Follow Me

January 29, 2023

Series: January 2023

Speaker: Bethany Nelson


Today's Sermon


"Follow Me"


First Reading
1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Second Reading
Matthew 4:18-25

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Voice 1:
He called me, but I did not want to go.
I had some business to attend to – private business.
I was a self-made person, inspired by the spirit of free enterprise.
It took a lot of my time, most of my time … that’s the way it is with private business.
And he expected me to give it up when he called:
Give up my independence and go public, give up competition and go cooperative.
I did not want to go.

Voice 2:
He called me, but I did not want to go.
I had some money to attend to – private money.
I had inherited a small fortune from my family.
I had made some fast money on the stock market … that’s the way it can be with private money.
And he expected me to give it up when he called:
Give up my personal wealth and share it around; live on less so that others could live on more.
I did not want to go. 

Voice 3:
He called me, but I did not want to go.
I had a family to attend to – a private family.
I was living with people whom I loved and adored,
And who loved me deeply … that’s the way it can be with family.
And he expected me to give it up when he called:
To leave my family and to love everybody.
Give up caring for just a few people and start caring for the world.
I did not want to go. 

Voice 4:
He called me, but I did not want to go.
I had my faith to attend to – my own private faith.
I was devoted to a god whom I imagined was like me.
I worshipped that god my own personal way … that’s the way it is with private faith.
And he expected me to give it up when called:
Give up my private faith and make it public; serve God in society and not just in my soul.
I did not want to go. 

Voice 1:
He called us, but we did not want to go.
We did not want our business, our fortune, our family, our faith
To be infected and affected by his touch.
Yet we went.
We gave up everything.
And we gained the Kingdom of God.[i]

In the passage we heard from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, and the story says they do so, “Immediately.”  Two different times – first with Peter and Andrew and then with James and John – Jesus calls out for them to leave everything in order to follow him.  They will need to leave their jobs, their families, their security … everything that is familiar to them.  If it was me, I would need to take some time to think about it. I would likely have a long list of questions I needed answered.  I would have to weigh the pros and cons.  But these four follow immediately.  Talk about setting a high bar for the rest of us!  I am a planner … I don’t do anything immediately.

So when I hear this story, I will admit to getting a little discouraged.  These four seem to be so much more faithful than me.  They will follow Jesus at the drop of a hat.  They don’t have questions.  They don’t make a pros and cons list.  Jesus calls and they go.  If this is what is expected in order to follow Jesus, I just don’t know that I can compare.

Thank goodness for this beautiful writing from John Bell that we just heard.  I think my favorite line in the piece is, “He called me, but I did not want to go.” Each character starts with this line, and then considers all the ways that following Jesus is hard.  They will have to give up things they don’t want to give up.  They will have to consider others instead of just themselves.  They will have to make choices and order their priorities in new and different ways.  This decision is definitely not immediate for any of them. 

And yet, each of them eventually chooses to follow Jesus. Each of them decides that, yes, this is a call they will follow even with their baggage, and imperfections, and doubts and questions.  “He called us, but we did not want to go … yet we went.”  These four characters remind us that Jesus calls us to follow him just as we are.  The flawed, selfish, unsure, imperfect beings that we are.  That’s who God wants.  That’s who God loves. That’s who God uses to serve in the world.

Paul lays it out in no uncertain terms in his letter to the Corinthians.  If I were them, I might have been a little offended by how Paul describes them, but he sure makes his point.  “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards … not many were powerful … God chose what is foolish in the world … God chose what is weak ... God chose what is low and despised.”  I can imagine the Corinthians reading this letter and thinking, “Gee, thanks Paul.  Glad you think so highly of us.”  But this really is good news!  God doesn’t want just a select few, God wants us all. There is no one outside the depth and breadth of God’s love.  There is no one who Jesus does not call to follow, just as they are.

For whatever reason, the word “foolish” stood out for me as I read through this passage this week.  One could say it is a bit foolish to be a disciple of Jesus.  Just think of all that the four characters we heard from earlier had to give up in order to follow Jesus.  Business, money, family, comfort.  Foolish!  Jesus himself tells us that his followers will be persecuted.  Why would anyone sign up for that?  Foolish!

That’s a good question. Why would anyone choose to follow Jesus?  According to John Bell, because we gain the Kingdom of God.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that discipleship is a road of boundless mercy and discipleship means joy.  There is joy in being foolish.  Cecil Collins was a British artist who wrote an essay titled, “The Vision of the Fool” back in 1947.  In the essay, he writes about April Fools Day, saying, “April 1st – All Fools Day should be celebrated religiously and universally. A day of giving away in unending foolish non-rational generosity. A day when all the mercies of the year gather to manifest themselves. A day when all people, the successful, the failures, the Saints, misfits, heroes, weaklings, businessfolk, artists, poets, are united in the mystical charity of the Fool. The Fool who, wearing fantastic garments of love, makes wild gestures of tenderness before the suffering of all the living ones in the universe.”

I found that quote on the website for the “Faithful Fools” ministry.  They are a ministry team based in San Francisco who work mostly with people living on the streets.  They do direct ministry with those who are unhoused, as well as advocacy, educational, and justice work.  I love that they very specifically call themselves “Fools.”  In fact, their staff page is titled, “Fools on Staff,” because they recognize that there is a bit of foolishness to what they do.  It is foolish to be a small, grassroots organization trying to change oppressive and powerful systems.  It is foolish to open your heart and share your love with someone who may or may not return it.  It is foolish to think that a wild gesture of tenderness might make a difference to someone in their small corner of the world.  And yet, they have followed God’s call, and they will celebrate their 25thyear of ministry this year.  I would guess that they would tell you those 25 foolish years have been filled with challenge and struggle, but also with boundless mercy and joy.

I don’t know if any of you know anything about tarot cards.  I don’t, but as I was doing some reading this week, I discovered that there is a tarot card named, “The Fool.” I found the description of that card interesting in the context of today’s scripture passages – “The Fool is a card of new beginnings, opportunity, and potential. Even though you don’t know exactly where you are going, you are being called to commit yourself and follow your heart, no matter how crazy this leap of faith might seem. As you undertake this journey, The Fool encourages you to have an open, curious mind and a sense of excitement. Be ready to embrace the unknown, leaving behind any fear, worry or anxiety about what may or may not happen. Take that leap of faith, even if you do not feel 100% ready or equipped for what is coming. What are you waiting for? Do you think you need to have everything mapped out before you can begin? No way! Not with The Fool. He ventures out on his journey with just his essential belongings – and now he invites you to do the same. You don’t need to wait for someone to give you the green light or hold off until you have all the skills, tools, and resources you think you might need. You are ready!”[ii] 

Perhaps those first disciples followed Jesus immediately not because they had their acts together, but because it was OK to not have their acts together.  Not because they were doubt-free, but because they had questions and yearned to know and learn more.  Not because it was easy for them to leave their jobs and families, but because they hoped to find mercy and joy amidst the challenge.  Not because it was the logical choice, but because foolishly following Jesus was, in fact, the only choice that made sense for them.

The first line of our anthem this morning asks, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”  Jesus is calling our names all the time.  Not calling us to be perfect, or doubt-free, or powerful, or wise. Calling us to follow in his way of love and joy and service and justice, just as we are.  May it be so.


[i]Adapted from “He Was In The World,” by John Bell