May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What is the cost of discipleship and what are you willing to pay to follow Christ?
These are some fundamental questions that arise out of our gospel passage this morning. The focus for this passage so often is that of the Apostle Andrew and how becoming a fisher of people like Andrew; that by following Christ we learn to become evangelist who will fulfill the great commission to preach the gospel, continue in the breaking of the bread and the prayers and baptizing new believers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But underlying this passage is how far the disciples will go to follow Christ. What they are willing to leave behind; which is literally everything they have ever known to follow Christ. Simon and Andrew walk away from their boast, their nets, their trade, their business and their very livelihood. They just walk away from everything they have ever known, all they had worked for to follow Christ.
And then Jesus calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and they also leave their boats, but also they leave their father. They just walk away from their family and leave their father with a hired man. They must have been quite prosperous to have a hired man, someone who worked for them. We often think of the disciples as poor peasants willing to follow Christ, in hopes of a better life, yet the gospel passage challenges that very idea this morning. The disciples are business people, job creators and owners of boats with employees. They are not elites, in the halls of power, not the 1% to borrow a term from the Occupy Wall Street movement, but they are prosperous people, well off and they have something to lose, something that they give up to follow Christ.
During the Apartheid years in South Africa, black society was very complicated as the people struggled for their freedom. They would gather each day at St George Cathedral in Cape Town as they prepare to protest. They would bring food to the cathedral, medical supplies and many times their bedding for a long stay as they would sleep in the church for days, that was until they could slip away to get back home and away from government officials, police and soldiers.
Each day the protesters would go out and march upon the government buildings in non-violent protest against the Apartheid government. And each day the police and the army would attack them with clubs, tear gas, water canons, rubber bullets and far to often real bullets. The protesters would risk their lives for their freedom. And the army would chase the protesters back to the cathedral, where the protesters ran to, to seek refuge and safety in the sanctuary and in the house of God.
Not all would make it though. Some would be caught, arrested and detained as enemies of the state and suffer horribly in jail. Meanwhile the army would chase the protesters to the very doors of the church were they would encounter each day, Bishop Desmond Tutu, standing in the doorway of the cathedral in his purple cassock watching, and making sure the government, the army with their weapons, would never dare to enter the house of God.
And each day the army would stop and retreat from this one man and all that he represented. Bishop Tutu was and is an impressive and imposing figure, even if he is a small man in physical stature. And in many ways he had much to lose, power among his people and power in South Africa, standing in the Christian community and in the worldwide communion of Anglicans. Yet to follow Christ, he was willing to sacrifice all of this and so much more.
During those years, there was so much violence and so much lose of life. And it was perpetuated all around. In the black community violence of black against black was common. Especially if you were seen to be or worse caught to be a collaborator with the Apartheid government. There was a practice among the people, amongst the blacks, called necklacing.
If you were an informer, someone who traded information on your own people to the white government for money, food or even for the freedom of your family members, this was a dangerous situation to be in. If found out then the people of the community would not only shunned you but eventually they would attack you. They would take an old tire, soak it in petrol, in gasoline and place this tire around your neck and shoulders and then light the tire on fire. You would burn and die in the streets and no Samaritan would stop to help you. It was a horrible way to die, burning with people simply watching. It was meant as a visible deterrent for other blacks, what could happen if you betrayed your people to the government.
One day as Bishop Tutu was driving through the townships on his way back to his home after a protest, he screamed at his driver to pull the car over. He had seen the beginning of a person about to be necklaced. He lept from his car and sprinted down the muddy street, his purple cassock comically flapping behind him as he ran down the streets of the township and forced his way through the angry mob who were abusing and beating this man, who most likely had sold some information on his people to the Apartheid government. This traitor to the cause and all that Bishop Tutu stood for each and every day as he faced the army at the cathedral, it was to this traitor that Bishop Tutu ran to.
Bishop Tutu forced his way into the middle, to the man who had a gasoline soaked tire around his neck and shoulders, and as he lay on the ground and his attackers stood around him about to light the match, Bishop Tutu did the only thing he could, he through himself on top of the man to offer only his body as protection and in doing so he now wore a purple gasoline soaked cassock, while people stood around him with torches.
What was Tutu willing to give up to follow the teachings of Christ, his power, his prestige and his life as a spiritual leader of the community? Bishop Tutu was willing to sacrifice this and more. He was willing, as the body of Christ in the world, to break himself open for others; to offer his life in exchange, as ransom for others. A radical act for sure, but a Christian act.
When Jesus asked Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee to follow him, he is asking them to follow him not only to learn his teachings and hear the word of God, he is asking them to follow him to the cross, and to offer themselves up as a sacrifice for others. He is leading them to a place where they are to lose their life so that they may gain it back. A place where sacrifice and care for your neighbor, outweighs personal gain and even personally safety.
And as followers of Christ, we to are being asked this very same thing. We are being asked to follow Christ to the cross, where we too will offer ourselves up for others, where we will break ourselves open, literally and figuratively, so that others may be nourished, cared for and have life.
These are not figurative notions or metaphors, but a way of living. They are a turning away from this world and the material gains and trappings and a turning towards God. It is caring for our brothers and sisters, even if it means sacrificing some of our means to do it. Sacrificing a new TV, a new Iphone or a new car this year. It means following Christ is about more then listening to sermons and coming to church but a willingness to break one self open, to be bread for others and if necessary to throw ones body on top of another to save a life, even if that means we will lose our own life. Whether that life is the life of a business owner, a fisherman with employees and family or the life of a bishop.
So let us bow our heads in prayer.
Almighty and everliving God, We most heartily thank thee That thou dost graciously feed us, in these holy mysteries, With the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood Of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; Assuring us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; And that we are living members of his mystical Body, Which is the blessed company of all faithful people; And are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, Ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee. And although we are unworthy, Yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, Not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, To whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, World without end. Amen