What Makes a Disciple? A sermon on Matthew 4

14188523_1260289087335740_7885670721171133113_oby the Rev. Anna Doherty

I have to admit, that when I hear the story of Jesus calling the disciples, the first thing I think is:

“Wow, I must not be a very good disciple.”

Because, frankly, I find Simon Peter, and Andrew, and James and Johns’ response to Jesus’ call to follow him mystifying.

They don’t even ask Jesus any questions, “So, where are we going? What are your expectations if I leave everything and follow you? What precisely will we be doing?”

And I can’t imagine immediately getting up and leaving everything: my job, my family, my property, simply because a strange man who preaches repentance asks me to.

I would want time to think, to discern, and truthfully, I am not sure that I would agree to go, if more information and time wasn’t forthcoming.

If I did agree to go, I would want to get my affairs in order and to say goodbye to the people I love.

I must not be a very good disciple then, if Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John are the standards of discipleship.

Because I just don’t see myself doing what they do.

Now, the point of today’s gospel is that Jesus invites all of us into discipleship.

Just as Jesus calls his first disciples, so he calls each of us to follow him.

So, really, I don’t believe that the intent of today’s gospel is to discourage discipleship, or to hold us to impossibly high standards of discipleship.

Even if that is the way I initially hear it.

I think the crux of today’s gospel is in Jesus’ invitation to the disciples.

It is Jesus’ call that answers the question of how the disciples respond to it.

And how we also, respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship.

“Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fish for people.”

The call to follow Jesus is about reaching out towards, “fishing,” to use Jesus’ metaphor, other people.

The call to follow Jesus is about building relationship with others.

Discipleship is that simple, and also that complicated.

Simple, in that we have loving interactions with other people every day.

Our family, our friends, there are people in this world who we love deeply, who we would drop everything for…

for whom we would, just drop our nets in the water, and be by their side as soon as they called us.

Maybe Jesus was one of those people for the disciples, which is why they so quickly left everything and followed him.

We don’t actually know, because the gospel doesn’t tell us.

Today’s gospel does say that Jesus makes his home in Capernaum, a thriving fishing village.

Maybe Jesus did already know and love Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, maybe they were friends, before Jesus even called them to follow him.

We can’t be sure.

But, if discipleship is fishing for people, being in loving relationship with others, then any of us who love and care for other people,

are living the true call of discipleship.

Discipleship can be very simple.

It can also be quite difficult.

What I find comforting about Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians today, is that Paul gives voice to the kind of divisions in the early Christian community…

that we see in our own time and place.

Different people, with different ideas of what is right and what is wrong, who to follow, who should lead, how things should be done…

and the conflict that can arise in that environment.

Two days after the presidential inauguration, I think we can all of us, regardless of how we feel about our new president…

acknowledge that we live in a time and a nation with some deep divisions.

With stark disagreements about how best to live into our values as a nation—we might even fundamentally disagree with each other about what those values are.

Despite the differences in context, time, and place, it would seem that it was no different for the faithful in Corinth, as it is for us.

And yet, for us here today, as it was for the Corinthians, we are all of us, despite our differences, followers of Jesus Christ.

We are all Christians, called to be in relationship with other people.

We can’t just walk away from the world or from the people we dislike or disagree with.

We fish for people, we keep striving to be in relationship, even when we disagree.

And that takes hard work.

As Paul asks the Corinthians, at the heart of it, who do we belong to?

We belong to Christ.

We do… and, so do others, even those people with whom we disagree.

And because we belong to Christ, not only are we called to love those whom Christ loves,

but we also look to Christ’s example in how best we should live into our relationships with other people.

Jesus Christ certainly gets angry with people with whom he disagrees, with people whom he believes undermine or ignore the work of building God’s kingdom.

Jesus names aloud and calls people on their sins all the time…

just read one of Jesus’ discourses with the Pharisees in Matthew’s gospel, and you can get a sense of how vehemently and publicly Jesus calls people out on bad behavior.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Which is to say that, as disciples of Jesus we do stand up for the work of God in the world, even as it brings us into conflict, sometimes, with others.

We speak up for justice, compassion, and truth when we see it being ignored or trampled on in our midst.

We are not just doormats, we are passionately committed people, who belong first and foremost to God and who strive for the building up of the kingdom of God

Sometimes the greatest act of love we can give to another person, is actually to call them to change, to point out the sins as we see them.

Jesus also points out the flaws in his own disciples…how many times throughout the gospels,  does Jesus mention Simon Peter’s lack of trust and faith?

A lot…Simon Peter was often confused, misguided, or weak in certain aspects of his faith.

It doesn’t make him any less a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

And Jesus never, not once, loves Simon Peter any less,

not even when Peter denies Jesus three times.

Our mistakes, our weakness, our faults don’t make us any less disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, it seems, is as much about forgiveness as he is about calling people out on their sins.

Instead, perhaps, it is the constant engagement, the ongoing balance of loving relationship with others tied with our own faithful relationship to Jesus Christ…

that is the work of discipleship.

Who do we belong to?

We belong to God, we belong to each other as people of God, and it is that ongoing work that is the work of discipleship.

It’s not always easy, it’s not always perfect or straightforward.

More often, I would say, the work of discipleship is messy and flawed and sometimes we feel like we are literally making it up as we go along…

It is no less discipleship, perhaps it is even more true discipleship, simply because we engage in it,

we keep living in relationship with God and other people, difficult as it is.

Which means, truly, that each of us are disciples as worthy as being called as Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

We may not literally leave our nets and follow Jesus in the same way those first disciples do.

But we do, in our decision to follow Jesus, leave behind some things.

We leave behind withdrawal from the world, and choose instead to engage with those around us for the creation of God’s kingdom in the world.

We leave behind black and white, and instead see the world in messy, vibrant colors that sometimes clash and sometimes blend beautifully.

We leave behind self-righteousness, and instead follow a path of humility and forgiveness for ourselves and others.

We leave ourselves and follow Jesus, for the fishing of people, the work of relationship in the world