Take note of the lyrics from the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” hymn number 964 in our
Lutheran Service Book. I’ll come back to the hymn in a few minutes.
Now I’d like you to consider the first two banners that adorn our new Worship Center.
Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus speaks these words to a couple of brothers who, up until that time, new very little about this new teacher who had come to town. They were professional fishermen – not scholars, not priests, not leaders. But there was something about this Jesus of Nazareth that was very compelling, very inviting. So Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed him.
The Gospels don’t give us much more detail about how they handled leaving everything and everyone else behind. I can picture Peter telling his wife, “Honey, I’m going to go out for awhile with my new friend Jesus and the fellas. Don’t wait up.” I’m sure that went well.
Or James and John, who were next on the invite list, telling their father Zebedee that they were leaving the family fishing business to follow this Jesus: “You told us you didn’t like the guys we were hanging out with…” However it went down, they too left everything to follow Jesus.
Everyone needs a Come-to-Jesus moment. I’m not talking about the colloquial use of the phrase as the flash of enlightenment when you finally realize something important. We need an actual, in-person, face-to-face Come-to-Jesus moment, when He comes to us, makes Himself known to us, and calls us as His very own. Those who disregard the invitation will miss out on the adventure of a life in Christ that starts now and lasts forever. They will have their face-to-face later, whether they like it or believe it or not.
If you’re going to follow Him, though, it inevitably means some things have to change, and you will have to let go of some components of your life that you’ve grown used to, and even to depend on. The question becomes: What are you willing to leave behind?
Most of us would promptly say we’d be happy to leave our sins behind. And Jesus will gladly relieve us of them. But a lot of us spend all sorts of time and energy reclaiming those faults and failures and lugging them around in the present like a piece of luggage we can’t seem to part with. We carry the guilt of sins past around like they’re permanently attached.
God tells us things like “I will remember their sins no more,” and “I will remove their sins as far as the east is from the west,” but we just cannot seem to forgive ourselves, and we rarely forget. So we need to leave the luggage behind.
We are also hindered in our following Jesus by our addictions and our attitudes, and sometimes we’re addicted to our attitudes. We’ve become so used to our own way of thinking and being and seeing that we start measuring others by them. Jesus expects us to leave those behind as well.
What you will need to follow Jesus is a faith and a cross. Jesus doesn’t always tell us exactly where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. Peter and the boys had no idea what their following Jesus would entail. But Jesus inspired in them what He inspires in us: a trust in the Son of God to love us, lead us, and save us, even when we cannot see the road ahead.
He also tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him pick up his cross and follow me.” In other words, following Jesus is not a promise of a pain-free and problem-proof existence. We’re going to have pain and problems whether we believe and follow Jesus or not. The grace of Christ gives us the strength we need to carry the unique cross God has called us to bear, no matter how heavy or awkward the carrying. And if we become too weak or exhausted, Jesus steps in and carries it for us. He’s done it before.
He told Peter He would make them “fishers of men.” They would lead others to Jesus, to faith, to life in His Kingdom. This was their new purpose in life: to bring others along on the ride of a lifetime.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
This passage describes the impact of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. After all the cheering and singing and celebrating the coming of the Son of God into the Holy City, John describes an encounter with a couple of Greeks who were in town. They were the outsiders, the foreigners, maybe even non-believers, who came up to Philip and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and found Andrew, and together they told Jesus, because this was an extraordinary moment when non-Jews would join the party. Jesus celebrates the new inclusion.
What we need to understand is that the path of real life begins and ends with Jesus. And in the middle, stride for stride with us, is Jesus. He does not exclude anyone based on their heritage or history, but welcomes sinners of all persuasions into His Kingdom of Grace. Forgiveness comes only from Jesus, connects us to Jesus, and takes us to Jesus, ultimately in His Father’s House.
When Jesus talks about “when I am lifted up,” He’s pointing the Greeks and the disciples and us to the kind of death he would undergo just five days later. Jesus does the dying, the rising and the drawing because we can’t. We cannot pay what we owe, we cannot bring life out of death, and we cannot come to our Savior or believe in Him on our own. He draws us close, closer every day, to the point where we are in Christ and He is in us. Sin separates and divides. Grace unites us.
Notice that Jesus draws all people, not just the right people. He doesn’t just reach out for the people who think like us, look like us or vote like us. And we dare not join the Pharisees in labeling those whom we have deemed lesser than ourselves. That leads to anger and division, and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Let me give you an example. I came across the results of a poll question on Facebook this week. Take a look at the question, and then the percentages of the respondents’ votes:
The comments section got rather heated, with varying degrees of “no” laced with all caps or flaming arrows. Apparently when you put the labels “American” and “Arabic” in there, folks get fired up.
Now let me show you what Arabic numerals look like:
That’s right! The numbers we’ve been using forever in American schools are called Arabic numerals – and they’ve always been called that. But erring attitudes and hair-trigger anger reveals a couple more things we need to leave behind.
Now back to the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It was written in 1905, and as I said, is now included in the Lutheran Service Book in the section of Nation/National Songs, hymn #964. Not long after it was first published, in 1919 it was first dubbed the “Black National Anthem.” Further irony is that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not officially proclaimed the American National Anthem until 1931.
I had never heard the phrase “Black National Anthem” until a couple months ago, and to be honest, I had never heard the hymn either. But here is a song that praises God for all He’s done, and gives witness to the Lord of ALL people. When’s the last time the NFL, or any professional sports league, gave Jesus center stage? Even if they don’t realize it, Jesus does.
So for one week, let the NFL sing the song, and in doing so, do Christ and Christians a favor. They are not replacing “The Star Spangled Banner.” And just because someone placed a label on a good hymn doesn’t make it less good. We’ll leave that judgment behind.
Pastor Steve Kline
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.