Following Jesus is Commitment

John 1:35-51; Mt. 4:18-22   January 22, 2023

If you are excited about something, you want someone else to get excited about it too.  Think about what excites you about Hunting Ridge Presbyterian.  Do you find a way to share that excitement with someone else?  Sharing excitement was happening in the first chapter of John which we heard this morning.  Jesus was in town; things were happening, and the word was getting out. 

As we read John’s description of the calling of the first four disciples, we keep hearing “Come and see.”  When someone says to you, “come and see”, they have something that is very important to them that they want to share. When two of John’s disciples hear John describe Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, they may not really be clear on what he means by that, but they know enough to pick up that John is showing them who to follow.  The two of them follow Jesus and want to know where he is staying, what he is up to, who he is with.  Jesus says “come and see”.  It seems clear that he has something going on that they need to see for themselves. One of them, Andrew, must have essentially said the same thing to his brother, Simon. “Come and see who we have found—it is the Messiah.” So, Simon comes and sees for himself. Jesus seems to already know him, and gives him a new name, Peter, which means ‘the rock’.  Jesus heads for Galilee, the region where Bethsaida is found, which is the hometown of Andrew and Peter. There Jesus finds Philip, a neighbor of Andrew and Peter.  He tells him:  “follow me”. I think we could see the invitation to follow as saying to Philip: “come and see what is going to happen, how you will change, how the world will change when you follow me, or accompany me on this adventure”.  Philip then says the same thing to Nathaniel, who was skeptical that anything good could come out of Nazareth—“Come and see.  This is the one Moses wrote about, the one the prophets told us would come.  He is Jesus!” 

“Come and see.”  If you act on that invitation, you are making a commitment to pay attention, to learn something new, to spend time going and seeing.  Jesus’ call to the disciples is a “come and see” invitation to something exciting, something worth committing to, and something worth sharing with others.  We also heard Matthew’s version of Jesus’ call to the first disciples.  He is at the shore of the Sea of Galilee with the fishers and their boats.  When Jesus tells brothers Peter and Andrew and then brothers James and John to follow him and he will make them fishers of people, they make a commitment.  Surely they did not know exactly what would lie before them, but they were convinced that they wanted to follow Jesus. I have often wondered what it could have been about Jesus as he spoke to them on the seashore that was so compelling that they would willingly and immediately follow him, leaving behind their family and their livelihood.  One answer that some scholars have suggested is that this actually was not the first time they had ever laid eyes on Jesus.  That maybe he had been in town for some time, getting to know people, teaching the way to reconnect with God, guiding as a rabbi would.  That day he sought out Peter and Andrew, saying, “It is time. Come with me.  Now you are going to work as fishers of people. Come and see—it is going to be exciting!”  They were called to begin a new era in their lives that would be different from any other. 

Jesus’ call to disciples was not one and done.  He continues to say “come and see” to us, inviting us to follow, inviting us to make a commitment of our time, our attention, our willingness to learn and to serve.  We are accustomed to hearing the term “call” connected with ministers of the Word and sacrament.  Throughout my ministry I have had many times to share people about my call to ministry—how did I know this was what God wanted from me in my life? 

At first I didn’t know.  I was coming to the end of my college years with a major in Latin American studies.  I remember a conversation with my dad—we were on some boat ride during a family vacation—and I was able to put my finger on a desire to work with people and to help others in some way.  Pretty vague.  In order to give myself some time to figure things out, I volunteered for a Presbyterian program (it only lasted a few years until the special funds donated by Presbyterian Women were exhausted).  It was called Tithe of Life, with the idea that most of the volunteers were in our twenties, and we were giving two years, a tithe, to serve small congregations who could not afford a youth director.  I ended up serving three San Antonio churches together, because none of them could afford the small stipend that was required on their own.  Two English speaking congregations were served by a clergy couple, and I lived in an empty classroom at one of them, complete with one of the two bathrooms turned into a shower and a very small sink and fridge in a classroom closet.  The other congregation was Spanish speaking, made up of primarily Mexican immigrant families. I planned and led youth programming for middle school and high school students separately.  I attended worship and session meetings.  Because the churches were small, I ended up visiting the older members in the hospital or nursing homes to help out.  And when the pastor was sick, I even preached a time or two.  People started to say to me, “Have you ever thought about going into the ministry?”  I began to pray about it, asking God if this public affirmation of my gifts, and this joy that I felt in using them, could be a call.  I talked with the pastors of the three churches, exploring the possibilities of seminary. I understood God to be saying to me, “Come and see.” And the rest is history.  Although there have been difficult times, I have not wavered in my understanding that congregational ministry is my call from God.

But let’s not limit God’s call to ministers paid by a congregation.  God calls each of to use our gifts in different forms of ministry. Sometimes we recognize that call, and sometimes we don’t.  Pay attention to the voice of others who recognize your gifts.  Seek God’s guidance as to where you should put your time, your energy, your attention.  We believe that through the voice of this congregation, God has called these three elders to serve on our Session.  Two are returning—Suzanne Jewell and Ernestine Alston- and one is experiencing this for the first time—Beatrice Tangie, who will be ordained by you this morning.  We also celebrate the commitment Joe Banks and Jill Harrison made to serving as ruling elders in this church family.  They gave of their time, their ideas, their prayer, their wisdom and their guidance and have now completed their terms of service:  Joe for 6 years and Jill for 3 years.  The new elders have now made a commitment to serve for the next three years on our session,  which is the decision making, governing, guiding body of our church.  They are my bosses (aside from God), and I report to them. According to the Book of Order, part of the constitution of our denomination, the session has the responsibility for governing the congregation and guiding our witness to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that the congregation becomes a community of faith, hope, love, and witness.

Many in this congregation have been called as an elder and have served faithfully in the past.  You may not have been called as an elder, but you are called by God to something.  You are called to use your gifts.  You use them in your field of work and in your life as a part of this church family.  You are called to invite someone else to come and see, to be able to use their gifts.

Let’s go back to the account of James and John leaving their dad with the boat and the fish. Could it be that Zebedee’s call was different?  His call was to stay behind, to support them with his prayers, to continue to provide food for his family and for the community through sales and donations for those who had few resources?   His sons were called to follow Jesus, to fish for people.  Zebedee was called to continue the ministry that he already had, to be the stable rock in his community.  You see, Jesus’ call is not the same for all of us, but he says to each of us, “Come and see what will happen when you use your gifts, come and see!”  Amen.

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