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Sharing God's Love and Word Within and Beyond Calvary

Sermon January 22 2023

Epiphany 3 A 2023 Follow Me

Matthew 4:12-23


One of the joys of preparing for Ordained Ministry in the ELCA is the Candidacy Committee all Seminary students must apply to and participate in while in Seminary.  The Candidacy Committee process provides a way for people of faith to arrive at a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and the various ways in which God calls a person into ministry, as a rostered minister or as a lay person, both in the church and in the world. 

Through assignments, essays, and personal interviews the Candidacy Committee gets to know the candidate preparing for ministry and helps guide them on their journey. 

One time the committee threw me for a loop when they asked me to tell them the story of my conversion to the Christian faith.  Tell us, they asked, how you found Christ and answered the call to prepare for Ordained ministry. 

“Well,” I began.  And then there was silence.  I thought hard about the question but for some reason I could not articulate a response.  I tried hard to answer the question, but the words just did not come out of my mouth. 

After a minute or two I finally told the committee “You know, I think I have always been a Christian.  I was baptized in a Lutheran Church.  I grew up Lutheran.  I was confirmed in the Lutheran church.  I attended a Lutheran High school and attended a year of biblical studies in a Lutheran program before I went to college.”  

After I further reflected upon the question, I blurted out that I could not remember a time when I was not a Christian. 

I don’t know if my response satisfied their reason for asking me that question, but I think my interaction with the Candidacy Committee that day highlights one of the difficulties we have with today’s Gospel. 

In our text today we are told that as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers (Peter & Andrew) casting a net into the sea and Jesus called out to them and said, “Follow me,” and immediately the men walked away from their old life and left everything behind. 

And then Jesus saw another set of brothers (James and John,) and He called out to them, and they too left everything behind, and they began to follow Jesus.  And that is how we picture our conversion to the faith should be.  But, for many of us that is not how we became a Christian. 

During the past 20 plus years of Ordained Ministry, I have heard plenty of stories of how people became a Christian.  And I have learned that there is not one formula for becoming a follower of Jesus.  Some of you have described your journey of faith in a similar way as I have described it and have said they have had a continuous and steady experience of Christ in their lives.   

But others have told me that their faith story has been one of struggle and doubt as well as comfort and hope. And that their faith journey has swung back and forth like a pendulum as they faced trials and temptations in their life as well as the blessings God has given to them. 

And then there are those who have told me that they have had a conversion experience, and that they can pinpoint the time and place that they felt Jesus called out to them to offer His grace and His mercy and His healing and His love to them.

I believe that Jesus can and does use all three of these different ways to bring people to Him.  And that there is no one way or right way.  The different methods that Christ uses to call out to us is unique and personal and is best suited for who we are.  

The point, then, is not how it happened, but that it happens over and over again.  Our entire life is one of conversion.   Day after day we are constantly being converted, and shaped, and formed into the likeness of Christ.  Over, and over again Jesus comes to us and says: “Follow me.” 

It happens when you are a little child.  It happens in your teenage years.  It happens when you graduate from school. It happens when you move out of your parents’ home and set off on your own.  It happens when you start a career, fall in love, get married, or start a family of your own. 

It happens when you discover the passion that excites you, inflames you and drives your life.  It happens when you experience heartache, trouble and pain.  It happens when you take on the role of a caretaker for a parent or spouse.  It happens during the grief and pain at the death of a loved one.

At each point in our life, Jesus reaches out to us and says to us “Follow me, and I will make you…” and you fill in the blank. 

Through our life circumstances, Christ reaches down to us and molds us into His people.  That is how it happened for Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  

Using the skills and talents built up over the course of their lives, Jesus called out to them and told them that He would use the skills they already possessed to reach out to people and invite them to follow Him, too. 

Let us close with one of my favorite childhood Sunday school songs.  It is entitled: “I will make you fishers of men.”  Please stand and sing with me… 

I will make you fishers of men,

Fishers of men,

Fishers of men,

I will make you fishers of men

If you follow me.

If you follow me,

If you follow me,

I will make you fishers of men,

If you follow me. 

          Let us pray: Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus to gather us together.  Help us to not wander from his flock, but follow wherever He leads us, until the day we are safely in your heavenly fold to be with you forever.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.