“Come and follow me” – a(nother) sermon on Matthew 4.17-23

Sometimes I think I’ve got a perfectly good sermon to preach, but the Holy Spirit just won’t leave me alone until I sit back down and rewrite it. This was one of those times. The earlier version is available in the previous post. 

A week, they say, is a long time in politics. And it has been quite a week! Theresa May’s announcement on Tuesday about Brexit, and her plans for the UK to leave the Single Market, have been almost totally eclipsed by the inauguration of Donald Trump, and the worldwide protests that followed it.

But what, you may wonder, has this got to do with today’s gospel reading? In fact, what has it got to do with the gospel at all?

Firstly, never let anyone tell you that the gospel isn’t political, or that faith and politics don’t mix. The Bible is full of politics. Jesus himself preached such radical ideas that the political authorities of his day had him put to death. Crucifixion is an inherently political act. And so, I would say, is resurrection.

But all that is still far off in today’s gospel story, which shows Jesus calling his first disciples. “Come and follow me,” he says. And they did. Immediately, we are told. I wonder if I would do the same in their shoes? I wonder if you would? But they did – they followed Jesus.

What about us, today? Where does following Jesus take us? Where has it taken us already, and where will it take us next?

This week I have heard people – adults and children – saying they are scared, they are angry, they are in despair at the state of the world. And that’s a perfectly reasonable way to feel. But God calls us to take that fear, anger and despair, and somehow – by the grace and work of the Holy Spirit – to find ways to transform it into hope and truth and light. God calls us to pray and work for peace which is built on justice. Above all, God calls us to love.

If we want to know how to follow Jesus, we need to look at how Jesus lives. A life of compassion and solidarity with the powerless and outcast. Of touching the untouchable, and bringing healing to those who seem to be beyond hope and beyond redemption. Of challenging the power of the few, when it comes at the expense of the many. However we respond to the changing world around us, we need to do it the way Jesus does – with honesty, humility and compassion.

In this week when all eyes are on America, it is perhaps appropriate to quote Martin Luther King, who said this:

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of [people] and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.“

The gospel is not moribund. The good news of Jesus cannot be buried. But it is only good news if it is good news for everybody. As the world seems to become more isolationist, more wary of the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the ‘other’, more ready to demonise than to love, Jesus shows us a different way.

Following Jesus should lead us to stand not with the powerful, but with the least, the last, and the lost. That is where we find him: among the people the world would rather forget. Because the Good News is, nobody is forgotten. Nobody is excluded from God’s table. Nobody is beyond the scope of God’s forgiving love. Nobody.

And proclaiming that good news – in what we do and what we say, in our personal lives and in our politics – is the calling of the followers of Jesus.

“Come,” says Jesus, “and follow me.” Amen.

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