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Fans or Followers / Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Matthew 4:18-22

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother.

Someone wrote an essay titled “Why I’m Not a ‘Fan’ of Jesus.” He begins by noting that, according to a recent survey, the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian is somewhere north of 75 percent. Really? Three out of four people are followers of Christ?

Let’s see, if the population of the United States is about 311 million and 75 per cent are Christians that brings the number of Christians to somewhere in the neighborhood of 233 million. That’s a lot of Christians.

Something about that percentage is off. Because if there really are that many Christians, then why is it that 35 million people in America go to bed hungry every night, including 13 million children? If 75 percent of Americans are Christians, then why are there more than 120,000 children waiting to be adopted? The numbers don’t add up. Jesus said the evidence that someone is one of His followers is love. So, 233 million? The evidence just isn’t there.

What’s the explanation for that amount of inconsistency? I read an article a few days ago about a group the article called, the “new vegetarians.”

These new vegetarians don’t eat meat, most of the time. One even said that she was a vegetarian, but she really liked bacon. [so, she ate it.] A vegetarian, by definition, is someone who doesn’t eat meat. Umm, yeah, but isn’t bacon a meat? Can she really identify herself as a vegetarian? Maybe we can solve the inconsistency by coming up with a new term to describe vegetarians who aren’t totally against eating meat. Maybe we can call them “Flexitarians.”

A Christian, by definition, is a follower of Christ. So, I’m thinking that what might help make sense is a new word to describe people who identify themselves as Christians but have little interest in actually following the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps instead of ‘followers,’ it would be more accurate to call them ‘fans.’

The word fan is defined as, an enthusiastic admirer. And I think Jesus has a lot of fans these days. Some fans may even get dressed up for church on Sunday and make their ringtone a worship song. They like being associated with Jesus. Fans want to be close enough to Jesus to get the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them. They want a no-strings-attached relationship with Jesus. So, a fan says, I like Jesus but don’t ask me to serve the poor. I like Jesus, but I’m not going to give my money to people who are in need. I like Jesus, but don’t ask me to forgive the person who hurt me. I like Jesus, but don’t talk to me about money or sex, that’s off limits. Fans like Jesus just fine, but they don’t want to give up the bacon.

Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel is about four men who were called by Jesus to be His disciples. They weren’t called to be fans of Jesus, but followers. Their names were Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, four fishermen. But this reading is also about you and me, because we’ve been called to be disciples as well. We also have been called to be followers and not fans. I’ll let you decide which group you belong. But first let’s ask, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Notice, how ordinary these four men were. They had no formal education that we know of. Nor did they have any personal striking good looks or extraordinary talent of which we are aware. They were just ordinary fishermen. We often make the mistake of assuming that God calls only the most impressive, the most gifted, the most talented people. And when you listen to me today, I can see how you may think that, but I’m the perfect example of the exact opposite. I consider myself more like Moses.

God comes to Moses with the job of going to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” Moses responds, who am I that I should go to the Pharaoh? Later Moses protests that he is too “slow of speech” to carry out such a mission (Ex. 3 and 4).

God comes to Gideon who would later be a great leader of God’s people, but Gideon responds. My clan is the weakest in Mannaseh, and I am the least in my family (Judg. 6: 15).

Even that most successful of all Israel’s kings, David, was shocked by God’s call. I’m only a poor man and nobody knows me. (I Samuel 18: 23).

Paul tells us in I Corinthians, that God has deliberately chosen what the world considers foolish.

He’s talking about you and me. God chooses ordinary people to do His work so that they will depend on His power and not their own. For this reason, says Paul, no one will ever be able to boast in the presence of God.

If God were to ask the angel Gabriel to recruit a leader and Gabriel asks in return, do you want the brainiest or do you want the holiest? God would answer, Get me the holiest. I’ll make him the brainiest. And that’s the way God works. Some of His most effective servants have been people with very or no resume.

There’s no clearer message in the New Testament than the crude manger of Bethlehem. Christian faith is the celebration of ordinary people who come to possess a very extraordinary power.

When you’re asked to serve God in some capacity, don’t talk yourself out of a great opportunity by saying, I’m too old, or I don’t have enough education, or some other personal put-down. God can give you the ability. What He can’t give you is commitment, dedication, faithfulness. That must come from within. That’s why God always prefers the holiest to the brainiest. That’s why Christ prefers followers to mere fans. The first disciples that Jesus called were ordinary individuals.

