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Come With Me

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Mar 16

The Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Matthew 4: 18-22, 11: 28-30


From Matthew 4 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."  And immediately they left their nets.  From Matthew 11 “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened….My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  And to carry the theme with just a few more lines.  From Matthew 14:  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.   And from Matthew 16, “then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And that’s just from Matthew.  The gospel of John begins and ends with invitation.   From the first chapter of John:  Come and See, Jesus says.  And from the last chapter, “Come and eat breakfast.” he says!

You can see the pattern I’m after here.  Jesus used the word “come” a lot. Come with me. Come to me. Come after me. Come follow me.  When we hear expressions like this in our daily lives they are often pleading in tone, are they not?  It seems that whenever someone needs to make a point of telling us to come, its either because we are lost -- “Come, follow me, I’ll show you!” or because there is some spoken or unspoken sense of inertia, some interest in staying put or a lack of willingness to move towards someone else.  We say it to a sullen child when they are about to shed tears: “Come here, sweetheart, and let me give you a hug!”  We say it when we’re growing impatient with someone:  Come on, let’s go!  The pleading tone may well be because most of us prefer to find or make our own ways in this world, and say where and when and why we are going anywhere.  We like to call the shots.  If anything, most of us are conditioned to think twice when someone says “come” to us, especially when we’re hearing it from a stranger or when it comes with promises attached, like “Come on!  It’ll be fun!”  “Right, you say so!”  This seemingly natural hesitation we often feel, especially at unexpected moments of invitations, is part of the reason why I’m always so surprised when I read that word “immediately” in Matthew’s story of Jesus call to those first disciples.  And immediately they left their nets? Really?  Didn’t their parents ever tell them “don’t get into boats with strangers”? 

So what make its different when Jesus says “come”?  Well, some of you may well be thinking nothing at all.  Hearing that bidding from Jesus only makes it harder, by like a thousand times!  It only raises more questions for me, more doubts, more wondering if I’m a real Christian after all.  I may well go with friends or family to church, I may well come to lunch after the service or to small groups, but to come and follow Jesus?  I don’t know what that means, and I know I don’t like a lot of other people who say they follow Jesus, so I may pass on that piece for now, if that’s ok.   You know who you are! And of course it’s ok. Such feelings are real and we need to honor them.  Meanwhile, there are others of you who may hear these words from Jesus as a breath of fresh air, like an open door or a window into spiritual opportunity. “Come, leave your nets, drop all that baggage, quit your day job even – yeah, I can follow that, especially after the week I’ve had!  Even that invitation to leave our families (God bless ‘em).  Yup. Even that one sometimes has its appeal, you know provided that it’s just for a time.  At one level, some of us could really use some time away from all the trappings, a total reboot of our lives and reframe of our problems!  The invitation may ring true at a still deeper level. Come and follow this person who has something good and right and lasting and true to teach me about life and death and human relationships and the divine that it within us and around us always!  Come and find meaning in my life, meaning despite whatever sins and suffering I bring, meaning despite all the crap that’s going on in the world!  If he can show me the way, count me in.  I’ll come and I’ll try to follow, so long as he won’t give up on my when I fail! My guess is most of us may have spent some amount of time in both of these camps!  Wherever we are when we hear these words, however closed or open our hearts to hearing Jesus say “Come,” eventually that blasted “real world” sets in and starts in with all those damn distractions.  In the end, we think to ourselves, “not now, Jesus.”  Or, we might even start to think he means all those invitations for someone else, someone with more faith, more time, someone more disconnected from the real world.  

Let’s take a closer look at our two passages where Jesus says “Come!” One of the first things to jump out at me after reading them together is that Jesus takes seriously the ‘real world’ daily lives and what we mere mortals do for a living.  He rolls up on those fishermen and starts speaking their language. “You guys fish?  Ok.  Let me come to you first, meet where you are, see how you live and let me try speaking your language. Let me put it like this: Come with me and your nets will fill up with real friends, people who are different from you, people who have more power than you, people who have far less, and with all of them we’ll catch some enemies too that I’m going to teach you how to love. Come with me and your nets will fill up with mercy for your sins, healing for your soul and peace for your heart and mind.” He knows they've already gone fishin’ for the day.  He knows they’re busy and that they have mouths to feed.  But still he shows up right there in the middle of their workday and says “Come, follow me”.  For starters, I wonder if there is some way that his invitation may be speaking to you right now not despite or apart of your busy lives, but because of your lives, in the very language of your daily lives, whether you spend them hard at work, or at home with the kids, or volunteering or whether you wake up most days for whatever reason unsure about how to spend your time? One take away from this passage is that Jesus meets us right where we are, not just here at church but at 11:14 am on a Tuesday morning, or at 2:37 pm on Friday, right there in the thick of it.  What would that “come to me” sound like then?  So much for thinking “not now, Jesus!” 

