"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also."
- John 12:26
"As Jesus passed along the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him."
- Mark 1:16-18
Pastor Michael's Sermon - January 24th, 2021
Following isn't always easy. I remember some time ago when I was still the Associate Pastor of this church, and I was still working with the children as wel, former Assistant Pastor VeAnn and I had this idea to take our children and our older kids, the youth group, all the way to Loch Leven camp for the weekend.
Now Claudia was the Assistant Children's Director at the time, and so Pastor VeAnn and Claudia and I together took our kids, younger and older, away to camp for the weekend and we had a wonderful time!
I remember the last morning before we could go home, after eating breakfast, we and the kids had to clean the lodge from top to bottom. The lodge at Loch Leven is really big so this took some time. We told the kids that cleaning the cabin together would enforce teamwork and that accomplishing something together would draw us closer together as a family...the truth is we were really trying to save the cost of paying a cleaning crew.
Anyway, when we finished we poured into a couple of vans and we were ready to set back on our trip to Church of the Valley. Now, if you've ever been to Loch Leven, you know that it is quite a drive. It's at a place called Mentone California out in San Bernardino County. It's way past Redlands - a couple hours driving.
I think this trip might have been my first visit to the camp so I was quite unsure how to get there. Because of that, on the ride up I simply followed VeAnn because she had been there many times.
Well...I shouldn't say that I simply followed her.
You see when VeAnn drives, VeAnn really drives! So it was quite an effort as we drove to camp to keep up with her, especially with a van full of kids screaming, “How much longer?”
Now, I figured the drive back would be very different. The kids were tired from cleaning the cabin. They weren't excited and bouncing off the walls like they had been on the trip up. I imagined we'd all have a nice leisurely ride home.
So, VeAnn and Claudia and some of the kids were in one van, and I and the rest of the kids were in another van, and I was still going to have to follow VeAnn for our trip home because there was no way I was ever going to figure out how to get home from where we were.
So, we started out on what was going to be, like I said, I thought a leisurely drive home. But no! It was as if someone shot off a starting pistol and we were off and that was just driving through city streets!
When we finally got to the freeway, it was really hard to keep up with the other van. Now we had been on the highway for, I would say less than ten minutes at one point, and apparently one of the kids in the other van had announced that they needed to use the restroom. But of course, we didn't know anything about that in our van.
Now, at that moment I had finally caught up to VeAnn and Claudia's vehicle and we were right behind them and right next to my van was a great big truck just to my right. We were all on the left side of the highway - this highway with many, many lanes. When, without notice because of the needed bathroom break, VeAnn’s van suddenly veered across five or six lanes all the way across the freeway to the right and disappeared off of the highway!
We, on the other hand, were unprepared for such a move. And even if we had been prepared the truck to the right of us was preventing us from going anywhere.
So, now there I was with a van full of kids soaring down a highway with absolutely no idea where I was. You know, we may have been camping but at that moment I was not a happy camper.
Anyway, the point is, following can be very difficult sometimes.
In today's scripture, we see an example of that. What I mean is when Simon and Andrew begin to follow Jesus, we're told immediately they left their nets and followed him. Which sounds like it wasn't a very difficult decision for them. But consider this, consider the fact that when they left their nets they were leaving behind their life's work, their means of income. And when they followed Christ, they were leaving behind loved ones, family, friends, and their whole way of life.
But of course we understand the importance of being a follower of Christ and with making that decision to give our lives to Christ there comes some adjusting within our lives.
Nets are things that snare and hold something back.
So, when we follow Christ and we leave our nets, this metaphor reminds us that to be a follower we need to leave behind things that have snared us, things that have held us back.
But for us, unlike Simon and Andrew, leaving our nets doesn't necessarily mean doing away with them all together. But rather putting them behind what's really important. For instance, getting ahead in our jobs, prestige, personal pleasures,
these are all areas that are fine to achieve. It's just that we shouldn't be achieving them at the expense of our relationship with Christ.
It is important for us as Christians to put Christ first in all that we do. In our decision-making and choosing our path because when we throw down our nets and we put Christ first, we are now in the right position to follow. We can't say that we're going to follow someone if we haven't put him ahead of us.
You know, I was thinking about the many nets that we need to lie down if we want to follow Christ and many of them we make a decision to lie down, things that we choose to reposition, like the ones I mentioned earlier, our jobs, our pleasures. And then there are some other nets that other than repositioning, we choose to leave behind all together so that we can follow Christ. Like selfishness, and despair, and hopelessness.
But then there are also nets that we do not choose to lie down, but rather they are taken from us. And yet to follow Christ, we must continue to move forward.
We've seen a lot of this over the last 10 months. The Coronavirus has taken from us many parts of our lives. The chance to be with our loved ones, for some of us the freedom to leave our homes. Some have had family and friends who were sick, others have been infected themselves, and for the loved ones of the over 2 million people worldwide who have died from Covid, they have faced a horrific loss.
Now, it could be easy for some during these difficult times to lose hope. To pick
their nets back up and walk away from faith. But to be a follower of Christ, we continue to move forward through all of life's challenges, keeping our eyes on the hope in front of us. Keeping our eyes on the Christ in front of us.
And I'll tell you, there is something else that we've all shared during this most unusual time. There's something that maybe we've always held onto as a net, something which most of us thought was essential to our walk with Christ, essential to our following Christ. And that something was taken away from each of us unexpectedly. And that is our coming together each Sunday.
Our coming together in person inside of our buildings, worshipping together, singing together, eating meals together, singing in a choir, teaching Sunday school, attending Bible study, embracing one another, and being lifted through seeing the smiles and feeling the love of our sisters and brothers within our congregation.
For many of us ten months ago, we would have said without these things we are really not a church. Without these things, we're not a church family. Without these things, we really can't worship God as a congregation. Without these things, we really can't follow Christ.
But of course as we have seen this has proven not to be true. Here we are 10 months later and we are a stronger church than ever. We are more of a family than ever. I believe we are worshipping God from an even deeper place and our need to follow Christ is mightier that ever.
We have found that our beloved church buildings, our gatherings, our meals together, our singing are so important to us and they should remain important to us. And I hope we get back to them very soon.
This pandemic has reminded us that they are not what allow us to follow Christ as individuals and as a congregation. They are not our unity with Christ. They are not proof to the world that we follow Christ. They are wonderful, but they are not essential in our walk with Christ.
What is essential in our walk with Christ is Christ. What is essential is our relationship with Christ. It's our knowing Christ and our desire and our efforts to know him even more deeply. And although we may be apart and we can't worship in the same room, or sing in the same room, or eat in the the same room,
or help those who we love so dearly, we continue to put Christ in front of us and we continue to seek to know him more dearly. That's what it means to follow Christ.
To have our nets taken away - nets that we thought we couldn't do without - and yet what binds us with Christ does not change! That remains as strong as ever! That's what it means to follow Christ.
As we move forward, may we continue to keep Christ in front of us. May we continue putting him in the lead and may we as individuals and as a mighty church family continue to follow.
Holy God, we thank you for your son who leads our way. May our eyes remain fixed upon him as our feet walk his path of love.
It's in his holy name we pray.