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Sermon for 22 January


Isa 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-23

How do you make decisions?

When you’re faced with a choice, what’s your natural way of deciding which option to take?

There are broadly three ways that most of us choose stuff. 

Some people think it through. They lay out the options, weigh up the positive and negatives of each, think through the possible outcomes and then choose.

Others decide by doing. They need to experience the options before choosing, so they try stuff out, test the possibilities and see what each option is actually like, and then they choose.

Others again need to feel their way into a decision. They are intuitive and look to their emotional response to pick their next step in life. They follow the thing that feels right, or they avoid the option that feels dangerous or wrong. 

Thinkers, doers and feelers. Most of us have a preference for making decisions in one of these ways. Which one are you?

Four people in the gospel reading today make a decision. A truly life changing decision, one that will affect them forever in ways that - as they make their choice - they cannot possibly imagine.

Their names are Simon, Andrew, James and John.

And I want to look at the decision that they made - to leave the safety of their normal lives and to follow Jesus - and I’m going to suggest that they used a fourth way of deciding - not the way of thinking, doing or feeling, but the way of calling.

And the build up to their moment of choice starts when Jesus turns up in the area where they are working and says ‘Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.

God’s rule, God’s way of doing things, God’s complete involvement in human life is here, in front of you. The Kingdom of Heaven has come near - so near that you can reach out and touch heaven right now; so near that you can hear the voice of heaven speaking. And you need to respond - to repent.

And to repent means to turn around, to take a new direction. 

We might think of repentance as  ‘feeling sorry’ for the stuff we've done wrong - as if what Jesus says is the ‘Kingdom of Heaven has come close, feel bad about yourself.’ But that’s not what it means. 

Instead it means - God’s way of doing things is right here in front of you; you are invited, urged, called, to change your life. To make a decision.

And that makes sense doesn’t it. If someone turns up, saying that God isn’t off in heaven, somewhere beyond the clouds, but is here, in your midst, close enough that you can hear his voice, see his face and touch his hand, then there’s a decision to be made.

And then Jesus offers precisely that choice to Andrew, Simon, James and John. "Follow me and I will make you fish for people” he says. 

And they have a decision to make. 

And they decide to follow him; to leave it all behind, and to follow Jesus.

And the same choice is offered to us. Real people, with real lives - people who live a thousand miles away, both geographically and culturally, from Andrew, Simon, James and John, but people who are not so different really. People with worries and hopes, friends, family and work. Some of us rich, some poor. Some of us know what we’re doing in life, some us are struggling. 

Follow me, Jesus says.

So how will we choose? How did you choose?

Of course we need to think it through. The claims that Jesus makes are big ones - and we need to apply our brains to the choice we make. Does it make sense? Is there enough evidence? Do his claims add up?

And we need to test it out with experience. What happens when we come to church, or pray, or read the bible? Does it help? Does the evidence of our own experience match the claims Jesus makes?

And we need to check out our emotions. Does it feel right? When we take a risk and try giving a bit more of our lives to God, does that fill us with joy or fear? 

But that’s not enough. Andrew, Simon, James and John didn’t just go through those 3 processes and come to a decision - something else happened for them. Something that meant they immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

Thinking it through, trying it out and testing our feelings aren’t enough when we’re deciding whether we’re ready to follow Jesus. 

Instead we need a fourth way. It’s the way of calling. 

It’s what happens when the deepest part of your being encounters its answer. 

It’s what happens when, as one writer puts it ‘our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.”

So how do we do that? How do we get in touch with our deep gladness? 

The first thing is to acknowledge that it’s there - without any doubt. In every single one of us. I am sure you know it. Just for a moment, try to connect with that part of you. That deep part of you which longs for something more than life as it is.

Somewhere within you is a deep cry for God - that unutterably deep need which will never be satisfied by more stuff, or by a New Years resolution to do things differently, or a new self-help book. It’s a need to know - to really know - that we are loved and forgiven; to know that the one who made everything actually cares about your life. That you are not anonymous or forgotten - but that you are intimately and personally known by God. And that you have a purpose, a destiny, a call on your life. Not a general one - but one that is yours. One that God wants you to discover.

And having acknowledged it,’s there the second thing is to learn to recognise it.

You know that deep inner cry when you walk into a church and find tears on your cheeks - even though life’s going fine. It’s what hits you when you read something in the bible that feels as if it was written just for you. It’s what wells up when you find yourself speaking honestly to God and asking for more - more of Him, more of his presence. It’s that sense of holy dissatisfaction that nags away at you, and leaves you feeling just a bit empty by the life you live, or the way you pray, or the way you give.

And you won’t be richer, cooler or more successful if you say yes. In fact, you might well end up poorer, people might well think you’re a bit odd and you may well turn out to be less successful in the eyes of the world. 

And this call is nothing to do with duty or guilt. It doesn’t make you feel bad. It’s full of joy - not just happiness, but joy; the kind of joy you would give things up for - even good things. The kind of joy that has no room for fear or anxiety. The kind of joy that makes you want to do something that makes the world a better place. It’s an invitation, a hand outstretched, a leap in the dark that you know you want to take. 

It feels impossible but it’s exactly what you know you need. It feels terrifying, but when you feel it, you know that it is true - not just true like facts are true; but truly true. True for all time, in every situation, whatever your circumstances. As in I am the way, the truth and the life - that kind of true. 

It’s a decision that has been made already, which you are asked to step into, and to trust. 

Acknowledge the need is there; learn to recognise it; and then, what’s left, is the decision. Jesus says ‘Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ ‘Come and follow me’.

And in the end we all need to choose whether we want to follow the deep need that can only be satisfied by saying yes to Jesus. And not just because it makes sense in your head, nor simply because it adds up when you try it out, not even because it makes you feel good - but because it is your deepest need. Because it is the voice of Jesus speaking in your life. Come and follow me.


Posted: 22-01-2017 at 14:49
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