SCRIPTURE LESSON: Matthew 4: 12-23

What was it about brothers Peter and Andrew that Jesus approached them with his improbable “Follow me?”

And what was it about Jesus that inspired these two to throw down their fishing nets to join him in his budding ministry?

Same with Zebedee’s boys, James and John. What did Jesus see in them? And what did they see in Jesus? Not only did they say “yes” to Jesus, not only did they leave their nets and their livelihood behind, but they also left their father standing on the shore. Who does that?

Have you ever done something that in some way compares? Or has someone you know or love suddenly made a similarly life-altering change?

Great-great grandchildren of the Enlightenment, many of us grew up worshiping at the altar of reason. We feel most at home with a logical explanation and a proven roadmap to guide us.

And so even as we might be charmed by Jesus’ moxie and moved by the willingness of Peter and Andrew, James and John to be spontaneous, we can still be left feeling a little unsettled by this story.

Because logic would suggest that you don’t just wander the shore of the Sea of Galilee asking random people if they want to become your followers, especially if you’re a self-respecting rabbi.

Reason would tell you that you don’t just go up to strangers and say, like Monty Hall from the long-ago game show, Let’s Make a Deal, “Would you like to trade what you presently have for what’s hiding behind door number three?”

Because, in essence, this is what Jesus is asking when he approaches our four fishermen. Want to trade in your life? Want to take a chance on me?

What was it about Jesus and his unconventional invitation? What had these four fishermen know that the best thing, the most obvious thing to do, was to abandon their nets and go wherever Jesus was going, to do whatever Jesus was doing, learn whatever Jesus was teaching, and seek what Jesus was seeking?

Talk about leaps of faith! And not just for the brothers but for Jesus as well. Everyone in this story was taking a big risk. Every one of them was trusting something greater than logic, bigger than convention. Surely they were all responding to the nudges, tugs, and promptings of the Spirit there on the shore that day.

By saying “yes” to the unlikely and the improbable, these five men were doing what Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated decades ago. He said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Taking a step like this requires more than daring willingness.

Whether it’s these men, Dr. King, or you and me, discernment is critical. Because not every invitation that comes our way, not every opportunity that seeks us out or which we seek out—even the most admirable or worthy—is genuinely ours to take up.

After his ministry got underway, Jesus would say, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” This suggests that Jesus wants us to cultivate the capacity to sense the Spirit’s movement, the Spirit’s activity and to let our inner knowing, our inner promptings guide our choices.

In other words, by encouraging us to declare what we sense is or is not ours to do, Jesus is asking us to be the authority on what the Spirit is saying to us. And just as our “yes” can make little worldly sense, sometimes “no” has that effect too.

For instance, in 1992, when my position on campus was eliminated, everyone assumed that because I was young and unencumbered, I would go in search of a comparable job at another university.

Nope. Although it might not have made sense to those around me, everything in me said to step off the path I had been on and move toward a future that was murky at best.

We each need support in learning how to be attentive and responsive to the Spirit’s leading. But not just as individuals. Faith communities are also called to live the way Jesus was asking these two sets of brothers to live. That is, to be open to the Spirit’s promptings so that, like those fishermen, we too can join Jesus in bringing a hurting world back to life.

Our church could be a case study in this way of being. Instead of relying on reason alone as we move forward, as a community, we have a tremendous capacity to discern the Spirit’s leading together. And not just discern but then follow.

This isn’t just our habit, it’s in our DNA. That we knew when and how to make our exit from our previous church speaks to this deeply-embedded inclination of ours.

In the earliest days of our existence, we knew that giving ourselves a name was a significant first step. But we also sensed that we shouldn’t rush to do this. So we waited a number of months, even though it was strange calling ourselves “R Church” as a placeholder. (R Church = Our Church.)

Finally, we sensed it was time. But rather than just tossing out ideas and voting for the one we liked best, we were intentional about holding space for the Spirit to speak to us. We gathered one Saturday morning to discern together rather than debate our options and then decide on one.

And because we were willing to hold space for the Spirit to move in our midst, what came was a name none of us would have arrived at on our own. Although unconventional, our name fit us like a glove.

We have taken the same approach to organize ourselves. If we had been logical, if we had been reasonable, we would have settled on bylaws early on. But we didn’t. Because we sensed that doing this would be the churchy equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.

And even after we affirmed our bylaws last year at this time, we were sensitive enough to the Spirit throughout the year to recognize that we hadn’t gotten the Leadership piece quite right. So we made adjustments and are now moving forward.

Even the way we are gathering this morning speaks to our ability to let the Spirit engage us as we tend to the business of the church.

Rather than creating a division between worship and meeting to do the work of being the church, we are practicing being discerning together. Yet again, we are doing what we’re good at—strengthening our capacity as a congregation to listen for and respond to the Spirit’s promptings.

Not every church can do what we do the way we do it. And not every church wants to, not really.

It takes a lot of trust in one another.

It also takes courage to set aside the step one, step two, and step three mantra of logic to follow the sometimes curious leading of the Spirit.

It takes restraint to set aside the maps we’ve drawn so we can go off-roading with the Spirit.

It takes humility to surrender our plans so that we can be open to the new thing the Spirit has in mind.

Just as Jesus called fishermen away from the lives they knew so that together they could proclaim the good news in a bad news world, so that they could bear witness to God’s liberating ways in a time when Caesar’s ways were crushing people’s spirits and pocketbooks, so with us. You and I have been called from a 20th-century way of being the church to a new, more spirited way.

Why? Because God knows we have it in us and because God knows those beyond us are longing for a vision that is real, relational, and relevant, a vision others can genuinely say “yes” to— even if they never join us for worship.

Let us pray: Guiding and Gracious God, we thank you for seeking us out and speaking to us in ways we can hear. We are grateful for all the times you helped us sense the next step, for giving us the courage to take it, and for helping us back on the path when might have gotten off track. You are never a puppet master, pulling our strings. You are our loving partner, our help, and our hope. Bless the journey we share with you and one another. Amen.