Homily 1 – 1.26.20 – Follow Me

Rev. Katie Callaway

Homily for January 26, 2020

Diaconate Ordination

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.

Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Matthew 4:12-23

This is the written word of the Lord. 

Thanks be to God. 

For a long time, Baptists have been notorious for being against dancing. Being relatively new to the Baptist tradition, that always baffled me. I grew up going to Cotillion as a 5th and 6th grader, learning the finer points of ballroom dancing. Dressed in white gloves, my finest dresses, and those shiny black patent leather shoes that every little girl hated, I learned very quickly that dancing was not my forte. At the time, I was attending a presbyterian church. I guess you could say I was destined to be Baptist from the moment I stepped on the dance floor. 

Fast forward a few years…John and I were attending his cousin’s wedding, our first wedding together as a dating couple. It was a double date—of sorts—with John’s parents. We were beginning to get serious about the future of our relationship, but we were also still learning each others’ intricacies. Like any good South Carolina wedding, the band played beach music and invited attendees to the dance floor to shag. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the low country traditions, the shag is the state dance of South Carolina. It was also a dance that I learned as a 5th grader in Cotillion, so I was strangely confident despite knowing dancing isn’t my “thing.” John invited me to dance and we gracefully stepped onto the dance floor, positioning ourselves directly in front of John’s mother. No pressure or anything. We began moving with the music. We fumbled over each other’s feet and stepped on each other’s toes. I imagine it was something like watching an awkwardly tall giraffe take its first steps. It was bad. Finally John stopped and threw his hands up, saying over the music, “FOLLOW ME. LET ME LEAD.” 

I didn’t know how to follow anyone, much less a dance partner. Following has never been my strong suit. 

Today, we ordained 4 new deacons and installed our new diaconate to serve this congregation. These are people who the congregation has identified as leaders and servants. Although they are leaders, we learn from the witness of Jesus’ life and ministry that to be a great leader, one must know how to follow and serve. As I reflected on this text and the years ahead that this class of deacons will serve the church, I reflected on the two things I have learned along the way that have helped me be a better follower of Christ and in turn a better leader. 

First, you must trust yourself. Trust yourself. We live in a world in which even religious leaders are trying to sow distrust in ourselves. We live in a time in which churches often tell their congregants that they are not good enough, not holy enough, not pious enough, not rich enough. The words not enough are a theological heresy. 

You are enough. I am enough. Say it to yourself. Say it together now. I am enough. Each of you is a beloved child of God created with a purpose and passion. You each have a brilliance to offer to the world. Think about our new deacons in this class: Each of you has a unique brilliance you offer to our world. Even beyond our diaconate, this church is full of people who are have unique passions and gifts. 

Part of being a great leader means trusting yourself to be able to make decisions. Trusting yourself to understand problems and trust yourself to apply your experience to solving those problems. God created each one of you. And when God created you, God gave you a mind and a conscience—something that we as Baptists celebrate and honor. As a result, you have an ability to respond—a responsibility— to use that mind, to use that conscience in order to bless the world. 

But first you must believe that you have something to offer. That you are enough. You must trust yourself. 

Second, to be good followers, you must—we all must—trust the community. Building trust in people is difficult and is hard to describe, but we all know what it feels like when the trust isn’t there. One dictionary describes trust as “the feeling of being safe when vulnerable.” The feeling of being safe when vulnerable. 

The truth is, we can’t do it alone. None of us can live this life alone. None of us can serve this community by ourselves. None of us can grow this church by ourselves. It is no accident that in today’s text, Jesus calls the new disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew, together to follow him. We need community. 

We need to be able to trust that each person is going to do their job. We need to be able to trust that each person is going to bear their unique brilliance in this community. Because when we began to weaken as individuals, when we begin to tire, when we begin to just go through the motions, we will have the community to fall back on, to lift us up. 

Carrie Newcomer is an artist I have recently begun enjoying. She is a self-described poet and musician. Her poems just happen to be set to music. On her most recent album, she has a song entitled, “Everything We Need.” This poetic song is about our temptation to chase satisfaction “out there” somewhere. She says, “No I don’t know and never will what rises in the evening still. How empty cups keep getting filled; how healing comes and hope rebuilds. Today I sense that all is near evermore and soon to be within us and between us is everything we need.” 

Within us and between us is everything we need.

Trust yourself—what is within you—and trust your community—what is between us—and you will have everything you need. 

When we became your pastors, many of you had hopes that maybe these young pastors will bring in a flood of young people that will give our church new life. In the back of our minds, we hoped for new life for this church, but had to balance that with helping all of us find satisfaction with what we have right now. Satisfaction with what our church looks like right now. We wanted to not give into the temptation that salvation for our church is out there somewhere. Because it is not. 

It is within us and between us. For within us and between us is everything we need. Sometimes it takes a day like today, when we are setting aside these people in our congregation to serve in a special way, to lead in a special way, to see it. But we have everything we need right here to experience new life. 

In 1980, the hymn writer John Bell was accepted into the ecumenical, mystical community Iona Community. When he officially joined the community, he wrote the hymn “The Summons” which contains thirteen different questions in Jesus’ voice that he could have posed as he sought disciples. Then the final stanza is the singer’s response to those questions. Ultimately, the questions Jesus poses in this song revolve around three questions: Will you trust God? Will you trust yourself? And will you trust your community? 

John sings: 

In the final stanza of the hymn, we find our response to this calling. I hope these words shape not only our new deacons, but each person in this congregation so that we can all respond together to this odd and wondrous calling we have in our lives: 

“Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go, where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.”