TITLE: Goodbye & Hello SCRIPTURE: Matthew 4:12-23
It isn't easy to say goodbye, is it! Oh, sometimes it is easy. But that isn't typical! Usually goodbyes are hard. I knew a man who found goodbyes so difficult that he tried never to say goodbye. He would tell people that he was going to leave on a particular day, and then he would leave the previous night. Friends would come to say goodbye, and he would be gone. That might have been all right for him, but it wasn't good for his friends. We need to be able to say goodbye. We need closure.
My toughest goodbye was when I left the previous charge that I served. I am sure that this one will be equally as difficult whenever that time comes.
When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him, they left everything behind to follow him. Matthew doesn't go into much detail in telling that story. He just says that Peter and Andrew "immediately…left their nets and followed him." James and John "immediately…left their nets and followed him."
That is so clipped –– so cut and dried. It fails to tell the whole story. It fails to convey the pain, and it fails to convey the joy. Peter and Andrew were brothers. James and John were brothers. They had always lived in their little village by the Sea of Galilee. They had learned the fishing trade by going out in small boats with their fathers. They had known their friends all their lives.
In those days, people lived in their home village all their lives. They were expected to do so. When they were children, they lived in the village so their parents could take care of them. When they were adults, they lived in the village to take care of their parents. When they were old, they lived in the village so their children could take care of them. That was the cycle of life. They could not easily break it. They had responsibilities to their loved ones.
How could James and John immediately leave their father to follow Jesus? Did Jesus give them opportunity to say goodbye? I think that he did. I think that Peter, Andrew, James and John must have had tearful goodbyes. They must have been excited about following Jesus. They must have been honored at being invited to go with him. But they must have found it difficult to say goodbye.
But you have to say goodbye to be able to say hello. You must let go of the past to embrace the future. These men, Peter and Andrew, James and John, were willing to do that. I find that amazing! But it cannot have been as easy as Matthew makes it sound.
It is always difficult to say goodbye to family and friends, but sometimes it is necessary. In the small town where I grew up, most of us went away to college or the city. Few of us returned. There wasn't much to do in small-town West Virginia.
But that isn't why Peter and Andrew, James and John left their village. They went because Jesus called them to a new life. He calls us to a new life too. That does not always require leaving old friends behind, but sometimes it does.
Recovering alcoholics know what I am talking about. When they begin their recovery, they have to leave their old friends behind. Old friends would tie them to their old behaviors. Drunks resent friends who quit drinking. They will do everything possible to sabotage a friend's recovery. They will do everything possible to get a drink into his or her hands.
Sometimes you have to say goodbye to be able to say hello. Sometimes you must let go of the past to embrace the future. When Christ calls us to become his disciples, he calls us to become new people. He calls us to allow the old person to die so that the new person can be reborn. Sometimes that requires a dramatic break with our past.
Peter and Andrew, James and John had been fishermen. Jesus said, "Come follow me, and you will no longer be fishermen. You will become fishers of men!" Do you remember the old children's song?
I will make you fishers of men,
Fishers of men, fishers of men.
I will make you fishers of men,
if you'll follow me.
That might sound sexist by today's standards, because it fails the "inclusive language" test. It doesn't mention women. But it is a nice play on words that is easy to remember. "You will no longer be fishermen. You will become fishers of men!"
Peter and Andrew, James and John had to leave behind their old profession so that they could carry out their new mission as Jesus' disciples. Could you do that? Could you leave everything behind to follow Jesus? It isn't easy. Sometimes it requires sacrifice.
Tertullian was one of the great early Christians. One day, a man came to him with a problem. His problem was trying to earn a living in a heathen world. What if a mason were asked to build a heathen temple? What if a soldier had to say, "Caesar is God"? The man concluded by saying: "I must live." Tertullian responded, "Must you?"
Martin Luther King had it right! In one of his last speeches, he said that longevity has its place, but longevity was not his goal. God had given him a dream. He had to pursue the dream. If that resulted in his early death, so be it.
