in cultural custom and in biblical law.

What the first four disciples did was not easy.

Following Jesus meant leaving behind certainty and heading towards the unknown.

So when we think about our time, our culture, and our ups and downs, and when we think that being a Christian is not easy…we have company.

We have stories of four men who didn’t know what the future held.

All they knew was WHO was leading them.

And let me state that these disciples were far from perfect.

The gospels are filled with stories of the disciples not getting Jesus’ message.

  • They fight over rank, 
  • they fall asleep keeping watch in the garden of Gethsemane, 
  • they run away when he is arrested, 
  • and Peter will deny that he even knows Jesus. THREE times!

Like I said, they were not the best students.

They certainly don’t sound perfect to me.

In fact, they sound a lot like you and me.

And yet….and YET…Jesus does not give up on them!

Jesus puts the fate of his mission in THEIR hands!

And when Jesus is raised from the dead, he goes back to them.

Instead of calling them students, he calls them BROTHERS!

Just like today he calls us brothers and sisters as well.

And he puts that same mission in OUR hands.

Jesus is calling us to follow him.

But here is my question I want us to think about today:

What attracts us to Jesus?

If I were to ask each of you, why you follow Jesus would you be able to answer?

Did you grow up a believer?

Did you come to believe?

What is it about Jesus that gets you out of your boats? 

What is it about Jesus that makes us want to drop our nets and follow?

what are the “nets” that we are holding on to?

What are the “things” that Jesus is calling you to drop in order to give your full heart to him?

What are the “boats” that Jesus is calling you to step out of and walk towards him?

And are you ready to follow?

Now we don’t know why Jesus chose these disciples.

But that is in line with how God works in the Bible.

When God calls someone: be it Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the prophets, or Mary, we might hear that these people “found favor with God” but WE NEVER KNOW WHY!

And maybe that is the point.

Rather than focusing on the WHY, we should focus on the ONE who does the calling, the inviting, and the leading.

The one who finds these ordinary fishermen special.

The same one who finds something special in you.

And if you don’t think you are special, I invite you to look at the cross. 

God found you so special and so important that he sent to His son, Jesus, to die for you.

Look to the font where God (through water and Word) invites you into HIS family.

Look to the table where God says, I did this “FOR YOU”

You have been called Special by God.

You have been called LOVED by God.

You have been called by God.

Drop your nets, and follow.

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