“Do The Next Right Thing”
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18As he walked 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 fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:12-23, NRSV)
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of [people].” This is the call. This is the simple statement that compels Simon Peter and Andrew to literally drop their fishing nets and follow Jesus. These are the words that summon two brothers, James and John, to set down their equipment, leave their father – their families – and follow Jesus. The text tells us their responses are immediate and all four Gospels agree. I find this text somewhat problematic. By my 2020 perspective, it does not seem realistic. Perhaps economic times are at an all-time low and Jesus’ call is the answer they’ve been looking for. Perhaps they are disillusioned with their lives as fishermen – hoping that a new opportunity might present itself. Or perhaps it is simply that they believe that there is nothing to lose. I like to think that if I had been fishing with them that afternoon, that I would have tossed my nets as quickly as the rest. But I am more convinced that my logical and practical sense of the world would have kicked into full force.
“Really, Peter? You’re going to pack it up? Just like that? No two weeks’ notice to the boss? That’s going to go on your personal record, you know? Who is going to give you a good reference for your next job, if you can find one that is? And Andrew, what about your mortgage? You just purchased that beautiful home on the hillside? Are you going to let it go into foreclosure? Have you thought through the consequences of this? Really, James? You’re going to leave your Dad? You’re going to leave him all alone in the family business to feed all the mouths at home? He always had bigger dreams for you. You think your Dad gives you guilt trips now? Well, brace yourself my friend. In the event that this following Jesus thing doesn’t pay off – literally and figuratively, you’ll never hear the end of it. What are you thinking?”
Today’s story is not about logic. It is about the workings of God’s Spirit to move us beyond logic, beyond that which makes sense in our narrowed lens of life. Today’s story is a call to love. It is a call to find meaning beyond what we immediately sense. Because these four ordinary fishermen left their nets that day, we are gathered here this morning. We are woven into this rich history of calling, of following, of making tough decisions that are often illogical, but grounded in love.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What are the implications for our lives? Each Gospel narrative offers a unique understanding of what it means to be a disciple. Biblical scholar Alyce McKenzie, points out that, “In John it means to believe. John the Baptist offers a couple of his disciples a character reference for Jesus ("Here is the Lamb of God!" Jn 1:36). Immediately after they believe and follow Jesus, their belief is underscored by Jesus' miracle at the wedding in Cana. The disciples have made a "snap" decision to spend their lives sharing their belief with a world that lies in darkness. In Luke, to be a disciple means to have compassion on the poor and the sick. The call of the first disciples in Luke comes between the account of mass healings by Jesus (Lk 4:38ff) and Jesus' cleansing a leper and healing a paralytic (Lk 5:17ff). So the disciples make a "snap" decision to participate in Jesus' ministry of compassion and healing. In Mark, to be a disciple means to be willing to suffer, and so the call of the first disciples comes between the temptation of Jesus (Mk 1:12, 13) and Jesus' exorcizing an unclean spirit from a man (Mk 1:21f). So the disciples make a "snap" decision to spend their lives participating in Jesus' ministry of the destruction of evil. And in Matthew, to be a disciple of Jesus means to follow his teaching and to do God's will in the world. The call of the first disciples in Matthew comes right after Jesus' brief teaching about the purpose of his ministry (Mt 4:12-17) and right before the Sermon on the Mount. So the disciples make a "snap" decision to spend their lives as salt and light for the world by living by the [words of Jesus.] These teachings fulfill, rather than overturn the heart of Torah: to love God with one's whole being and one's neighbor as oneself.” McKenzie concludes…“Our decision to follow Jesus needs to be continually renewed. One snap is not enough. We have to keep making one snap decision after another, in a lifelong process of following Jesus.”
What does following Jesus look like in today’s global landscape? One glance at the news headlines gives us enough despair for a lifetime. Our world feels more complicated than ever, more hate-filled and divided than ever. It seems we have neglected Jesus’ call to do the immediate next right thing. We have closed off ourselves and our hearts. We have been quick to condemn and slow to listen. We have forgotten that we belong to each other. We have neglected Jesus’ call to be fishers and lovers of all people.
In an article entitled “The Illogical Love of Jesus”, Steven Mattson expounds on this timely notion as he writes, …“We’ve become experts at withholding love, and we use excuses that include — but aren’t limited to — partisan politics, national security, the economy, patriotism, ‘law and order,’ personal comfort, safety, wealth, and countless other excuses we use to denigrate people. We have poisoned the way we see people, and instead of viewing everyone as neighbors who are divinely loved and made in the divine image of God, we tend to evaluate people’s worth according to our own… selfish methods… Mattson concludes, “Our desire to love God and love others becomes co-opted, and instead of exuding Christ’s love we’re lobbying for laws and supporting policies that exclude others, withdraw help from others, go to war with others…— people loved by God and made in the very image of God. …Like God’s love for us, the love we show our neighbors shouldn’t be contingent on merit, safety, efficiency, time, money, energy… This [call] of Jesus surpasses all knowledge.