God doesn't call most of us to change professions; God doesn't call most of us to die for our faith; but God calls all of us to become new people and to live lives that are different as a result of having met Christ.
I like the story of Jack Eckerd and the difference that Christ made in his life. Eckerd was the founder of the Eckerd Drug Chain, a large chain of pharmacies. Like many Christians, Eckerd attended church, but did not really let Christ direct his life. He was like Peter and Andrew, James and John when they were still fishing for fish in their home village –– before they began to follow Christ.
Then one day Eckerd came face-to-face with Christ, and he changed. He began walking through his stores, looking at them as Christ would see them. He noticed Playboy and Penthouse on the magazine racks. He had seen them before, but they never bothered him. Now they bothered him.
He went back to his office and called the president of his company. He said, "Take Playboy and Penthouse out of my stores." The president replied, "You can't mean that, Mr. Eckerd. We make three million dollars a year on those books." Eckerd said, "Take them out of my stores." So, in 1700 stores across America, pornography disappeared from the magazine racks because a man had decided to follow Jesus Christ.
Chuck Colson heard about Eckerd's decision and called him on the telephone. He asked, "Did you do that because of your commitment to Christ?" Eckerd said, "Why else would I give away three million dollars? The Lord wouldn't let me off the hook!"
Isn't that marvelous! "The Lord wouldn't let me off the hook!" We have been talking about fishermen and fishers of men. Now Eckerd was describing himself as the fish on the hook! "The Lord wouldn't let me off the hook!"
But that isn't the end of the story. Eckerd wrote the head of other drug chains and said, "I've taken Playboy and Penthouse out of my stores. Why don't you take them out of yours!" Nobody responded to his letters. Nobody removed Playboy and Penthouse from their shelves.
But then Eckerd's business began to pick up. People heard about his decision to remove Playboy and Penthouse, and they began to shop at his stores. They liked shopping in wholesome stores. Other chains heard about that, and those magazines began to disappear from the shelves at People's Drugs and Dart Drugs and Revco. Then the chairman of 7-11, who sat on Eckerd's board, removed the magazines from 7-11 stores. In one year, pornography disappeared from 11,000 stores because God wouldn't let Jack Eckerd off the hook!
That's what happens when we obey Jesus. You might say, "Eckerd was a wealthy and powerful man! He could make things happen. I am an ordinary person. I couldn't make much of a difference." But Peter and Andrew were ordinary people. James and John were ordinary people. But when they obeyed Jesus, they changed the world. When they became Jesus-powered, they were no longer ordinary men.
Some of you might be thinking, "What's so bad about Playboy and Penthouse? I would simply respond that they are junk food for the soul. In the past few decades, we have learned that junk food destroys our bodies. We have been less willing to learn that spiritual junk food kills the soul. I would rather that my grandchildren rot their teeth with candy than that they rot their minds with spiritual junk food.
Just as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, he calls us. Just as he called James and John, he calls us. He has a special job for each of us, but a similar call to all of us. "Follow me," he calls.
How can we respond? I am reminded of a story –– a true story. Several years ago, Carolyn Yeargain wrote about flying on a small airline in the Northwest. A flight attendant asked the man in the row ahead of Carolyn if he would like dinner. He asked, "What are my choices?" She responded, "Yes or no!"
When Jesus says, "Follow me!" we might ask, "What are my choices?" Jesus responds, "Yes or no!" Not "Later!" Not "Maybe!" Not "After I take care of my business!" Not "When it is more convenient!" Just "Yes or no!"
Christ calls each of us to be his disciples. He calls each of us to follow him faithfully each day. Answer "Yes," and he will give you a renewed sense of purpose. Answer "Yes," and he will make your life count.
When Peter and Andrew answered "Yes," he made them fishers of men. When James and John answered "Yes," he gave them power to change people's lives. When Jesus calls you –– and he is calling you today –– answer "Yes," and see how he can make something new –– something wonderful –– out of your life.
Softly and Tenderly UMH #348
Where He Leads Me UMH #338