Scripture: Matthew 4:12-25
Text: Matthew 4:18-22
Sermon Prepared by Rev. Fred Heslinga, Essex, Ont.
CREATED FOR THE HIGHER CAUSE
At one point in our lives we discover that we were created for a higher cause. We are here for a reason that is much bigger than ourselves. Certainly we need to attend to our stomachs and other areas of physical care. However we do so in order to be better equipped for that cause. To reach beyond yourself, is the life goal for which many people are searching in one way or another. At one level it may not be very popular to be a visionary and an idealist. We live in a practical “nuts and bolts”, high tech world. We can’t get away from it. Before long, however, we come back to questions of meaning and purpose.
Thomas Merton was a man who tried to find himself in everything that the world had to offer. He could not find satisfaction anywhere until he ended up on the Christian community of Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky . He lived there in sparse physical surroundings with very few conveniences and possessions. Finally he found a new richness to his life. He discovered the goodness of God.
It didn’t take too long however before a new restlessness set in. He began to see that with this new strength he could not walk out on the world. He realized that he was now a follower of Jesus Christ in the world. He still spent much time in his Christian community at the abbey. However he now also had his heart set on making a Christian impact on the world. His many books, speeches and friendships will not soon be forgotten. His “ Seven Story Mountain ” and other writings are still being published. All of us need to connect to this higher cause much bigger than us.
Young adults especially find themselves at a time in life when they need to decide issues of identity and purpose. They have the assignment of discovering who they are as unique persons, distinct from parents, peers and other folks in their community. They will find out that part of this identity search involves connecting to this cause that is bigger than they are. Their challenge is to integrate who they are with their life calling, their vocation. This life calling is more than just the job for which they are preparing or have at present. It has to do with their one reason for being which encompasses everything they do.
Young adults are not the only people who need to come to terms with their higher cause. Many of us got a late start. Others of us need to take another look at whatever age or stage of life we happen to be. Especially at mid life we often find ourselves asking “what’s it all about”. What have I been doing with my life all these years? In this respect the mid life crisis can become a very good thing. We take another look. Not just a few of us make some major changes. We want to align with the higher cause that brings new meaning to our lives.
We don’t know that the fishermen we meet in today’s reading had actually been involved in some self examination in regard to the higher cause to which our Lord calls them. Often it is an event or a challenge, such as the one Jesus gives them, which brings this moment of major growth. Yet these fellows make a mid course change that involves them completely in the work of what God is doing in the world.
This call that our Lord extends to these potential followers sparks our interest because, with them, we share in this universal question. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? To what or whom do I give what I have to offer?
Many of us are coming to realize that this ‘life purpose’ has to be much bigger than the kind of self seeking motive that seems to make the world turn. A life focused on itself in time becomes very unfulfilled and empty. As we mature we find out that the only way to fill yourself is to spend yourself. Thus let us take some time to let God speak to us about this higher cause to which Jesus calls these fishermen.
THE OCCASION OF THE HIGHER CAUSE
One thing that strikes me as I read Matthew’s account of the calling of the disciples is their first response. When Jesus issues the call, “Come follow me”, there is something very quick about their reaction. “At once” they leave their nets and join our Lord in his work. We read that twice. Once in respect to Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother. A little later James and his brother John do the same. They leave their boat and their father and follow Jesus “immediately”.
They begin right then and there. There are no delays. There is no information as to why Jesus approaches these particular people. Qualifications don’t seem to matter. These four are rather quickly plunged into a work they had never known or imagined. They make their career change on the spot. It almost seems impulsive and with little thought involved. Why these four? Why take them away from their fishing nets? Why remove them from work that provided some security and stability in their lives from day to day? Why leave a father who sits there and watches them go? What is this going to do to the family? Yet here and now they begin to follow Jesus. At that very moment their lives are changed forever.
What does that say about this higher cause to which Jesus calls these disciples? Even though these four men act quickly and it seems “on the spur of the moment”, it does not mean that there is something impulsive and haphazard about it. This higher cause had been in place already since the beginning. It was several thousand years old. The Lord had been preparing for this moment for a very long time. In this respect there are certainly no surprises.
But now the time had come. This was the place. These were the four that our Lord calls at this point. They respond without further delay. The cause for which they give their lives is too important and urgent to do otherwise. There is no time for reconsideration. No mention of trying it out on probation. They left their nets and boat behind as well as dear old dad and off they went.
