The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Before even one person was healed, before a disease was cured, before the ministry commenced, there was a community. Before Jesus went about proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, Jesus said, “Follow me.” And they did.
This is basically the opposite of the Field of Dreams. The Field of Dreams was, “If you build it, they will come.” But Jesus hadn't built anything – not yet.
But they did come. Simon Peter dropped the nets. Andrew, a favorite around these parts, dropped his nets too. James left his dad. John vacated the boat. And they followed Jesus. They formed a community – around the one who called them. They were together before they were anything else.
What always strikes me about this story is just how spontaneous it is. As most you know, I am a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan. Just as I was finishing this sermon, the Browns became the final NFL team to fill their head coaching vacancy. And yes, we just went through this last year. But after one season the Browns fired their head coach and began another search. And it dragged on for weeks – while vacancy after vacancy on other teams was filled. Multiple candidates. Multiple interviews with the favorites. Multiple candidates pulling their names from consideration. It was a lengthy process. One assumes, or at least hopes, one that meticulously researched and executed.
It was seemingly anything but spontaneous. For those of you who participated in the search process that five years ago resulted in my call to St. Andrew's, you know that these things do often take time. Typically big decisions mean big discussions and big risks and big anxiety. These decisions are life-altering. Who would even consider making such a move without major soul-searching?
Everyone in today's Gospel story, apparently. And that is why it is so shocking. We have no evidence that Jesus knew any of these fishermen. He did not ask for resumes. He did not run background checks. All the text says is that he was walking on the shore, saw them them going about their business, fishing – an occupation that seems to have little to do with itinerant preaching – and invited them to be his closest companions. Of course he did.
We have no evidence that Peter and Andrew knew Jesus. They were casting nets, fishing, and a random guy yelled at them from the shore. And he yelled something weird: “Hey! I'll make you fish for people!” That is a weird thing to say to a complete stranger – even if they are fishing. And the brothers drop their nets, quit their jobs, and follow Jesus – just like that.
We have no evidence that James and John knew Jesus. They were in their dad's boat with their dad, and a random guy yelled at them from the shore. The Gospel passage does not tell us what Jesus said to them, but based on his previous pick-up line, it probably wasn't something that should have worked. But again it does. And they drop their nets, kiss their father good-bye, and follow Jesus – just like that.
Sometimes discipleship doesn't make sense. But we follow Jesus not because it makes sense; we follow because it is Jesus – and where else would we go? Peter, Andrew, James and John, had no good reason – except that Jesus called. That was good enough. They did not know where it would lead. But they did know who was leading.
This is a good Gospel for us today. Like Jesus' first community of followers, today our community grows. After my comments at our Parish Annual Meeting last week, many of you will know that today we are welcoming our Christian brothers and sisters formerly of Genesis – a church that was also gathering here in West Toledo. A time of discernment led them to end the Genesis chapter of their journey. For many in that church, their journey continues with us, as us. Last week they were Genesis; this week they are St. Andrew's. This is the community to which Jesus is calling them.
And so we are being called together – called to be one church. In our Gospel passage Jesus calls two pairs of brothers. Jesus calls two families to become one family. Their previous relationships are preserved, are strengthened, are deepened. But they are also called into a larger community, where new relationships will be formed. Jesus is always calling us to a deeper sense of community.
As we develop new relationships in Christ, and as our current relationships grow, we come to know Jesus better. In each other we see fresh glimpses of our Christ. We follow Jesus, not alone, but as a group – sharing the joy and the heart-break of the journey. Jesus never meant for us to follow him alone. Before the ministry, there was a community. They came and built it together.
We have no evidence that the two families Jesus brought together in the Gospel story knew each other before. And Jesus did not host a meet-and-greet. He did not administer the Myers-Briggs to help fine tune the group dynamic. James and John followed Jesus; Peter and Andrew were part of the package. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is calling us also into a family of followers.
This is what Jesus does. Jesus is calling us to follow him and this is the family of followers into which he is calling us – to be a community. This is us. Following Jesus has brought each of us to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in West Toledo. Like the first disciples, following Jesus has brought us together. And here we are: families become one family, a community of disciples – not sure exactly where it will lead, but trusting in the one who is leading.
Anglican bishop N.T. Wright notes that the community of disciples was the very first sign of what God was up to in Jesus. Even before all of the other miracles, the first miracle was the community. This is what God is up to; we are what God is up to. And it is a miracle.
The kingdom of heaven for which we pray and long starts with people. We usually call it church. And sometimes, in all of its messiness it is easy to forget that the Church is just a big family Jesus has called together.
Jesus is calling this family together. And he wants us to follow him. We're not sure exactly where this will lead, but we do know who is leading.