Jesus’ call on that first afternoon to the fishermen is illogical. The disciples’ snap decision to drop it all and follow Jesus’ way of love seems absurd. Last weekend we celebrated the memory and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I recently read a quote by Dr. King that resonates with me today as we think about God’s illogical call of love amidst the backdrop of our broken world. Dr. King once said, "Cowardice asks is it safe, expediency asks is it politic, vanity asks is it popular... But conscience asks is it right! There comes a time in [one’s] life where [one] must take a position which is neither safe nor politic nor popular... And do what [one] has to do because [one] knows it is right.” Perhaps this is the reality of James, and John. Of Andrew and Peter. They respond to Jesus’ call to leave their lives, not because it is the logical, safe thing to do. Perhaps they go because it is the next right thing to do. Perhaps they go without hesitation because deep within they sense something greater and more profound at work than their next pay check.
Would we have acted in the same manner standing next to our fisherman friends? Would we leave it all behind to follow illogical love? Would we have followed Jesus into the streets to help heal the blind and cure the sick? Or would we have been the critic, asking questions, playing devil’s advocate and ultimately playing it safe? Is it politic? Is it popular? What’s in it for me? The truth is that most of us exist somewhere in the middle of these two ideologies. Perhaps the significance of today’s story is the internal struggle we sense to meet Jesus in illogical places of love. And perhaps the way we begin that journey with Jesus, is by simply doing the next immediate right thing that is before us.
My family recently went to see the popular Disney movie, Frozen 2. There is a moment in the film that brings the audience to an eerie silence. Princess Anna believes that her sister has died, as all evidence seems to point that way. After a rescue gone awry she finds herself alone in a dark cave with seemingly no way to escape. Anna’s desperation feels a lot like the way many of us feel at times, as we try to do the next right thing amidst the turmoil we sense both in our world and in our lives. Anna utters through tears as she sings,
“This grief has gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing…
I don't know anymore what is true
I can't find my direction, I'm all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor?...
Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
Just do the next right thing.”
Jesus’ call to illogical love amidst our fragile and broken world often feels overwhelming. This call can feel more like a burden than a gift, when we give into defeat and hopelessness. I find Anna’s words deeply fitting as we seek to follow Jesus amidst the background of our world in 2020. Perhaps the way to follow God’s illogical ways of love is just to do the next right and loving thing that is before us.
The next right thing is unique for each of us. For some of us, the next right thing might be to begin letting go of anger. For some of us it might be reaching out to a new neighbor who doesn’t look like us or worship like us. For some of us the next right thing might be giving a gentle response instead of a frustrated one. Maybe the next right thing is mending an argument that has caused years of angst. Maybe the next right thing is giving our afternoon to help to feed someone who is hungry. Maybe the next right thing is pausing to think before we say something that can damage another’s soul. Perhaps the next right thing is really the next loving thing that is before us. This is the Holy call.
In her creative writing entitled “Calling” Sharlande Sledge captures our hesitations to throw out the logic and follow Jesus. She writes,
“God it’s a tall order you set before us – To be light to the world. Do you really think we’re up for it?
Are we the kind of people you envision going home from the manger a different way?
Did you have in mind such fearful folk to minister alongside you,
People like us who forgot to carry our light any farther than our doorsteps?
And the world as our place of service?
God, our candles are already burning at both ends.
Sometimes your holy calling is an idea too big to get our hearts around.
Thanks to you for challenge and blessing mourning the suffering of a broken world,
Celebrating the promise of a liberating gospel,
Moving into the frozen places of the world with warmth and into the parched places with water.
Help us take the risk of exposing our hearts,
Finding the lost,
Healing the broken,
Feeding the hungry,
Releasing the prisoner,
Rebuilding the nations,
Bringing peace to others,
Starting here where we have known you, who knows us so well.”
Church family, go and do the next right and loving thing before you today. And then repeat. For this is the call of Christ. May it be so. AMEN.
God of revelation and epiphany—
Through the words of the prophets you have shown us the world of your dreaming and longing: A world built on justice, overflowing with plenty, Help us to take, hold and grow into these understandings; and, like Jesus, may we always be ready to live generously, love expansively,
speak boldly and act courageously, that the Kingdom of your dreaming, with its justice, abundance and joy, may become the present reality of all the peoples of this world.
We pray for the many needs today of people. Where there is violence, we pray for a peaceful solution. Where there is hurt, we pray that we would find ways to mend. Where there is hunger and thirst, we pray that we would find ways to quench and to satisfy. We pray for those who are separated from loved ones this day. We pray for those in our family of faith this morning
Draw us closer to You and to one another in this new year. Through the name of Christ our sustainer we pray, Amen.
~ posted on the Monthly Prayers page of the Christian Aid website.http://www.christianaid.org.uk /resources /churches /prayer/church-seasons.aspx
 McKenzie, Alyce M. Professor of Preaching and Worship; Perkins School of Theology; www.textweek.com.
 Mattson, Steven; “The Illogical Love of Jesus”.www.sojo.net.
 The Next Right Thing, Lyrics by Kristin Anderson – Lopez and Robert Lopez from Frozen 2
 Sledge, Sharlande; “Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Seasons”.