June 10th, 2018

Deciding to Follow Your Heart
Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Some of you may know our good friends Bill and Joy Powell. For several decades they lived in Jefferson City but have now resettled to Ohio so they can be close to their daughter. When Bill and Joy were here they were are our traveling buddies. We’ve been from one end of the world to the other with them and have a collection of stories about our experiences – some we can tell and others we dare not make public.

Traveling with Joy Powell was always an adventure. She’s a small little lady, less than 5 feet tall, but what she lacks in stature, she makes up for with her effervescent personality. Rarely does Joy meet a stranger. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that day in Istanbul when we went to see The Blue Mosque.

It was about 11:30 in the morning when we got to the Blue Mosque and as we made our way to the door, we were disappointed to discover we had arrived during the time of prayer; and so a stern Arab man, who was posted at the door, told us we would have to come back later.

Seeing that it was about lunch time, we decide to find a local place to eat and then return to the mosque after the time of prayer. That’s when I thought Joy was going to create an international incident. Before I knew what was happening, Joy headed off to talk to the Arab man guarding the mosque door. When I saw her put her arm around his shoulder and heard her say, “Darlin’, can you recommend a good place for us to eat,” I just knew we were in for trouble. As you might imagine, Muslim men are not accustomed to being groped by strange women, much less women who call them “Darlin’.”

Thankfully, the Arab man, named Achmed, found Joy more amusing than offensive. As he began chuckling, he said, “If you will wait for a minute I will take you to my very favorite restaurant in all Istanbul.” And so he did. And as an added bonus, when the meal was over, Achmed gave us a tour of Istanbul ending with an in-depth journey through the Blue Mosque.

As a rule, it’s not very smart to follow strangers, and if you’re a child listening to my sermon, never, ever, ever follow a stranger. Yes, it’s not very smart to go following after strangers, but sometimes when we do, we have experiences that totally change our lives.

In today’s text, four fishermen’s lives were changed when they chose to follow a stranger, and as I read their story I couldn’t help but wonder what must have been going through their minds.

As Matthew begins his story, he tells us that two brothers, Peter and Andrew, are fishing on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Obviously, that’s how they made their living. Without fanfare, this stranger, named Jesus, comes along and simply says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”

Now quite honestly, Peter and Andrew didn’t have a lot of information on which to make their decision. Perhaps, they had heard about Jesus and may have even seen him around town, but to drop your nets and follow some stranger is a pretty bold decision. And if that wasn’t strange enough, two other fishing brothers, James and John, did the same. In fact, Matthew tells us that these brothers left their father in the boat to bring in the nets and clean up the day’s catch of fish.

I think it’s important to understand that this decision, made by these four fishermen, was a decision made without any real information. Jesus never told them where they would be going. He didn’t tell them where they would end up sleeping, or where their next meal would come from, or what they would be doing, except “fishing for people,” which really doesn’t tell you a lot, does it? No, they didn’t know much, but yet they chose to follow Jesus anyway. Why?

I think there must have been something about Jesus that transcended the scope of human logic. When Jesus spoke to Peter, Andrew, James and John, I think the four men began to feel something inside of them that they could not explain. Deep within them, they sensed a pulling at their heart, an indescribable longing to be with this man, to trust this man, and to even leave their jobs and families to follow this man. From a logical perspective, following Jesus didn’t make any sense at all, but in the end, they couldn’t ignore the pulling they felt going on in their hearts.

So that’s what was happening with these four fishermen. When Jesus said, “Come follow me,” the Spirit of God began working in their hearts, and though they didn’t know much about Jesus, they knew they couldn’t go on living unless they followed him.

On one cold winter’s night, as a six year old child, I still remember feeling what these four fishermen must have felt. I remember feeling this indescribable pulling at my heart, a burning desire to give my life to Jesus. Obviously, I didn’t know much about the theology surrounding that decision. Granted, I had heard about Jesus all of my life and knew my parents and friends were Christians; but on that night, it wasn’t my parents or my friends pulling my heart to Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit of God. Without any coercion from parents or friends, something inexplicable began happening inside of me, something that was drawing me to follow Jesus, and so, on a cold night in December, I prayed to invite Jesus into my heart because I really couldn’t resist the power that was pulling me to Christ.

Yes, on that cold winter’s night, I did what Peter, Andrew, James and John did. I decided to trust Jesus, to follow him, and to give him my life; and while it might not have been a logical choice, it was a decision I knew I had to make or I would regret it for the rest of my life.

As you’re probably discovering, I tend to be a pretty logical person. I like things in order and if I’m going to make a decision I want that decision to be well thought out. But when I think about my spiritual life, sometimes human logic just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, I’m called upon to make decisions that don’t conform to human logic. Sometimes the only thing I can do is to follow my heart.

That’s what I did when I decided to become your pastor. The logical side of me said it was a bad decision. I had already figured out how I wanted to spend my retirement. My plans were all in place to travel, to read, to play golf, to work in my yard, and to be with my family without the stresses and restrictions of pastoral demands.
Yes, I had it all figured out in my head, but then something started happening in my heart. An urging that I could not logically explain began pulling me toward this church. At first, I tried to dismiss these feelings, but soon they became so pronounced I knew they must be from God.

Well, you know the rest of the story, and here I am today, doing in retirement what I vowed I’d never do. And it’s alright. In fact, it’s more than alright. Being here with you enriches my life and Pat’s life and I hope we are enriching your lives as well.

You know, it’s good to be logical and to think through the choices of our lives, but when it comes to following Christ, it’s not a decision we simply make with our minds. It’s a decision to follow that tugging of our hearts.

In some ways, it’s like the decision you make to fall in love. Though I’m 50 years older, I clearly remember what it was like to fall in love with a sweet, young lady named Pat Childers. I remember walking back to my dorm after one of our dates thinking, “I want to be around this person forever. I want to share my entire life with this person. Yes, I love this girl and can’t imagine living life without her.” By the way, that’s still the way I feel about her today.

Now, how did I make this decision to love her? Did I make it logically? Did I say to myself, “Hmmm . . . You know, this girl is attractive, intelligent, personable, comes from a good family and has good teeth. I think I’ll choose to love her.”

You know better. If you’ve ever been in love, you know it’s not a logical decision. It’s not a decision that comes from the head. It’s a decision that comes from the heart. And in the end, you decide to love someone because you can’t stop acting upon the feelings in your heart.

And the same is true with following Jesus. You don’t follow Jesus because you completely understand him. You don’t follow Jesus because he makes sense. You don’t follow Jesus because you’ve analyzed various religions and decided that Christianity is best. You don’t decide to follow Jesus because it’s the logical thing to do. You follow Jesus because God’s Holy Spirit keeps tugging at your heart, urging you to commit your life and love to Jesus Christ, and eventually you make that decision because you can’t imagine living life without him.

Is it possible, today, that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is speaking to your heart? Do you ever find yourself being pulled to take the next step of faith, to venture out on some spiritual journey that transcends the scope of human logic? Could it be that Jesus is calling you to follow him?

Surely, that must be what E. W. Blandy felt as he penned these words.

I can hear my Savior calling. I can hear my Savior calling.
I can hear my Savior calling. Take thy cross and, follow, follow me.
Where he leads me I will follow. Where he leads me I will follow.
Where he leads me I will follow. I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.

You know, following Jesus doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but when it comes to following Christ, it’s not a decision you simply make with your mind. It’s a decision to follow your heart.