“ACCEPTING THE INVITATION TO FOLLOW CHRIST”[1]

JOHN 1:35-42

JANUARY 3, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Like his dad at a similar age, my six year old grandson, Jack, is really into Legos, and like his father, he is really good at constructing whatever set we or his parents buy him. Jack received two Lego sets for Christmas, one from us and one from Santa. Santa brought him a black X-Wing Fighter, and Papa and Yaya, AKA, me and Trudy, bought him an All Terrain Armored Transport set or AT-AT Walker for short. It came with 1327 pieces in seven different piece packs. It’s for 9-14 year olds, but Jack can do it, as long as he carefully follows the directions, which he does, and with just a little help from time to time from his dad or mom or me or Trudy. He worked on putting together the All Terrain Armored Transport a good portion of the time he was with us last week.

            I mention all this because over the next eight Sundays, including today, we will look at what it takes to build a life in Christ. Over these next eight Sundays we are going to consider what we need to do, what directions we need to follow, what piece packs we need to open to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. If we are serious about this thing called “discipleship,” if we want to make a difference in God’s Kingdom, it begins with opening the first piece pack, which is labeled, Accept the Invitation.

            We receive invitations all the time. A new store is opening for business and we are invited to check it out. A new sale is starting and we are invited to shop. A friend is getting married and we are invited to the wedding. Our class is having a reunion and we are invited to attend. Hardly a day passes without someone inviting us to attend a particular event.

            Likewise there is an divine invitation that comes to us all from Jesus Christ. It is an invitation to follow him. It’s not quite as formal and fancy as some wedding invitations we receive.  It doesn’t begin with the words “Jesus of Nazareth requests the honor of our presence,” but it’s an invitation nonetheless. Furthermore, it’s the same invitation Jesus extended to the original disciples.

            Our passage for today is one of five Gospel accounts of Jesus “inviting” his disciples to follow him. This one, however, is different from the other four. The other four take place at the Sea of Galilee, ours by the River Jordan. Our passage for today is sort of a precursor the Sea of Galilee invitation. In our passage Jesus passes by John the Baptist, and the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” and two of the Baptist’s disciples leave John to find out more about Jesus. One of them, Andrew, tells his brother Simon Peter that he needs to check out this guy named Jesus. He thinks he’s the Messiah. Days later Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, and spots Andrew and Peter, whom he met earlier, and invites them to follow him. It snowballs from there.

            So building a life in Christ begins with our accepting the invitation to follow. Now, this invitation is not a “one and done” sort of invitation. As we progress in our building a life in Christ the invitation to follow evolves, it morphs. Depending upon where we happen to be in our relationship the wording of the invitation changes. If we are at the exploratory stage of a relationship with Jesus the invitation to follow reads, “Come and See.” Come and see.

            Two, maybe three times a year I go clothes shopping for Trudy, by myself. It’s usually around her birthday or Christmas. Now when I go into a women’s store like Chico’s, I’m usually the only man by himself in the store.  Inevitably a kind and thoughtful female store clerk who notices me, knows I am out of my element and comes to my aid. She comes over and in a pleasant voice asks, “What are you looking for? How may I help you?”

            Some of us feel just about as uncomfortable in church as I do in a women’s clothing store. We are a little shaky in this room. We do not know the songs, we are not familiar with the prayers, and we wonder why people willingly put money in offering plate. Yet, something inside us longs for something more. So, as Jesus said to those two followers of John the Baptist who at first just tailed Jesus from a far, he is saying to us, “Come and see. Check me out. Survey the territory. Ponder the possibilities. It might mean more than you can imagine.”

            To those of us who are curious, but still a ways away, the invitation is simply, “Come and see.” In fact, that’s why some of you are here today. You have responded to the invitation to “come and see.”

            To others the invitation is something else. It is not “come and see. It is “Come and follow.”

            For a year I was in a “come and see” mode. I was a freshman in college, and I wasn’t what I would call a committed Christian. I was a nominal Catholic, working at the YMCA and watching all these Christian folk at the Y, trying to figure out why they were so serious about Christ.

            Then the YMCA invited me to be a counselor at Camp Fox on Catalina Island. I would be a counselor, responsible for six or seven fifth grade boys. I said I would do it because a couple of my friends were doing it, and I went and well, while there, during a somewhat “cheesy” campfire talk while we sang “The Old Rugged Cross,” the speaker invited me to “come and follow” just as Jesus had asked those fisherman by the Sea of Galilee and I said, “OK, I will try it for a year. If it doesn’t work out in a year, I’ll try something else,” and forty-nine years later I'm still following.

