A sermon on Matthew 4:12-23
When I was 11 years old, I had an experience that I’ll never forget. One school night, my sister and I hopped in the car with my Dad and drove to DC. He took us down to the old Executive office building, where we were met by a white house staffer that was a relative of my Dad’s coworker. He led us through the security there, and then through a tunnel. The next thing I knew, we were in the West Wing of the White House.
Now, I don’t know what the situation has been lately, but at the time, since the West Wing is a busy office during the day, the only way to get a tour of the West Wing was to be invited by White House staffer willing to lead you on an after-hours tour.
Since that was precisely what we had, I ended up being in places that I would have had no right to be if it weren’t for our guide. I stood behind the podium in the press room. I went into the cabinet room. We walked outside in the rose garden. When we were out there, I have a vivid memory of looking onto the west wing colonnade and seeing Socks, the Clinton’s cat, out on a late night prowl. That was the closest we got to seeing a member of the first family, even though I was able to stick my head through the cracked door into the oval office itself.
Now, of course, I didn’t have any right to be there by myself. I only had the privilege to be there because I was with someone who belonged there. Someone who sacrificed his evening to do a favor for a family friend– a favor that I would never be able to reciprocate. And for me, this trip to the White House was an opportunity for me to learn that old life lesson: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
It’s a dynamic that we see at work in the reading from Matthew. Jesus is calling all sorts of people to follow him who haven’t in any way merited their call.
Who does Jesus call first? He calls fishermen. Later he’ll have Matthew, a tax collector. He’ll even have Simon the Zealot– perhaps a member of a political party of revolutionaries. They’re not society’s elites. They’re probably not the go-to great speakers. They’re not necessarily the smartest. Honestly, they might have already been rejected as disciples by other Rabbis. But it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Or maybe it’s not what you know, but it’s who knows you.
Peter and Andrew are approached by someone great and invited to follow. Nobodies like them can become apprentices to Jesus himself. They’ll get to see things in life that they have no right to see, apart from Jesus. It’s an opportunity like none other. And it’s worth taking. It says that Peter and Andrew left their nets and followed Jesus.
They didn’t take their nets, but they left them. Why was that move important, or even essential?
On a purely logistical level, you can imagine the ridiculous scene of Peter, Andrew, James, and John mozying into a new inland village with Jesus to announce the kingdom of God, healing the sick, but Peter’s carrying this heavy net behind. It’s not useful for the new type of work, Peter. Why are you dragging that thing around?
But we all know, I think that there is something deeper going on here. It’s a symbol of a clean break, isn’t it? They had been fishermen– most likely their whole lives. And so, what was their net worth? It was everything. It was their livelihood. It was their expertise. It was everything they knew.
And yet at the call of Jesus they drop the life they knew and they follow Jesus. They’re master fishermen, most likely, but they give up their expertise to become brand new apprentices to Jesus. Is there a net in your life that Jesus is calling you to abandon for the sake of following him?
The hard thing for us to handle is that nets are good. We have a tough time imagining that following Jesus would ever mean needing to leave something good.
At the same time, I love how Jesus has a way of redeeming what we give up for him. Jesus calls the fishermen to fish for people. The fishermen are used to sweeping up fish in their nets. Now they’re going to learn how to sweep people up into the kingdom of God. It’s a type of fishing that doesn’t require a net. It requires something completely different: knowing Jesus and learning to be like him. And so they leave their nets behind.
Are there nets that you need to abandon? What’s your net worth? It’s a pun. Don’t get mad.
Following Jesus takes time. Following Jesus takes sacrifice. Gregory the Great, the 6th century church leader, said, “The kingdom of heaven has no price tag on it: [but] it is worth as much as you have.”
These first disciples of Jesus are completely unremarkable, normal people, except for one thing. They responded to the call of Jesus. When they saw him coming they didn’t put their hands over their ears and shout “la la la, I can’t hear you!” They listened to the call and they responded.
Throughout Christian history, many of Jesus’ most effective disciples have been relative nobodies. That’s good news. You don’t have to be a “somebody” in the world’s eyes to be a somebody in God’s kingdom.
Franky was born to working class parents in England. He wasn’t formally educated. He apprenticed as a metal worker. But at 14, he made a commitment to Christ, and got connected with this group of Christians called the Methodists. By the time he was 22, he was a Methodist lay preacher. Four years later, he offered himself to be sent to America as a missionary. Franky went on to travel some 265,000 miles on horseback. Under his leadership, the number of Methodists in America grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members. Franky went from being a completely normal, uneducated metalworker, to becoming “Francis Asbury!” the father of American Methodism.
The disciples left their nets. Franky left metal working. All for the purpose of knowing Jesus.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”
And your net, whatever that may be, is worth leaving to know him.
“But Pastor David, how do I get to know Jesus?” You always ask such good questions!
(Do you want the long answer or the short answer? Don’t answer that!) I’ll give you the short answer. We need to pray. And not just “dear Lord, help me to know you more.” But that times 1000.
That’s why we’re calling this a “Year of Prayer.” We’re seeking to get to know Christ better, not just in our heads, but in our hearts. To be clear, I’m by no means anti-intellectual. I’m 100% for learning and study.
But think of it this way: if wanted to know George Washington, I’m sunk. I could learn about him. I could read everything he ever write and everything anyone who knew him ever wrote and I still wouldn’t know him. He’s dead. (Sorry if that’s news to anyone)
But Jesus is alive, and I can know him through prayer. I’m still going to read about him and learn as much as I can from those who knew him. But I want to know him myself. I’m tired of the type of faith that depends on somebody else’s faith story to keep me attention. I want my own stories. I want to know him for myself. I also want other people to know him.
Some of you say, “this obviously doesn’t apply to me because, um, I already know Jesus.” Wonderful. The Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest missionary in the history of Christian missionaries, said this in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ.” You think to yourself, Paul, how can you say that? You literally met him in person. But Paul knows that he isn’t there yet.
Here’s my point: the call to know Jesus is for everyone, from the person who still can’t quite figure out why they came to this room with the funny seats today to the person who has been seeking to follow Christ a long time.
The thing about prayer is that we all know how important it is, but, if we’re honest, we’re pretty bad at it, aren’t we? It’s hard. We get distracted. We don’t know what to say. We’d rather be doing other things. But we learn to pray by praying. You don’t have to be a particular type of person. You learn by doing.
We might have to leave some things behind to get better at prayer. We might need to leave our nets– our net-flix, our social net-work apps, our inter-net browsing habits, not to mention our bassinets and our bayonets, and maybe even our cornets and our cabinets. But those things and more are worth leaving behind to follow Jesus, to know him and to make him known.
My brothers and sisters, we need revival. We need the new life that Christ offers not only in our congregation but in the United Methodist Church, and in our society. We need revival. If we’ve ever needed one before, we need sure to need one now. Christian revival historian J. Edwin Orr said, “History is silent on revivals that did not begin in prayer.”
So may you make use of all the opportunities to grow that this year of prayer will afford. May you seek to know Christ more. And may God give you the grace to leave whatever net you need to leave, and follow after the one who’s calling you. Amen.