And notice what these ordinary individuals were called to do. They were called to spend three years of their lives in the presence of Jesus.

A disciple is one who studies with a great teacher. This implies that those who follow Jesus need to grow. We don’t bloom overnight into mature spiritual giants.

During the 1950s when churches were bursting at the seams, but the church really wasn’t growing; it was merely getting fat. That is, people were coming into the church, but they were remaining spiritual infants. They weren’t growing in understanding and faith. They were simply multiplying spiritual babies. The past half-century has proven that. Many have fallen by the wayside. Many have proved to be people of shallow convictions. They have proven to be fans and not followers.

To be alive is to grow. In his second epistle Peter encourages us “to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3: 18).

Growth is why we come to church. The place where we encounter Christ and learn about Him and grow in our spiritual walk is within these walls. A few years ago, people were saying yes to Jesus, but no to the church. Follow-up studies on persons involved in Christian groups not related to a local church over the past several decades back that up. It simply doesn’t last.

Like every pastor I’m always astounded at times by the casual attitude many people have about their responsibilities to the church. I sometimes feel like the orchestra conductor, who was quite upset over the fact that at every rehearsal at least one member of the orchestra was absent. At the final rehearsal before a big concert he announced, I would like to thank our first trumpet player. He was the only member of this orchestra who didn’t miss a rehearsal. The first trumpet player stood and bowed as the other members of the orchestra applauded. Then he said quietly, it was the least I could do, considering I won’t be able to be at the concert tonight. I know how that orchestra conductor felt at that moment. Every pastor does.

The work of the church is so important. Our ministry to little children and to youth and to adults is so vital to the Kingdom of God. This is a place where disciples grow. This is where we are trained for the work Christ has given us. The church deserves our best loyalty and service.

I’m reminded of a story about another orchestra that was giving a concert in a large church hall in England. The place was absolutely jam-packed. Afterwards a occasional member of that church where the concert was held flippantly asked the pastor of the church when the hall would be filled like that for a Sunday morning worship service. The pastor answered seriously, when like that conductor, I have eighty well-trained, committed and disciplined men and women to work with me.

How the church needs that today. Eighty well-trained, committed and disciplined men and women could change a community, maybe even a nation.

A man was embarrassed when he given the nickname, Honest John. He protested that he didn’t deserve it. Couldn’t you just call me, Fairly Honest John? That sounds like many of us, doesn’t it? We want to be ‘fairly committed’ in our service to Christ, ‘fairly committed’ to Sunday School and worship, ‘fairly committed’ to making our church what God has called it to be. Jesus called those original followers to spend three years in His presence as disciples, learners, students. It wasn’t enough for them to be fairly committed. Christ was calling them to be completely committed. They needed to grow. So do we.

These disciples were ordinary people just as we are. They were called not only to go with Jesus but also to grow with Him, just as we are as well.

There would come a time when they would no longer be called disciples, but apostles, those who are sent out to proclaim the Good News. Disciples are those called to come. Apostles are those called to go. There needs to come a time when we move from being followers to being leaders.

Our church should never have any difficulty finding people to teach Sunday School, or work with youth, or sing in the choir, or take on leadership positions, or serve in our stewardship campaigns, or make contacts in our community. There comes a time when mature Christian believers realize that it’s time to move from being ‘ministered to’ to the work of ministry itself.

Perhaps that was part of why Jesus chose not to remain with His disciples physically. He wanted them to understand that now they had the privilege and responsibility of carrying on the work of God.

Remember that scene where Jesus asks Simon Peter three times, “Simon, do you love me?” Each time when Simon professes his love for Christ, He instructs Simon to “feed My sheep.” The final step in following Christ, is to feed Christ’s sheep. We need to appreciate that in the church today. We need to move beyond caring for ourselves to caring for others.

That can happen to us as individuals or as a church. Great things happen within the walls of this church. But if we never see ourselves as the apostles, those sent out in ministry to the world, we will stagnate and die.

At the beginning of His ministry Jesus called four men, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and two other brothers, James and John, to leave their nets and follow Him. He called them not to be fans, but to be followers. These were four ordinary men, but God did extraordinary things through them. The first part of their pilgrimage was spent in the fellowship of Christ and other believers in order that they might grow to spiritual maturity as Christ’s disciples. But there came a time when in order to continue their growth they discovered that they must become teachers, missionaries, leaders of local churches, and servants both of the Word and the world. That’s our calling as well. To move beyond being a fan to being a follower of Jesus Christ.