Seeking to Follow – January 17, 2016
Psalm 34:1-10, John 1:35-42
January 17, 2016
Liturgically, this is the time of year we think about Jesus in the beginning of his public ministry. Last week we read the story of how he “came on the scene” when he went to the Jordan to be baptized by John. That was the great “revealing.” That was the Epiphany, the “Aha moment!” That was the realization, that this Jesus was important, some how – that he was the “Son of God.”
Well now, we find Jesus starting out in his public ministry. He is ready to begin preaching, and interacting with people. He is about to become a major “public figure,” one who would create enormous public attention.
Thousands would “flock” to hear him speak. And the first thing he does, is what we read about today. He chooses for himself some disciples. And the first thing I want you to see today is how odd that would have been.
Several years ago, I was listening to an historian who was talking about this. And he said that disciples, in those days, were chosen by Rabbis from among the brightest and the best of their students. Now, keep in mind that, up until the Renaissance, the most educated people in the world were the religious people! That’s what you did if you were a learned and scholarly person. You would go into the clergy! (Or the clergy would become the most learned and scholarly people.) And the same was true in ancient Israel. The religious leaders were the most educated people.
Well, to start out, that wasn’t true of Jesus. In fact, Jesus wasn’t even a rabbi! He was not part of the system that would have “ordained” him to be a rabbi – or however they describe that. I’m not sure what that was like for them, but for me, it was a long process that was all part of the Presbyterian system. It was a process that took years! But whatever their system was, Jesus was not part of it. He never went to rabbinical school of any kind. And he was not made a rabbi by the religious establishment. He just started doing “rabbi things.” And choosing disciples was the first. And the people in those days would have been saying, “Who does this guy think he is?”
So that’s one thing. The other thing I want you to think about who it was that “Rabbi Jesus” chose. What were they? You know what I’m going to say here! They were fishermen! They were tax collectors! They were zealots! They were certainly not among the brightest and the best of anybody’s students. So that would have made this story for today even more odd!
Again, we think all of this is just “part of the picture,” don’t we?! You know I’ve been saying that. We don’t think anything of it. But this had to have been shocking to the people that saw it happen. This “choosing of disciples” caused great indignance in the religious leadership. The priests and scribes sometimes called Jesus “rabbi.” But when they did, there was often a hint of sarcasm in it. And it was often when they were trying to discredit him and make him look bad! “Rabbi! Your ‘disciples’ are not washing their hands.’” “Rabbi what do you say about paying taxes to Rome?”
So this “rabbi,” and these “disciples” he chose, would have been seen as “odd” to those people. These guys weren’t chosen through any kind of educational system, though I’m sure they all went to Hebrew School – Religious School – like all good Jewish boys. (Sorry, girls, no you!) But they weren’t chosen as disciples through that system. They were tradesmen. They were probably thought of as being pretty low on the social ladder. And Jesus didn’t find them in a classroom of any kind. He found them by the sea. He found them in common places. And none of that seemed to matter to him!
The other thing I want you to see today is what John tells us about these men. They were curious about this Jesus. They were inquisitive. In his account, John gives us some of the “back story.” In the other Gospels we hear the story of Jesus calling James and John, for instance. To them he simply says “Follow me!” And they follow. But here we have the story of some of the other disciples, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel. And in John’s Gospel we have them seeking out Jesus. We have them talking about him, and telling each other about him. Here we have them hearing and answering the call to “come and see.”
I like that. And that’s important to us in our lives. A big part of the “call process” in this story is that these “disciples” sought out Jesus. And that’s what God wants his people to do. Isaiah told the people “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
Twice today we read from Psalm 34. Did any of you notice that? It started out in our “Call to Worship,” and then continued in our Old Testament reading. I love this Psalm. Some have called it “The Seekers’ Psalm.” In it the psalmist says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me.” (Psalm 34:4) And a little later in verse 8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” What a great metaphor!
I like the idea of us seeking God. (And I believe God likes it, too!) Sometimes we are too “passive” in our faith. We take the standpoint of, “Ok God, I’d like to get closer to you, so go ahead and touch me, or call me, or something.” “I’ll be waiting.” Sometimes we think the idea is to go through life as we usually do until God “knocks us off of our donkey,” like he did the Apostle Paul. Sometimes we thing we’re just supposed to sit around and do nothing until God bops us in the head and tells us something. Is that you?
I don’t think that’s what God wants for us. I think he wants to have a faith – a relationship with him – that is meaningful, fulfilling, and supportive, no matter what we might be going through. And in order for that to be the case, we need to consider this idea of “seeking God.” If you want to talk to someone on the phone, you can’t just wait around for them to call you. If you really want to talk with them, you need to dial them yourself. Do you see what I mean.
The same thing is true with our sermon title today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, we need to think in terms of “seeking to follow.” We need to heed the words of Isaiah. We need to “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,” and “call upon him while he is near.” We need to think about the “Seekers’ Psalm.” We need to be active in our following, not passive. We need to seek to follow Jesus, not just wait by the side of the road until he points at us.
These disciples in this story were intrigued. Yes, they responded to the call to “come and see.” But they also responded to their curiosity. Could this really be the one spoken of by the prophets. That’s what Philip told Nathaniel in the passage right after this one. And when they realized that, they didn’t just say, “Hey, that’s great!” They sought out Jesus. And they wanted to follow.
What about us? Are we passive or active? Are we willing to follow Jesus, if only he will tap us on the shoulder, if only he will point to us and say, “Follow me”? Or do we seek to follow him. Do we seek to learn his ways and to be like him. Because following is not just a matter of direction. It’s also a matter of following what he does!
That’s what God wants us to do. And we aren’t like the “regular” rabbis’ disciples who were among the brightest and best. We’re more like these fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. As I said a few weeks ago, we’re the common people, who are used by God to do uncommon things! That’s always been the way he’s worked!
So that’s the thought I want you to take with you today. Think of the words “Seeking to follow.” Are you seeking to follow Jesus in your life?
Eternal God, we thank you for calling us to be your people. Help us to seek to know you and to follow the example you gave for us in Jesus Christ. Help us to have the vision to see his kingdom in our midst and to rejoice in his presence, every day. For this we pray in his name, Amen.