            Come. Follow. Was there ever an invitation more profoundly simple and simply profound? To follow is to come after, to conform, to pattern, to pursue. Of course, my decision to follow wasn’t like that of the original disciples. I hedged my bet. I gave it a year, but the Gospel writers say that the fisherman, immediately dropped their nets and followed him. When we get the invitation to follow most of us ask, “How far? How long? How much? What are the benefits?” The disciples, however, just started following.

            If someone came and asked us today, “Are you a Christian?” we would most likely say, “Yes.” But, what if the person asked, “Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Where he leads will you follow? Will you go with him all the way?” That would be much more difficult to answer. It is that kind of relationship, however, that Jesus sought with those fishermen that day. Salvation is a free gift, but discipleship is a dynamite decision. To some of us today, the Savior is saying, “Come. Come follow me.”

            To others today the invitation reads, “Push out into the deep.”

            Trudy and I listen to a Christian radio station on the way to worship each Sunday. It’s called Enlighten and it features old gospel singers and old gospel songs. One of them went like this …

 

            Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus,

            Daily let me grow,

            Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus,

            And his grace I know.

            O deeper yet I pray, and higher every day,

            And wiser blessed Lord, in his precious holy word.

 

            Maybe you remember the story. Peter and his buddies had fished all night and had caught nothing. You can read about it in Luke, Chapter 5. Whether or not we have ever wet a line in the water, we know that feeling of failure. We try, but we miss the mark. We are not alone in that regard. Elisha Otis invented the elevator, but first he failed three times as a mechanic. Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Before being published he got forty-six rejection slips. Fred Astaire’s first screen test was evaluated this way: “Can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little.” We know what it is, the taste of failure.

            Jesus came along the Sea of Galilee at sunrise. There was Peter and his buddies washing their nets. He did not say, “O what a beautiful morning! Make it a good day!”  Jesus asked what all people ask fishermen, “Catch anything?” and Peter hadn’t caught a single one and Jesus says to him, “Push out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” They did. They pushed out into the deep and that day they learned to fish in a new kind of power.

            If we are here today feeling futile with our faith, if we have tried and failed at it, if we have become bored with church and wonder when it is going to be over, there is one who is coming to today who is greater than us who invites us to, “Push out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. There is better fishing out here yet.”

            Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus. Dig into the Book. Learn to pray. Discover spiritual gifts. Take on some ministry that we can’t possibly do unless God does it. That is the kind of faith we need. “Push out into the deep and let down your nets. Dive in deeper.”

            To some of us this morning Jesus extends a different invitation. He invites us to, “Go and tell others.” As he said to Peter and the boys, “I will make you fishers of persons.”

            I’m not a fisherman in the traditional sense by any means. But if I had thought to call Dick Manthey in our congregation this week and asked him advice about fishing I bet he would have said something like this: “If you want to fish, go where the fish are.” In Christianese It goes something like this … “If you want to be fishers of persons, get out of the church and go into the world.” Just about everyone here today are no longer fish. We are fisher persons. If we want to catch fish we need to go where the fish happen to be.

            Barry and I attended a church growth conference last April. One of the speakers recommended that all pastors get out of their church office and set up shop in a coffee bar, or more radically in a sports bar. Just take you laptop or iPad and have office hours at Buffalo Wild Wings or DJ’s Dugout. He contended that pastors don’t catch much fish because they don’t hang out where the fish happen to me.

            Dick Manthey also would have told me, “            To catch fish you need to use the right bait.” What does that mean to you and me. Well, to be fishers of people, using the right word, at the right time, in the right way, to the right person, for the right reason, has powerful results.  A friend asks, “What did you do this weekend?”

            We say, “I helped in our church nursery on Sunday morning.”

            Some asks, “How’s it going for you?”

            We answer, “Financially ok, the family is doing pretty well, and spiritually, it’s the best time in my life.” That is a faithful witness.

            “So you’re new in town. I’m glad you are here. Have you found a place to shop? Have you found a place to get your hair cut? By the way, I go to church at this place and I love it. I’d love to pick you up on Sunday morning and have you join me.”

            The right word, at the right time, for the right reason, in the right way, to the right person opens the door to Jesus Christ.

            Jesus invites all of us to the journey of faith. To some he says, “Come and See.” To some he says, “Come and follow.” To some he says, “Push out into the deep.” To still others of us he invites us to “go and tell others.” What does it say on our particular invitation this morning?

            Amen.


[1] Series idea from Dr. J. Howard Olds.