“Engaging Leadership”

Matthew 4:12-23

January 27, 2020


Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.

He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, 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 lake—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.


When was the last time someone said to you:  Follow me; do what I ask you to do;

trust every direction I tell you to go?

Steve Harrington, our sea kayaking guide last week, asked us, for our own safety,

especially in in the midst of choppy seas, to follow his lead, to do what he asked, to trust his direction.

And we did so, and all twelve of us had a safe and wonderful journey,

as we hopped from deserted island to deserted island, camping and cooking on the beach,

and learning more about environmental sustainability.

Having the courage to risk following someone depends greatly on who that other person is.

We were in good hands. Steve is an instructor for NOLS – National Outdoor Leadership School.

He is a former Outward Bound guide; he is a seasoned wilderness guide and coach,

in addition to be an all-around great guy and trustworthy pastor.


During the week, Steve Harrington told us a story about a friend we had in common, Steve Hayner.

As part of a small group experience, Steve Harrington had been leading Steve Hayner in a trust walk.  

Blindfolded and at the mercy of his friend, Hayner was guided through the woods by Harrington,

with branches brushing his body and near misses of trees, he stepped over logs and around rocks.  

Then, all of a sudden, Harrington stopped Steve Hayner and said to him: Do you trust me?

Hayner replied tentatively, well, yes, I guess so…

Then Harrington replied:  OK then…sprint forward straight ahead!

Hayner hesitated, took a deep breath, gathered his courage, hesitated some more,

then screaming out loud, blindfolded and exhilarated, he sprinted forward into the unknown…


That willingness to risk and to follow takes no small amount of courage.

It takes courage to trust someone with your physical well-being.

It takes no small amount of courage to trust someone with your financial well-being.

In the next few weeks or months, many of you will risk taking all of your personal tax information,

handing it over to some accountant, and then trusting that they will handle it properly and legally

as they file your taxes.

Just last weekend, Liz Allen and her fiancé met at the chancel of a sanctuary in Marietta

and professed their vows to one another in holy matrimony,

trusting one another, in many respects, with their future and their well-being.

Marriage has always involved some measure of risk and requires no small amount of courage.


Certainly, discipleship requires courage. Following Jesus requires courage.

Those early disciples dropped their nets, left their boats and followed Jesus.

They left their jobs, their professions, their source of food and income, and trusted in Jesus.

That took courage. There is much we do not know about exactly what happened on the shores of Galilee

that day, but we can imagine that it too some courage to follow this new and mostly unknown rabbi.

And I am sure it took courage for Zebedee to watch his sons walk away the family business

without doing his best to prevail upon them to stay. 

And it took courage later for Peter’s mother, whose home became a base of operations for the twelve,

to watch those young men walk out her door towards Jerusalem,

where they would face certain danger and fear for their lives.


Spiritual indifference is an important aspect of Christian spirituality. 

The name is attributed to ancient Church father Ignatius.

Ignation indifference does not mean apathy, but instead is focused on nurturing the capacity

to be truly open to following the will of God, to be willing to risk with courage following Jesus.

Spiritual indifference is the capacity to let go of that which does not enable us to love God or neighor,

while we stay engaged with that which does enable us to love God and neighbor.

Spiritual indifference is an ideal which requires that we open our hands “to whatever God may ask of us,

putting aside our personal preferences and letting go of our attachments…

letting ourselves be as docile (as possible) to God’s will. (Ramon Maria Luza Bautista)


Judges and jurors in a courtroom are supposed to be indifferent.

Jurors are compelled to decide guilt or innocence based on the facts presented to them

and how those facts relate to their interpretation of the law.

They are not supposed to show any bias based on their relationship with the defendant

or based upon any potential personal loss or gain.

When the stakes are high, when the case involves significant risk to one’s life or career,

when the case involves the future of one’s country and whether your tribe will be in power or not,

it takes tremendous courage to seek and discern the direction that one should vote,

to listen intently for what one believes is good and right.


I attended the National Prayer Breakfast some years ago, the February before we invaded Iraq,

and spent twenty four hours with a friend who was serving in the House of Representatives.

Visiting with John and Jane Spratt for a couple of nights opened my eyes to how hard

most of our representatives work, how long are their days, how much of a servant mentality

many of them embody. I do not covet the decisions that our lawmakers in this important time.

They are all under tremendous pressure – daily, intense pressure that most of us can only imagine.


We all have a part to play in the well-being of our nation.

Each of us has a voice we can use and practices we can embody.

Martin Luther King, Jr once wrote that:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Albert Einstein once wrote:  “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,

but because of those who look on and do nothing.”


We are all mere humans. We are fearful and fallible creatures.

No person, no political party, no church, no pastor, no judge is fully innocent or operates without bias.

We all fall short of the ideal of what is good and right and true.

As the Scripture says, there is no one who is righteous, no, not even one.


As part of our preparation for the kayaking and learning adventure,

our group read the encyclical by Pope Francis about environmental change.

The encyclical, titled Laudato Si, Glory to You, On Care for our Common Home.

The treatise is well-written and intentionally challenging. 

In one section, the pope wrote about a misguided anthropocentrism that leads to misguided lifestyles.

While the Church seeks to be theocentric, keeping God at the center of our life and faith,

we often live anthropocentrically, with ourselves at the center.

The pope writes that this practical relativism of our age is dangerous.

When human beings place themselves at the center, and trust in themselves alone,

“they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.

Hence we should not be surprised to find…

the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant

unless it serves one’s own immediate interests.