This “here and now” challenge which Matthew portrays, brings to light the quality of participation in this higher cause to which Jesus calls his disciples. We can start right now. We can start right here.
Some ‘would be’ disciples might dream about a future time of lofty service when they are old enough or independently rich enough. Or they may take up the cause when are finished with everything else they ever wanted to do and experience. Others might want to become better educated or be more mature before they take on this challenge to follow Jesus. Then there are those want to sow a few wild oats first before getting down to the real business of life. Following Jesus is something for the future when the time and place is right and when I’m ready for it. Perhaps I will get started as soon as I get back from my vacation.
Our Lord calls Peter and Andrew, James and John with or without particular qualifications, with or without things to look after first. It seems that the only qualification is that he called them, right then and there.
William Barclay in his commentary on Matthew likes to make much of the fact that our Lord called fishermen. Fishermen tend to have certain qualities that followers of Jesus require. Fishermen need to have patience. They need to be able to persevere. Courage, an eye for the right moment, and bait that suits the fish is also helpful. A fisherman has to keep himself out of sight. He then goes on to explain how followers of Jesus need those same attributes in order to do the work of the Lord.
There is no doubt that these positive qualities would put them at an advantage. Patience, perseverance, courage, a sense of timing, and knowing that Jesus must be the one in the limelight, may result in an effective ministry. I suspect however that Matthew’s point is that they were just ordinary fishermen with their strengths and their weaknesses who then and there followed Jesus.
Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not with particular qualifications but immediately. The point is not that we have to leave whatever we are doing right now. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a fisherman can’t be a follower of Christ. It does mean ‘here and now’ right where you are, being a follower of Christ, and doing what needs to be done to give ourselves to His higher cause.
The temptation is to claim that the time isn’t right or that we have certain deficiencies. I’m too busy with other things. I am physically challenged. I am emotionally challenged. I am developmentally challenged. I am financially challenged. Join the club. Ordinary, challenged with weaknesses and strengths, here and now, we follow our Lord as his partner bringing his healing to the world.
Notice what happened after these rather ordinary fisherman followed Jesus for a time. We read that as Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching and healing every disease, crowds from there, the Decapolis , Jerusalem , Judea and the region across Jordan followed him. They really started something didn’t they! Here and now.
A new time in history is beginning. Here and now. It is the time to follow this Jesus. This is the higher cause. You and I are called to it as were those first disciples.
THE CHARACTER OF THE HIGHER CAUSE
Any time and any place is the occasion of following our Lord. What shape does our life take however as we give ourselves to this higher cause? What does it look like? Surely we do not have to do exactly what those first disciples did. Most of us are not fishermen, at least not by trade. We are certainly not able to follow him by imitating those first followers strictly speaking. Our Lord is no longer with us in the same way as he was with those first disciples. Yet what Jesus did tells us much about the shape of our life in our time and place.
The experience of an inner city worker one day gives us a picture of the shape of our life in the higher cause. She was asked to write a column for the monthly newsletter of the organization for which she worked one summer. She found it extremely difficult as she faced a community filled with hopelessness, disease, confused men and women, and homeless young people. One night as she was heading back to her apartment, kicking through the sidewalk trash she reached the boarded up glass door of her own apartment building. During the day there had been gunfire and a death resulting in broken glass, debris and blood spatters on the sidewalk where she now stood. In shock at the horrible sight before her she began to feel the nausea rising in her throat. Then her eye caught a tiny sign that transformed the moment. Right there among the debris in the crack of the broken sidewalk a small yellow flower was breaking through it all.
We wouldn’t necessarily want to experience the extreme conditions of this young inner city worker. Yet it indicates something of the shape of who we are for Jesus Christ. The debris and the experience may not be so graphic or extreme but we are provided with a helpful picture here. We as followers of Jesus are that emerging flower of new life in the cracks. We cannot all be street corner preachers or inner city workers. We cannot all be educators in the upper or lower levels of government and universities. However in whatever we have received as our life from God, we can give.
We start out as ordinary folks who have ourselves been healed from our own broken hearts. Then, starting from whatever place, we begin to illustrate and provide some of that emerging new life. Today it doesn’t take much to show the difference. We become as noticeable as the miracle of that tiny flower in the midst of the debris.
