Matthew 4: 12-23
A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens
January 22, 2017


Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

Many of us have heard this text read more times than we can count.  We have responded to that call, and that is the reason we are here.  But over the years we have heard other calls, and they they have sometimes displaced if not drowned out the call of Christ to follow him.


From my earliest memories I can recall singing the little chorus:

Follow, follow, I will follow Jesus;
Anywhere, everywhere, I will follow him.
Follow, follow, I will follow Jesus;
Anywhere he leads me I will follow him.

Every great religious leader has had devoted followers. The startling thing is how Jesus chose his followers.  A contemporary consultant would cringe at the methods Jesus used.  Did he go to a university in Jerusalem to pick the brightest young minds in the undergraduate religion department?  Did he consult with the established religious leaders of the time?  Did he ask for letters of recommendation?  Did they each go to be interviewed by Jesus?  How would Jesus go about picking his closest advisors, those who would be with him through all that would follow?

How about going down to the lakeshore and picking out some uneducated fishermen?  What?  Are you kidding?  That flies in the face of everything we know about building a new movement!  But from the very beginning Jesus seems to be saying, “I will build God’s movement from ordinary, everyday, regular people!”  If Jesus had chosen only the smartest, most religious, most pious people, I’m afraid most of us would be left out.  We would get the impression that the church is only for the select few.

He started with two, then two more, and then eventually twelve, and then those twelve multiplied over the centuries until finally here we are—students of Christ who have heard the same call to follow him.  But we are in the first month of the year 2017, and we are worshipping in Providence, RI, USA, North America, planet Earth.  We are part of that long procession of people who have heard the call to follow Christ.


            There’s another fascinating thing about this story: the writer seems to emphasize the startling fact that Jesus left his home in Nazareth and moved to Capernaum, a town described as across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who read this would have been shocked that Jesus moved to a place like that.  Orthodox Jews would have viewed it with contempt, a place of mixed religions.  After all, the great roads of the world passed through Galilee.  One famous road was called the Way of the Sea, and it led from Damascus through Galilee right down to Egypt and Africa.  Another caravan road led through Galilee right out to India and even China!  The traffic of the world passed through Galilee, and it is no surprise that Capernaum in Galilee experienced a diversity of people and religions.

Have you noticed the number of religions observed in Providence lately? Providence is like a Galilee of our times!  And it is in such a place as Providence that Christ still comes with his persistent call:  Follow me.  Ordinary people, like you, like me, seem to look up and wonder if it is their own name they hear.  And surprise!  It is!  Your name, called out from all the rest because Christ knows you and loves you.  Your name on his lips—calling you to be his faithful follower.

And we have committed ourselves to following Christ through our normal, everyday lives.  Jesus did not call Peter and Andrew, James and John, to do something they did not already know how to do!  Their calling was an extension of what they were already doing.  He called them to fish, but their fishing would take on greater significance.  We believe that we are called to be authentically who we are.


Years ago when I was teaching in North Carolina, I became acquainted with Will Willomon while he was chaplain at Duke University.  He received a phone call late one night from a distraught father of one of the students there.  His daughter, it seems, attended church at Duke Chapel, and was a promising graduate student in dental school.  The father was very upset because she had decided to drop out of dental school in order to teach school on an island off the coast of South Carolina.

Will knew that she was miserable in dental school, but he agreed at the father’s insistence that he would call the daughter and talk with her.  The father was convinced that she was throwing her life away.

So Will called her, and to his surprise, she told him that although she had been thinking of doing this for a long time, the one thing that helped her decide was a sermon he had preached a few months earlier on the call to follow Christ, wherever he might lead.  She thanked him profusely, and said that she had never felt happier or more fulfilled in her life!

Will mumbled a few words in behalf of her father, and then said, “It really was my sermon?”  “Yes,” she answered, “It was your sermon that prompted me to do it.”  “But Celia,” Will said, “it was only a sermon!”

May that call of Christ be heard once again on a January day in Providence, RI.


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