Again, in the second passage, his “Come to me” is addressed to all who labor and who are heavy burdened.  He means this figuratively for sure, those who are burdened by grief, despair or some unspoken shame.  But he also means it literally. His message was and is always inclusive of poor and working class, those actual laborers in the vineyard, the stone masons, the carpenters, the fishermen and shepherds.  He’s talking here those who have to work long hours and weekends.  The fact is, he’s talking to everyone, here, the entire socio-economic spectrum and the entire spectrum of existential crisis that leave our hearts weighted.  And that’s part of the point.  All you who labor and are heavy burdened? Is there anyone who can honestly say that this does not apply to them, at least a good amount of the time? So much for thinking these invitations are for someone else.

Another helpful note on the text here.  When Jesus says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he’s invoking the image of a wooden frame or harness that fits over the neck or shoulders of a person or an animal and that attaches to a plow or cart.  Some of you have heard me say before that another way to translate that word “easy” is as “well-fit”.  My yoke is well-fit.  Back in the day, imagine shops or traders in villages who made yokes, and adjusted them, so that they wouldn’t pinch or cause pain to an ox or donkey as they want about their labors.  What Jesus may be saying here is that we all have our burdens and labors, but that God has a yoke, a custom fit way for each of us to carry those things that will make it more manageable.   The idea of a well-fit yoke is one for us all to ponder.  Can we imagine that God has a perfectly tailored, custom-made, beautifully fit yoke that fits onto each of our lives?  It may be in the form of a vocation or personal passion or maybe its just some way that we find our lives and stories have uniquely equipped to carry those “burdens hard to bear” that inevitably come our way. These yokes may need some internal or external adjustment from time to time, in order to ensure the more natural fit, but Jesus tells us that well-fit yoke is there for each of us.  What's more, a yoke isn’t necessarily designed for one person or one animal but as something that crosses over two sets of shoulders.  When we share that yoke with Jesus, when we share his yoke, even when we share the burdens of each other’s crosses, the weights and burdens we bear can become even lighter.

Bonhoeffer puts it this way in a powerful sermon he preached in London in 1935:  “When people come to the end of their inner strength and have become a burden to themselves, when they do not want to go another step, are afraid of the next hill looming ahead, are weighed to the ground by some kind of guilt, and feel betrayed and deceived by the whole world — then no words, no ideals or dreams one builds for the future will help.  These people need only on thing: a human being who can be trusted completely, unconditionally; someone who understands everything, listens to everything, bears with everything, who believes, who hopes, who forgives all things (1 Cor 13) – someone to who one can say, “You are sweet rest and gentle peace, my longing, yes, and my heart’s ease” – someone in whose presence our sorrows are dispelled, our hearts open in love without words; someone who quietly takes away our burden and all the strain and anxiety and thus redeems our souls from their bondage in this world. But who has someone like that? Where can such a miracle be found?  This is the miracle above all miracles, that everyone has and can find such a person, that this person himself is calling us to come to him, inviting us and offering himself.  This person who is our rest, our peace, who refreshes and redeems is Jesus.”

This brings me to a last point.  Some of you know this miracle and can relate in the terms  Bonhoeffer offers.  For others though, that miracle of a person who calls and invites us and offers to share our load may still be hard to understand or to believe in or to give your heart to.  My hope, though, is that most of us have experienced something like that miracle, that sense of comfort and presence if only through other people, maybe even through this community.  You see, Jesus knew he wouldn’t be around in the flesh forever, which is why he said “come” so often when he was here.  Most of those invitations weren’t made to individuals but to small gatherings, to groups of two or three or twelve, or sometimes 5,000.  He was inviting a community to share his yoke, to lift each other up, to bring God’s peace and hope and healing and hospitality to the world.  And so the question isn’t just how do I respond to those invitations, though we are likely to think of that first living as we do in this era of unprecedented individualism!  If we realize for ourselves that the time to do so is now, and the people to do so is all of us, then the question may well be, what is that well-fit yoke we are uniquely called to carry?  Where might that yoke be pinching us and in need of adjustment?  How do we hear God’s invitation to our community and through our community, in this particular place and time?  Who and what should be filling our nets?  This work of discipleship and following him is no solo effort, nor was it ever intended to be.  I’m eager to continue the conversation and dig into these questions together over our lunch today.

First Church, Jesus bids us: “Come!”  Today. Here. Now. The invitation is for everyone. Come and follow! Come to me! Come and see! Amen.



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