“Follow the Leader”
Rev. Jeff Bacon
January 24, 2021
Let’s join our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, help us to follow Jesus and be fishers for people. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
There’s a minister who’s an avid fisherman, but he hadn’t gone fishing for months. One perfect, warm and sunny summer Sunday, he couldn’t resist. He called up the chairperson of the Worship Committee and claimed he had the flu. The minister then headed out to his favorite fishing spot. His line hadn’t been in the water five minutes and he got a strike, and he landed a nice big fish. A half hour later he caught the biggest fish he had ever caught. And another forty-five minutes later he landed a fish that would easily break the world record. Wow! All this time Saint Peter and God were watching the minister from heaven. Saint Peter turned to God and said, “God, why are you rewarding this minister? He lied and he let down his congregation.” God smiled at Saint Peter and replied, “I’m punishing him. When he’s finished fishing, who can he tell his amazing fishing story to?”
The two pairs of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John also had amazing fishing stories to tell when they encountered Jesus while they were fishing. They wanted to tell everyone. We’re fortunate they weren’t supposed to be at church!
There was an urgency in their encounter with Jesus. Peter and Andrew and James and John immediately left their fishing livelihoods and their families to follow Jesus. It’s difficult to fully understand what happened to them on that day that Jesus said to them: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They were not just given an extra task to complete in their already busy lives. They were called to a new way of being; called to be fishers for people. A few days later, after many miracles, Jesus calls the tax collector Levi son of Alphaeus to “Follow me,” and on it went from there until Jesus called twelve disciples to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” It’s not surprising that the fish became a symbol for those called by Jesus to be fishers for people in their new way of being that they called the “Way.”
The group of new disciples following Jesus makes me think of the childhood game “Follow the Leader,” with the chain of children growing longer as more join to follow the leader: to go where the leader goes and to do what the leader does. The children are playing Follow the Leader on the cover of the bulletin this week. Knowing what we know now, if we were personally asked by Jesus to follow the leader, I expect that we too would become disciples and follow Jesus fishing for people. What makes us hesitate to follow Jesus and fish for people now? Leighton Ford in Good News is for Sharing refers to a survey that was given to those attending training sessions for the Billy Graham Crusade in Detroit. One question asked, “What is your greatest hindrance to witnessing [sharing your faith]?” No one said they didn’t really care. Nine percent said they were too busy to remember to do it. Twelve percent said their own lives were not speaking as they should. Twenty-eight percent felt the lack of real information to share. But by far the largest group were the 51 percent whose biggest problem in sharing their faith was the fear of how the other person would react. None of us likes to be rejected or ridiculed. Fear is our primary enemy when Jesus calls us to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
There was a fearless young man growing up in a rough part of Houston who became a bully. He would get into fights at school and in the neighborhood, and he began mugging people to get spending money. He even beat-up people just for the sake of beating them up.
He learned to box, and became pretty good at it. He began to make a lot of money and could have almost anything he wanted. One day, during his training session for an upcoming bout, he over-heard his mother talking to his sister on the telephone about his favorite nephew. The young boy had had a seizure and now lay in a coma in the hospital. Doctors said he would probably die, but that if he came out of the coma, he wouldn’t be able to move his limbs, or speak, or do many of the normal human functions we consider part of living.
He ran into the room where his mother was on the phone and shouted, “Momma, call the hospital and tell those doctors to give him the best of everything. Tell them I’ll take care of all the bills, to fly in the best doctors from wherever they have to. Tell them who I am, and that I’ll take care of everything, whatever it costs.” His mother spoke to the doctors, and then told him, “Son, you’re just going to have to pray.” He realized then how grave the situation was. When someone tells you the only thing you can do is pray, things are usually looking pretty bad.
Then it hit him. All of his money, his fame, his influence, his friends – none of that could solve this problem. It was out of his hands, out of the doctor’s hands, out of everyone’s hands. For the first time, he was totally powerless. That night, for the first time, George Foreman dropped to his knees and prayed.
George wasn’t sure God existed, but he knew that when all else failed, people prayed. So, he asked God to help his nephew. Then he got into bed. A few seconds later, he got back on his knees and offered to give up all his wealth if God would heal his nephew. Then he got back into bed again. A few seconds later he got back on his knees a third time and he got angry at God for letting this happen to his nephew, a child who hadn’t experienced life yet. George told God to take his life instead. Let the boy live and take George’s life instead.
The next morning George’s sister called from the hospital. His nephew had woken up and could move his eyes, but the doctors said he wouldn’t ever walk again. She called later that day, and the boy had begun moving his toes. The next day the boy was talking, and a week later he was on his way home, “walking, talking, and back to normal.” The doctors had no logical explanation. But George Foreman knew that God had just given him a miracle; a miracle for which he had offered his life.
Three months later, George Foreman died in his locker room after fighting Jimmy Young. He collapsed in a heap, and entered what he describes as “a deep, dark void, like a bottomless pit.” In his book, God in My Corner – A Spiritual Memoir, George wrote “I knew I was dead, and that this wasn’t heaven. I was terrified, knowing I had no way out. Sorrow beyond description engulfed my soul, more than anyone could ever imagine. If you multiplied every disturbing and frightening thought that you’ve ever had during your entire life, that wouldn’t come close to the panic I felt … I screamed with every ounce of strength in me, ‘I don’t care if this is death. I still believe in God’ … Instantly, what seemed to be like a giant hand reached down and snatched me out of the terrifying place. Immediately, I was back inside my body in the dressing room.”
George accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and devoted himself to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He realized his human power, his money, his prestige, were meant to be used as tools to lead others to follow Jesus.
George Foreman went on to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World twice. He was also ordained, became the pastor of a small church, and got involved in prison and hospital ministries.
George Foreman wasn’t a fisherman, but his story helps us to understand how Jesus had such an immediate, forceful impact on Peter and Andrew, and James and John who immediately began to follow Jesus and became fishers for people. The new power that George received was so much greater than all of his physical human power, all of his money and all of his fame. And like Peter and Andrew, and James and John, George used this new power to tell people about Jesus, including people in his congregation, people in prisons and people in hospitals. George Foreman wasn’t a fisherman, but he became a fisher for people. We’re being called to follow Jesus, our leader and become fishers for people. Thanks be to God. Amen.