3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
S. Epiphany 3.23 “Recognition” Matt. 4:12-25
So, why did Peter, Andrew, James, and John follow Jesus that day by the sea of Galilee? What
moves a man to drop literally everything: his vocation, home, family, friends, and ‘light out for
the territories’ not knowing, really, what awaits him? Well, the text is clear: They dropped
everything and followed Jesus because he told them to. He said: “Follow me!” and they
followed. Simple as that.
Or, not so simple? All really good stories—and the bible is the best story ever told, an avant
garde, loosely organized, non-fiction novel—and the best story-tellers, like the Holy Spirit, they
don’t hit you over the head with an explanation of every plot point. Like Hemingway,
Murakami, Chandler, you don’t find out directly what’s going on in the heads of the characters.
You just are told what they see, hear—what they do. No editorializing! It leaves it to you, the
reader, to figure out from the bare details of the text what they might be thinking and why they
do what they do…
Or, to put it another way: what would you have done, if you were in the boat and Jesus came
strolling by the shore and said, “You, there! Follow me. Let’s go!” As a good Christian, you’d
like to think you’d do just what the first four did: you’d jump out of the boat and hit the road
without so much as a goodbye to dad or friends or family. Not even a note: ‘Gone fishing with
Jesus. See ya. Maybe. xoxo’.
But, when it’s put like that, maybe, deep down, a shadow of doubt creeps in? Would you drop
everything and follow? Just ‘cause he says so? Really? Why?
I remember getting a phone call when I was living in Akron, OH. 1993? ’94, maybe? Long
time ago. It was my old grad school advisor Paul Holmer, with whom I’d had little contact since
his retirement in 1987, at the end of my 2nd year of 3 at this little community college I attended
in New Haven, CT. The voice said: “Paul Holmer here. I read a book lately that made me think
of you.” No preamble, no “how are you doing?”
I went: “Did the book have any text, or was it just pictures?” Because the last book Mr.
Holmer made me read (at my old school you had an advisor, like a mafia don, who told you what
classes to take, what to read, do, think, and generally, how to live your life) was a picture book.
No text. We were picking my spring classes, and Holmer’d never tell you directly what to take
(because it went without saying you’d take whatever classes he offered that term. The rest didn’t
matter). Instead, Holmer would tell strange, cryptic stories about fishing, feasts, and uh, other
things that start with an “f”. He was a salty old fellow, and it was a different time, you
understand. Political correctness had not quite yet gotten its iron hold upon the denizens of
I well remember sitting down one cold, January day in 1987 in Holmer’s warm office: “Mr.
Holmer; I was wondering what classes I should take or books I should read, this term?” Mr.
Holmer said, “Well! Funny you should ask! I just received a book in the mail yesterday and it
immediately reminded me of you. It’s on my coffee table. Read it at once. Take your time. It
should answer all your questions, I would wager.”
There was one large coffee table book, appropriately enough, sitting on his coffee table titled
“Wittgenstein’s Vienna” (Mr. Holmer was a renowned Wittgenstein scholar). I started to pick it
up (it was quite large) and take it with me and he said, “No, no. Just sit down on the sofa and
read it right here. Take all the time you need. It won’t bother me. Much.”
So I sat down and opened the book and it was about 300 pages, all of black and white photos
of various old houses, palaces, places in Vienna. Not a single word of text, anywhere. Not even
credits for the photographers. I leafed quickly through and not finding any text, put it back down
and started to leave, when Mr. Holmer said, “Slow down! I don’t think you’ve really absorbed
it. Read it more… carefully.” So I sat there, turned each page, looked carefully at each picture (it
was all buildings and food. Like that Talking Heads album). Took about half an hour, maybe 40
minutes. Put it down. Left quietly. Mr. Holmer didn’t say a word. I took 2 classes of his that
term, 1 with Stroup, and another with Kavanagh. It was a great semester.
There was brief silence on the other end of the line when I asked if this book had text or just
pictures. Then a burst of laughter. “Ah! You remember that! Yes, this book is all text—well,
there’s a picture on the cover. Cassier’s “Grace and Law”. Short. You’ll like it. And I’ve reserved
some rooms for two days next week at a hotel in Iowa City for you, Barry, and Jeff to meet with
me because I… worry about you. See you there!”
And… dial tone. Bonnie went “Who was that?” I told her it was Holmer and I had to go to
Iowa next week. She’s like “Why?” I reply, sheepishly “because Holmer told me to.” And she
said, “And you just do whatever that grumpy old man says?” And I’m like “Uh, yeah.” She asks:
“Why?” I’m like, “because he’s Holmer.”
I was one of many people who’d been turned back to the orthodox Christian faith through Paul
Holmer’s teaching. I was really lost when I landed in his seminar fall ’85. Lutheran schools had
me confused about God, the universe, sin, grace, heaven, hell—everything, really. Holmer spoke
with authority. He spoke the words of truth and grace and Christ.
Holmer showed how modern people have been hoodwinked (since the 17th century) by a
godless rationalism into thinking what Jesus gives us is information we must consider, and
decide how to act upon. Au contraire! What Jesus gives us is himself—his body and blood, life,
death, forgiveness, and love to make us new creations in his image.
Maybe the most helpful thing Holmer pointed out (besides the fact that, deep down, we’re
really pretty shallow 😉 is something that’s so blindingly obvious when you read the New
Testament and yet (until it’s pointed out to us) most of us don’t see it—is that everyone knows
who Jesus is! When he comes to town, everyone recognizes him, even the demons! This is God!
come in our flesh! Because whatever Jesus says, happens—a world comes into being where
there was nothing; sin, death, and hell are vanquished.
When Jesus went and lived in Galilee (a benighted place, like Detroit 😉 Light dawned and
everyone who saw him knew they were seeing the Light. When he told Peter, Andrew, James,
and John “Follow me!” they didn’t ask any questions because they knew: this is the LORD,
All the people in Syria knew, too. Which is why they brought demoniacs, lunatics, paralytics
and with a word, a touch, Jesus healed them all.
Everyone knows who Jesus is! And when his apostles speak in his Name, everyone knows!
this is the Word of God! It’s not lack of information that keeps us from following. It’s lack of
sense. Those who refuse to follow him when Jesus comes calling do so because of sin. They do
so for the same reason Adam and Eve hid from him in the garden after eating from the tree of
knowledge. Our eyes are opened; and we see we’re sinners and we are ashamed.
Well; get over yourself! Because Jesus comes today in word and sacrament and says exactly
what he told the first four disciples: “Follow me!” So, you know where you need to be, where
you’re going to go. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.