Following the Leader

Pastor Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Matthew 4:12-23

Following the Leader

            I am the proud sister of two Eagle Scouts, and to be honest, growing up in Girl Scouts I was kind of jealous of the opportunities my brothers had to do what I consider “real” camping and backpacking trips with my dad, sleeping under the stars and carrying everything they had for the week in 50 pound packs.  I used to go along for their training hikes and of course heard all of the stories of their escapades when they returned.  In fact, when I was thinking of one particular story I wanted to tell in my sermon today, I called my dad who was a scout leader on that trip and I said, “Hey, can you tell me about that time you went hiking with the Boy Scouts and you all  got lost for hours?” And he said, “Which time?”  Because there were multiple times, actually every time, that they went backpacking and got lost.

            But there was a time, he reminded me, which was worse than usual in how they got lost.  They were hiking at Philmont, which is one of the biggest Scout wilderness hiking areas in New Mexico.  Each day, one of the Boy Scouts was appointed the lead hiker who would lead the rest of the group, using a topographical map.  They came to a fork in the road, and the particular leader for the day chose to take a lower route, which ended up not being a real trail.  They had to bushwhack through brush and finally turned around after hiking pretty strenuously for a few hours.  My dad admitted that the adults did have to step in finally to redirect the Scouts back on track, or they would not have had enough water to continue their journey safely.  Thankfully, they found their way back to the trail after a longer day than they’d planned, and were able to talk together about what they’d learned about how to make decisions and how to lead a group, which includes admitting to making a mistake.

            In our gospel for this morning we hear Jesus calling the first disciples to follow his lead so that in following him they will learn to lead others.  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says.  In Jesus, we see a model for leadership.  He recruits his followers by using language and concepts they would understand.  Peter and Andrew are fishermen, so Jesus says that he can teach them to fish in a new way – fishing for people.  Then he asks them to follow him and see what he does.  Jesus travels throughout Galilee teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and curing diseases and sickness.  He doesn’t just talk the talk about God’s kingdom coming near, he walks the walk and makes the good news concrete for people who are in desperate need of it, people who are sitting in darkness – people who are sick, people who need healing.  Jesus will continue to recruit disciples and ask them simply to follow him, hear what he’s saying and watch what he’s doing for several more chapters in Matthew.  It isn’t until chapter 10, after Jesus does many healings and teaches all over Galilee that Jesus summons all twelve disciples and gives them his authority to cast out unclean spirits and cure diseases and sicknesses.  It is only then that Jesus sends them out and asks them to do what he does, with his authority and blessing.  Jesus leads by showing the disciples what he does, then walking with them while they try it themselves, then finally sending them out to do it themselves.  This is what the model of Scouting is, I think, and this is what any good teacher does as well.

            Like the scouts on my brother and dad’s hiking trip, following Jesus and doing what he does is not always easy for the disciples or for us.  I reminded us last week that many of the disciples utterly fail at times in understanding what Jesus is doing or telling them – they betray him, deny him, and all abandon him on the cross.  They try healing some people and it doesn’t work.  They argue about who gets to sit at Jesus’ right hand in the kingdom of heaven.  They try to prevent Jesus from going to the cross at all.  Yet, we remember them still today, most of them by name, because they also were some of the best Christian missionaries of all time, who faithfully followed Jesus and proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom after his resurrection and ascension.  Many of these first disciples risked death and were martyred for their commitment to following Jesus.  Their stories remind us that good leaders still mess up and fail sometimes.  Good leaders know their limits, and aren’t afraid to take direction and advice from people might have more expertise in a certain area than they do.  The disciples certainly knew that following the son of God meant recognizing that they were not fully like Jesus and could never be Jesus. There are some things that we just can’t do that Jesus did, nor should we expect ourselves to do.  Yet we, along with the first disciples, can recognize that Jesus is calling us to follow and learn from him.  We can do what Jesus does when he gives us the power to do what he asks.  We can serve others and bring healing and hope to people who are sitting in darkness.  We can think about the talents and personality quirks that God has given us that makes us who we are and use those gifts and talents for God’s purposes, just like Jesus calls fishermen to be fishers of people.  We can wrestle with how to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven in word and deed, making God’s love for the world concrete so others might know the great love that God has for them, too.

            We often focus on the miracles that Jesus performs in curing diseases and even raising people from the dead, which are truly miraculous.  One of the miracles, though, I think that Jesus demonstrates over and over again is making leaders out of the most unlikely people, teaching them and empowering them to lead Christ-like lives when others would have completely passed them by.  Jesus calls tax collectors, political zealots, and fishermen – women and men, even at least one prostitute, to be his followers and to share the good news of God with others.  The first disciples are a motley crew of people who would not have otherwise hung out with each other – some being on other sides of the political spectrum with vastly different life experiences.  None of them have made the cut academically, otherwise they would have been priests or Pharisees, not working-class fishermen and tax collectors.  These are average people, in whom Jesus miraculously sees great potential for leadership.  God can do great things through us, too.  We at Faith Lutheran are proud to support our Scouts because we are taking the leap of faith that ordinary boys can be empowered by God to do extraordinary things, following Christ’s leadership.

Scouts, leaders, parents, people of God: in a minute we’ll hear the Scout Law and On My Honor pledge.  The list of character traits and values we are striving for is long and sometimes daunting:  loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, obedient, brave, cheerful, reverent... This morning and every morning we began with Confession and Forgiveness because we know we don’t always measure up to those ideals.  We want to follow Jesus but we don’t always get it right.  The miracle is that God calls ordinary people to do his work and sends us Jesus to teach us how to lead and do that work.  We have the power of God behind us and the knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness to sustain us when we fail.   Thanks be to God.  Amen.