The logic of this disorder “drives one person to take advantage of another,

to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts.

The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children

and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests.

It is also the mindset of those who say:  Let us allow the invisible forces of the market

to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage…

This “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste…and the culture itself becomes corrupt…

and (ultimately) laws are only seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.”

(Pope Francis, Laudato Si, paragraphs 122-123 – italics and underlines added)


There is a quote often attributed to Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, that:

“America is great because she is good, and if she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

The quote likely has its source in two British Christian ministers.

After their visit to sister congregations in the United States in 1835, they wrote about their travels:

“America will be great if America is good.

If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.” (snopes.com)


Last week, thousands gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

Not so many years ago, when the captains of world industry gathered, they “fretted most about oil prices,

asset bubbles, and unemployment, but since 2007, those participating in the World Economic Forum

in Switzerland had seen their worries replaced by an even more urgent threat:

environmental change.

More than a thousand WEF participants were surveyed this year about the biggest global risks

facing the world. For the first time, climate-change or climate-related issues

occupied the top five spots as the most likely global risks.

Weapons of mass destruction were the only non-environment related risk to be on the list

of threats likely to have the biggest impact.

It’s the first time since the poll began that environmental risk has ranked so highly,

up from zero in 2010, just ten years ago. (qz.com)


If greatness requires goodness, then it is also true that goodness requires courage.

Addressing anthropocentrism and cultural relativism will take great courage.

Addressing global climate change will take great courage.

We tend to forget that the way you and I live our lives each day,

how we steward the resources entrusted to us, how we embrace the privileges of a democracy,

has a long term impact upon the world.

There is often a seeming disconnect between the manner in which we live our daily lives

and the sweeping changes needed in order to address global change and cultural relativism.

What we do every day matters. How we live matters.

How we spend our time, how we steward the little resources entrusted to us, matters to the world.  


Seeking and finding and following God’s will requires accepting risks and acting with great courage.

When we are facing something that is risky and requires great courage,

for those who profess to be Christians, it all depends on the One whom we are following,

on the One to whom we give our life.


Yesterday at our annual elder retreat, our elected elders acted with courage.

We considered a new path forward in terms of how we structure the governance of this congregation,

 and they chose to accept risk, to embrace change, and to move forward into an uncertain future.

 They did so for the sake of the mission of the church,

 for the sake of following – with some measure of spiritual indifference –  where Jesus would have us go.


Our corporate life, our life in this community, is composed of a myriad of decisions,

small and large, that each of us make every day about how we are going to live our lives.Our elected

leaders make decisions every day about how our corporate life will be formed.

These decisions, small and large, form the tapestry of our future.

They form the environment in which our grandchildren and great grandchildren will live.

Our current decisions will have a major long term impact on the quality of life we will lead,

and perhaps even on the length of human survival on this planet.


So…what happened to my friend, Steve Hayner, when he trusted his friend

and sprinted forward blindfolded and screaming with his hands in the air?

He was just fine.

Harrington had led him to the edge of a large, flat field of grass.

Overcoming his fears, overcoming his great temptation not to trust his friend,

Hayner sprinted twenty or thirty yards forward before removing his blindfold.

Hayner ran with freedom into the future, even though he could not see where he was going. 


There is helpful prayer from our Book of Common Worship that I keep coming back to over the years:

Lord, forgive us for a past we cannot change, and open to us a future in which we can be changed.

Pray it with me, if you will…

Lord, forgive us for a past we cannot change, and open to us a future in which we can be changed.                                                                                                     


Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia


Children’s Sermon

Do any of you happen to know my first name? Many of you call me Dr Speed or Pastor Todd,

but my first name is James. I was named for my father, whose first name is also James.

He goes by Jim. And guess what? Both of my grandfathers also have the first name James.

My uncle, my cousin, my nephew all have the first name James.

And Melanie and I named our oldest son James as well, James Hall.

You might say that James is a popular name in my family, or perhaps that we’re just not very creative.


Perhaps you have a popular name in your family as well?

Were named for anyone in your family? Or for a close friend of your family?

The name James is a family name for us, but the name goes all the way back to 2000 years,

 to the first century, to Jesus’ first disciples.

So many people in my family are named James because a long time ago,

 Jesus chose two men named James to be his disciples. Hear the Word of God from Matthew 10:2-4.

Matthew 10:2-4  These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

Do you recognize some of those other names? I sure do.

Peter and Andrew, we called him Andy, were two of my closest childhood friends.

We still keep in touch; I saw them just last month.

Another friend named Thomas, or Tommy as we call him, sent me his annual Christmas card.

Matthew, an old friend who lives in Florida now, spent the weekend with us in early December.

And I’ve had friends over the years with the names Thad and Simon.

I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone named Judas, the name of the disciple who betrayed Jesus.


And how about the women’s names. There were women who followed Jesus closely as well.

We read in Luke 8:1-3 The twelve were with him, as well as some women…Mary, called Magdalene,

Joanna…and Susanna, and many others…Mary is popular name in our family.

My grandmother, my sister, my aunt, my niece are all named Mary.

And we know people here at the church named JoAnn and Sue.

Names are important. They connect us to our family members, and connect us to our larger family,

 and they also connect us to the family of faith across the years.  Ask your parents today

 whom you were named for and why.  Let us pray….


Dear God, thank you for the names we have been given and for the people for whom we are named.

Thank you for Jesus’ disciples, both men and women, who courageously followed you,

and whom we still honor today. Amen.