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Message from Our Pastor

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Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for January 17, 2021. Readings are 1 Samuel 3: 1-10, Psalm 139, John 1:43-51.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Dead Poet’s Society. Remember the scene when the entire school is called together in attempt to identify a prankster and a phone rings. After a brief look-around the character Charlie pulls out an old cradle phone and answers it. To the head of the school Charlie says, “It’s for you, it’s God”

The dialogue goes on and the scene plays out. But oh, if only God would call us on the phone, things would be so much clearer. 

These days I suppose God friending me might be a more likely example. Did you watch that TV show? Miles, whose father is an Episcopal priest but who, himself, does not believe in God, receives a Facebook friend request from “God.” Intrigued, but not at all believing it is God, Miles accepts. In the remaining episodes, God sends Miles other friend suggestions, whom he is to help in some way or another. Meanwhile, Miles searches for the wizard behind the curtain, the “fake” God behind the God account.

I’d take a text message, or a friend request from God, writing on the wall like Daniel, an angel like Mary, a blinding light like Saul, or Jesus himself saying, “Come, follow me,” as he does to Philip in today’s gospel reading.

With the words “Follow me,” Jesus also calls Simon and Andrew, and Matthew the tax collector.

There are others who will hear these words, but not be so ready to drop everything and follow. 

There’s the unnamed man who indicates his desire to be a disciple saying, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus responding, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

The rich young man who wanted to know what deed would get him into heaven. Looking at him with love, Jesus says, “Go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.” The young man walked away, sad and grieving, because he had many possessions.

Whether it is phone, text, writing on the wall, angel, blinding light, a whisper in the wind, or God’s self, Father, Son or Holy Spirit, it matters not. The message is the same, “Follow me.”

Now, if you feel that God may no longer be interested in communicating with you, let me tell you about this disciple named Peter. Yes, the same Peter who immediately dropped his nets and followed Jesus, just because Jesus said so. 

Peter’s relationship with Jesus was a little “rocky.” One minute Peter is showing himself to be the leader of the pack and the next he is pond scum. In the end, after three years of following Jesus over land and sea, Peter denies even knowing Jesus. Bad Peter.

But in John’s gospel, Jesus gives Peter a chance to redeem himself. After the resurrection, at an unexpected breakfast on the beach, prepared by Jesus, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him. 

Three, the same number of times Peter denied Jesus. After each assurance by Peter, Jesus gives a directive – feed my lambs, tend my sheep and feed my sheep. 

After giving Peter his marching orders, Jesus foretells Peter’s death and then ends with these words, “Follow me,” the very words with which their relationship began. Peter is again the leading disciple Jesus called him to be. 

Until the very next sentence when Peter’s jealousy shows. Walking behind them is the one John’s gospel calls the beloved disciple. 

And Peter just can’t help himself, “Lord what about him?” 

You can hear the edge in Jesus’ voice, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” And then one final, “Follow me!” with an exclamation point.

Even when it is as clear as a ringing phone call from God, even when we have said, “Yes,” or “Here am I,” or “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Even when we have been doing it for years, it is not always easy to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Discipleship is more than the child’s game of follow the leader.

On our faith journey, there are times when we, like Samuel, need someone to recognize God’s voice for us. There are times when we need someone like Philip to point us in the right direction. There will be times when we will be Peter the rock, and times when we will be like Peter pond scum. At all those times, however,the words are still the same, “Follow me.”

There will be times that we will drop everything to follow. Times when we say, “Wait a minute, will you? I have some other things to do first.” Times when we will say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone by that name,” or turn our faith on silent and ignore the buzz. 

There will be times when the message is loud and clear, but we just aren’t quite ready to do what God is asking of us. In all those instances, the invitation, the call is still the same, “Follow me.”

Whether saint, sinner, denier, betrayer, young, old, rich, poor, male, female, gender-neutral, straight, queer, left, right, solid rock, bending reed, God, who knew you even before you knew yourself, looks at you. God looks at us and says “Follow me.”

O Lord, our leader may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

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