‘‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’
At once they left their nets and followed him.’ Mark 1:17-18
Brothers and sisters, it will be obvious to most that Britain is becoming increasingly secular. That is a challenge to people of faith and no less a challenge in Lancashire. Prompted by our Gospel reading (Mark 1:14-20), I want to focus our attention on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Blackburn’s Diocese Vision 2026 encourages us to see that churches become healthy when they make disciples, are witnesses, when they grow leaders and inspire children and young people… and then they will have a transformative impact on their local communities. Note that it is all based on making disciples. Our reading describes the start of Jesus’ ministry. He is on His own, but gathers a band of followers by calling them to follow. They are unlikely candidates Fishermen….tough men earning a living on the Sea of Galilee. Busy at work….but they went and followed. And the ministry of the church ever since, has been to call all people everywhere to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ clarion call still rings out: Come, follow Me! Sometimes, we have to admit, the Church fails to issue the call and thinks that she has nothing to say to the world around. Sometimes the Church fails to do it with any authority. Sometimes we call people to church attendance rather than to following Christ. Come to church, rather than come to Christ. There's a big difference between church-ianity and Christianity, between being religious and being a follower of Jesus. What’s the difference? We hear from God’s Word that to follow, to be a disciple, means:
First, to be led It seems strange, even unlikely, but James and John, Simon and Andrew all leave their place of work, their family and their livelihood without any sense of security for the future. From another Gospel it seems that these four had met Jesus before and got to know Him a bit. So this call was not totally out of the blue. Even so, they go with no questions or hesitation. They followed immediately! First principle of following Jesus is being led to new priorities, not leaving your home or your work or your school, but leaving behind your old priorities. Someone who starts to follow Jesus Christ is under new management and so has new priorities. Their own interests come second to those of Jesus and His Kingdom. Jesus becomes their Lord and Master. Do you know the challenging saying: ‘If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all’. What does that mean in terms of: (a) Relationships: When someone becomes a Christian and sets those new priorities, especially when someone of another faith becomes a Christian, they are likely to be faced with opposition. Bringing Jesus into our lives challenges the priorities of others. (b) Possessions: The person with a healthy income and bank balance is faced with the challenge of saying: all things come from You and of Your own do I give You. Our money becomes His money. (c) Personal choices, do we see our work and leisure time as a response to the call of God? Is the home where we live the place God has called us to be? To be a follower means to follow the lead Another gives and that means leaving behind a way of life where I have followed my own desires and rules rather than those of Jesus Christ and of the Bible. First principle of following is to be led. All or nothing challenge.
Second, to be changed. Jesus called those first four as fishermen, but He had plans to make them into the people they were made to be. As they followed Him, so He transformed them step by step into His likeness, increasingly godly holy men and women. As we read the New Testament, so we see how they were taught, trained and transformed. They end up hardly recognisable. Peter, the brash and rather headstrong character, so quick to say he would do something and then so lacking in courage to see it through, remembers his denials, and becomes the confident preacher and leader of the early church. The second principle of following is that we put ourselves in a place where God by His Holy Spirit is able to change us. Moulded and made into the very person God intends us to be The Holy Spirit grows His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:25) The theological term is sanctification; this is God’s work.
Third, to be useful. Jesus took those four and their gifts and skills as fishermen, and gave them a new focus for their lives; trying to lead others to come and follow Him. He called them to follow, in order that they might serve and become workers in His Kingdom. A call to call others. Third principle of following is being available for God to work through us and that takes many forms. Putting others before ourselves and being helpful, giving a good witness by what we say and the way we live our lives. So much damage is done to the cause of Jesus Christ by scandal and ungodly behaviour. To follow means to work and pray for others to become followers too. Every Christian is a missionary. The call to follow is no soft option. Not easy to be an active and unashamed Christian in our culture today. Much more than attending church once a week, although that is part of it.
To be led; to be changed; to be useful My prayer for the diocese is that the Holy Spirit will help us all to follow Jesus more wholeheartedly and be used by God to bring others to be followers and join this great movement. Every church must be in the business of raising the bar of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and that includes St Georges Chorley. Will you as a Christian community be heard to say to the parish: Jesus Christ says, ‘Come, follow Me?’ Amen. (from Bishop Julian).