Follow Me, A Sermon by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., January 21, Third Sunday after Epiphany

This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January 21st, the Third Sunday after Epiphany.  The readings and Psalm were Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20.

Follow Me

From Mark 1-And Jesus said to them, “Follow me.” The 2 brothers, Simon and Andrew, did just that…as did James and John soon after.

Follow me. Follow me.

Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew” By Duccio di Buoninsegna. Public Domain.

Recently I heard the story of a nature journalist who was on assignment in a remote South American jungle. She was there to photograph and write a story of an exotic creature seen only at night.

She arrived at the camp, became acclimated to the area and instructed in the exploratory craft it would take to find and photograph this beautiful and elusive animal. The final instructions by her guide were, “Follow exactly where I step. Walk in the exact manner in which I walk. Keep your hands to your sides or in your pockets as I do. Walk as quietly as you are able. You do this and all will be OK and we might find our creature.”

The night came and they set out. Guides with rifles and pistols went first followed by the journalist’s guide, the journalist and a guide behind her. 10 minutes into the journey she slipped and reached out and grabbed a limb to steady herself. Immediately the guide behind her grabbed her hand away from the branch and kept her from falling.

“Ms…do not touch the branches. Keep your hands in your pockets. The branches are full of large and deadly spiders. Sometimes we call them 2 step spiders…for that is all the steps you will have left in your life if you are bitten.”

Follow me. Follow me.

In this situation precise following can save your life as well as discovering the prized goal.

Mark reports Jesus’ life and ministry in 38 pages (compared to Matthew’s 58 and Luke’s 48). His account is terse and to the point. In a matter of 4 verses Jesus has one third of his soon-to-be-assembled 12.

It seems so easy…Jesus calls to these 2 sets of brothers and without so much as a reported goodbye, picking up a back pack or at least making a sandwich…off they go to follow this Jesus.

Always, always…and I mean always I have felt shame and guilt and some cynicism in the light of the breeziness of this story. I have been aided some by a thought shared by Scott last week during our monthly lesson study at the NH Conference of Lutheran Pastors. He ventured that given that Jesus already was known as a wise Rabbi at age 30, isn’t it possible that the Jesus movement is a youth movement…that at least these 4 were younger than our Lord. Isn’t it possible that they were gratified to leave the hard work of fishing and throw their lot in with a Rabbi and rise a bit in society and study with a learned man? And, their families would be proud!

That helps a little…a little. However, I do not identify so easily with Simon, Andrew, James and John as I do with Jonah. Jonah runs away from God’s call and only gets with God’s call when he is tossed overboard, swallowed by a big fish and after 3 days of the fish’s indigestion is vomited on to a distant shore.

Add to Jonah we have Paul warning us to be attentive to whom and to what we give our attention and alerts us to distractions that are able to throw us of course of being a follower, disciple of Jesus.

I think most of us come to discipleship and following somewhere between the rapidity of the brothers and the rebellion of Jonah.

The longer I live and what little growth I have in wisdom…it is apparent to me that the path of following Jesus is very clear; Jesus’ way in life is not a sadistic corn maze or house of mirrors that are by definition misleading, distracting and dedicated to deception.

Dare I repeat; dare I tell you again? The Jesus path is the path of Loving…always Loving.

The Jesus path is captured in that youth movement of decades ago that created the “WWJD” and “WWJS” wrist bands:

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?…in this moment.

WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY?…in this moment to the person or persons in front of me.

Yes it is that clear…that clear. And that path and way, though crystal clear, is very, very, very challenging to follow and walk. I know that. You know that.

And, perhaps, best and most of all, Our Lord knows that. His becoming flesh of our flesh; bone of our bone enables him and us to be true brothers and sisters. Jesus knows. “Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”

All of us here are called be disciples of our Lord…all of us. Not one of us is left out. All are included. Not all are called to be part of the inner group like the four brothers or like Jonah or Paul.

Student at Lebanon Middle or High School?  Called-WWJD / WWJS

Teacher at Lebanon Middle or High School  Called-WWJD / WWJS

Student or Professor at Dartmouth?     Called WWJD / WWJS

An attorney for a local government or private practice? Called WWJD / WWJS

Researcher, waitstaff; LPN: receptionist, physician, nurse, plumber, electrician at Dartmouth or private business? Called WWJD / WWJS

Stay at home Mom? Stay at Home Dad? Called WWJD / WWJS home? at Kendall? at Woodlands? at Harvest Hill? Called. WWJD ? WWJS?

Disciple / Called…all of us all of the time into God’s worlds of work, study, reading, TV, marriage, family, colleagues, friends, fun …the list and the places and the situations are endless! endless!

All opportunities to be Jesus to others in this world at this time, in this place. Hopefully you live out your life with some sense of joy and conviction that who you are and what you are about is good; you like it; you love it!

Now, I invite you to consider following Jesus in a very particular way…a way that is, in my opinion necessary at this moment in time.

Ten days ago Mr. Trump used vulgar language to describe El Salvador, Haiti and the countries of Africa. His epithets were uttered in the context of his opposition to some aspects of immigration. You are well versed in this story.

Responses to Mr. Trump such as “Disappointing,” “Unhelpful,” “Insensitive” are woefully inadequate for any follower of Jesus.

I have registered my horror regarding Mr. Trump’s words with my Senators, Maggie Hassan and Jean Shaheen and with my House Representative, Ann Kuster.

I told their offices that I am calling as a Lutheran Christian who seeks to follow the life and ministry of Jesus.

I told them that Mr. Trump seeks the support of evangelical Christians and professes to be a Christian himself.

I told them that his vulgar outburst related to the countries he evoked and its people whom he demeaned is not the outlook of a follower of Jesus.

Finally, I urged each of them to introduce or join with the legislative process in their chamber to censure Mr. Trump. His insults and bigotry must be forcefully and publicly condemned.

The phrase is often used…”Speaking truth to power.” I urge you to seek out your Senators and House Representatives…not as a Republican, Democrat or Independent voter. I urge you to seek out your elected women and men because you are outraged as a disciple of Jesus. I wanted and needed to speak the truth of the Gospel concerning a very powerful person in our world!

I imagine you like I have personal skin in this issue. Barbara and Charles are dear friends of ours…for 50 years. We have enjoyed many occasions as couples and families; our son’s middle name was chosen from the first name of their oldest boy. We have traveled together to Majorca and Quebec during the last 18 months. In November we went to their home in Maryland for Charles’ 75th. We have been in their homes in Frankfort, Germany and Paris, France during their time with the Department of State. We partied late into the night on more than one St. Patrick’s Day. Barbara and Charles are Black.

We adopted our son, Andrew, at the age of 3 months. He is 46; owns his townhouse in the DC area outright; has worked hard and steadily for 25 years. Andy is Black.

We are living in this moment, in this place, with a president who insults our brothers and sisters who are people of color, God’s good creation.

Follow me. Follow me…says Jesus. In this moment, WWJD? / WWJS?


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