Folks sometimes ask, “What do I do? How do I go about this? Give me some specifics.” We cannot tell you exactly. For each of us that would work out a little differently. Every one of us is unique. The Lord has given us life in many ways. We have our gifts, our experiences, our own personal histories. It all becomes part of the picture. In each “here and now” you and I are called to follow Christ, to bloom where we are planted. For some it may mean leaving what they are doing with their life at the moment. For others it may mean doing what they are doing now. The difference is that they are doing it for the higher cause.
In the gospel of John, chapter 7, verse 38, we read Jesus saying, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of water will flow from within him.” Thus we start where the early disciples started. Like them, we really start to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord of Savior of our life. The river of life begins to flow through us. Right then and there we start to follow him. We begin to make a difference. Some major changes may take place as in the case of the disciples. For others it will mean a very different reason for doing what they are doing now. Yes, it may mean a career change or a shift in focus where education is concerned. It will certainly change the quality and purpose of our relationships. Marriage, family, and place of work will be affected. The church will become the most important community in our life. We will give of ourselves where and when needed. There is not an area of life that won’t be untouched.
Brother Lawrence remained rather “unknown” for much of his life. He was never voted to a high level position in the church. He didn’t get to be a chief executive of a large influential organization. He started out in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans. He didn’t go much beyond that. However people around him who worked with him found that “rivers of living water flowed out of him.” They came to him wanting to know God the way he knew him. Today people are still reading his well known work, “Practicing the Presence of God.”
Unfortunately the media has turned Mother Teresa in somewhat of a world celebrity. She never intended her notoriety to result in admiration and the celebration of her great work. Pastor and Christian author John Ortberg writes in God Is Closer Than You Think, “Mother Teresa was famous for saying that we should not ask to do great things for God, but to do small things with great love.” If we learned to follow Christ by serving each other in small ways as the Lord enables us, we would already be making a big difference.
Let the River of Life , Jesus Christ, flow through you, as He provides. Follow Him today wherever He has blessed you, wherever He leads you. Don’t wait it out. There is no better time. Just do it, here and now, in all the moments, days, weeks, and years that you still receive from God’s hand. Amen.
God Calls Us
Welcome and Announcements
Music Prelude as we quietly prepare our hearts for worship.
Call To Worship: Psalm 117
*Gathering Hymn: 250 “I’ve Come To Tell” (PSH)
Leader: This is the day that the Lord has made.
Congregation: Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Leader: May God’s grace, mercy and peace be with us all.
Song of Response: 238:1,3,4,5 “We Come O Christ To You” (PSH)
We Confess and Are Renewed
Prayer of Confession (in unison) God of compassion, look upon us in mercy, for we have not walked in the way of Jesus, your Son. We have not laid down our lives for the Gospel, but have sought to advance and defend ourselves. Our faith in you has wavered; we have trusted more in our own strength and understanding. In loving kindness, forgive us. Strengthen our faith by your Spirit, that we would be courageous enough to embrace the way of the cross. Amen.
Words of Assurance: Psalm 32:1-7
Hymn of Assurance: 489:1,2,4 “When Peace Like A River” (PSH)
Rededication: Psalm 32:8-11
Hymn of Rededication: 561:1,2,5 “Rejoice, O Pure In Heart” (PSH)
Or “Here I Am Lord” 268 (SNC)
Prayer for the Word
Scripture Reading : Matthew 4:18-22 Text: verses 18-22
Message: “Here and Now They Follow Him”
Prayer of Application
*Response 548 “When We Walk With the Lord” (PSH)
Or “Lord, Be Glorified” 43 (SNC)
We Present Our Gifts in Prayer
*Closing Hymn: 291:1,2,3,4 “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior”
Or “We Will Glorify” 21 (SNC)
*Benediction: Lord may Your grace be upon us, Your truth continue to lead us, and Your peace fill our hearts through the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
*Doxology 640 “Alleluia” (PSH)
Or 641 “Three Fold Amen” (PSH)
(*) indicates congregation is invited to stand.
Grey Psalter Hymnal = (PSH)
Sing a New Creation = (SNC)
Feel free to adapt the order of service and hymns/songs as needed for your own local needs and resources.