The Stranger on the Shore

Matthew 4:12-23

By Seminarian Fred Johnsen

What are we to think about these men who left their families to follow this one called Jesus? In an age when family survival depended upon all of its members what are we to think of these sons, husbands and brothers who left their nets and their boats to follow this Galilean who would make them fishers of such an unusual catch as people?

What's must Zebedee have thought about his sons as they walked off to follow this man proclaiming "God's Kingdom is at hand"? If he were anything like us, Zebedee must have thought that his sons were crazy to leave their family, their livelihood and all they had known to follow some nut from a dusty village in the Galilean hinterlands. I wonder how any of us would react if our family members left everything behind to follow a wondering preacher from the booming metropolis of Olivebridge, New York, my hometown, population 1,000?

Yet, the first Apostles heard the call and followed this fellow proclaiming God's kingdom. The Gospel tells us of no hesitation upon their part. Despite the possibility of pressure from family and friends they followed the stranger in their midst.

Is today much different? Does this stranger named Jesus still call us from our planned lives, from our comfortable ways, from our so-called profitable professions? Does he not call us to leave behind that which we are so we may have life and have it more abundantly?

The answer is yes. We are continually called by God. Just as the brothers were called, we are called as well.

Imagine how it must have been nearly 2,000 years ago on the banks of the Galilee, the boat rocking gently upon the waves. As the men worked, the voice of a stranger broke into their lives saying "Follow me." While that scene may be different from that of Taneytown or Olivebridge the call is the same: "Follow me." Jesus breaks through our daily lives, in to our offices, on to our farms, in to our factories and our homes always calling, "Follow me."

I can't say how many times Jesus passed the brothers as they fished with their father or the brothers casting their nets. Perhaps it was once or perhaps it was many times. Perhaps the brothers knew Jesus or they only knew of him. How many times he might have called to them before they responded, I do not know? But, respond they did.

In my own life the stranger passed by many times calling out, "Follow me." Yet, I could not break away from my life as I had made it; I continued to deny the stranger's very existence and yet the stranger kept calling, "Follow me."

Eventually the stranger became known; his message became clear; his call irresistible. Answering the call made little sense to some. My friend questioned the existence of my faith. He saw my response to the call as nothing a career move. Despite whatever pressure I might have faced, I followed the stranger. I responded to the stranger's call of, "Follow me."

Despite being called, I am not special. In fact I am the least of all. Like Paul I do not deserve to be called a disciple of Christ and yet he has called me. Why? I do not know. But, called I am, as we all are called to follow the stranger standing on the shore. I have been called to serve in one way; you have been called to serve in other ways.

Some have answered immediately while others, like the prophet Samuel have been called several times and like Samuel have failed to respond. But with the guidance of his mentor Eli, Samuel finally recognized the voice of God and answered the call.

To be able to answer the call faith must be our cornerstone. It can be uneasy to take chances, to reach out to those who do not look like us, speak like us or share the same background as we do. But God will not leave us. He abides. He does not call us to abandonment. As the psalmist wrote:

For you are my high ridge and my stronghold; for the sake of your own reputation you lead me and guide me. You will free me from the net they hid for me, for you are my place of refuge.

It is faith that brings us from the "deep darkness" of self-love and allows us to walk in the light when we serve others.

The way in which we answer the call is as diverse and as varied as those who are called. God called Samuel to be a prophet. I have been called to study for the ministry. Yet, others have been called to teach Sunday school, to be part of committees, to lead worship or youth groups. But let us not think that response to the call is confined to the church. When we live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God we answer the call. When we work in our vocations with integrity, dedication, enthusiasm and joy, we answer the call. When we love and uphold all with whom we come in contact we answer the call. When we welcome a stranger into our homes offering friendship we answer the call.

We answer this call when we love, nurture and protect our children as God loves, nurtures and protects his children. When we are good husbands to our wives and good wives to our husbands, we answer the call.

Let us never forget that one call is no better or more important than another. All who respond to the call serve God's divine purpose. As St. Peter writes of the body of Christ:

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

In this call, we are all united in Jesus Christ and if we are united in Christ we are united to one another, not just one member of Trinity to another, but every member of Trinity to all humankind. For the body of Christ does not end at these four walls. It is not confined to the area around the coffee pot. Nor is it contained in our address books or our social or familial connections. The body of Christ awaits us outside that door.

It is the single mother providing for her children;

It is the troubled youth needing guidance.

It is the man you passed in the city the other day - the one with the dirty clothes, smelling of urine.

The body of Christ is starving in Africa because a dictator is using food as a weapon. He is starving the people so that he might gain and maintain power.

The body of Christ is the Christian slave whose master nailed him to a board in the Sudan.

Christ is calling us to engage his whole body. For as Christ said, "Just as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me." If we ignore his body on Earth we ignore Christ himself.

But, by answering the call to serve God by serving others we are not only serving Christ but revealing his true nature. We are revealing his power to radically redirect our lives. In doing so, we show his ability to bring forth faith from unbelief, hope from despair and fulfillment from emptiness. By answering the call our desires must decrease as Christ increases until his nature, his presence and his being are known to all.

A pastor friend of mine made this life-changing power of Christ clear some years ago while I was still held captive in the intellectual throws of agnosticism. As I bobbed about in this intellectual boat fiddling with my net the voice of Jesus called quietly to me, unrecognizable at first. But, like Eli, my friend LeRoy made things clear. Because he answered the call he was able to show me God's grace and reveal the true nature of Christ. He prepared me to receive the power of the Holy Spirit so like Samuel I could serve when called.

Throughout the year I ask you to listen for the stranger standing on the shore. Listen for that voice from across the waves - that voice calling, "Follow me."


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie