Let me tell you about something that happened to me.
I was fourteen, and painfully shy. Mum and dad arranged for me to go to the local Methodist youth group so I could make more friends, and so I went along one Friday night.
And that’s how I found myself unexpectedly going to the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds. When I got into the bus to go, I had no idea what would happen that evening.
After Billy Graham had finished preaching, there was an ‘altar call’, where people who wanted to give their lives to Jesus were invited to come forward. I’d never before heard of altar calls. In the end, I just had to go out to the front. The thing I still remember was just marvelling how anyone could stay in their seat. I could not resist the pull to come out. I tried hard to remain in my seat, but I just couldn’t.
I’m not sure grace is always ‘irresistible’, but I certainly couldn’t resist it that night.
It seems that Simon and Andrew, James and John also couldn’t resist the call of Jesus by the shores of Galilee. There are people who say they must have known Jesus before that day, or else how could they just drop everything and follow him?
But that’s not what Matthew is telling us. He doesn’t care whether they knew Jesus beforehand or not; he is saying that when Jesus really calls you, all you can do is follow. I found that out that night in 1968. You don’t know where he’s going, you have no idea what’ll happen, but you follow him because you trust him.
Jesus is trustworthy, and Jesus has authority. In fact, Matthew makes it clearer and clearer as you read his Gospel that Jesus’ authority is greater than that of Moses. And at the end, God gives Jesus God’s own authority. Jesus says:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
When Jesus calls, you follow. You don’t know where it’ll take you. The four fishers by the Galilee lakeside didn’t know. I had no idea at that Billy Graham rally. But when Jesus calls, you follow.
It’s Australia Day, and Jesus still calls. How do we speak of the calling of the disciples by the sea on this day? Our country needs Simons and Andrews and Jameses and Johns who will follow when Jesus calls. But we are called to follow as Christian disciples who are also responsible citizens of Australia in a very different time—and in a democracy, where our voice counts. How do we do that?
Do we protest the government’s policies on asylum seekers, or do we support them? Do we believe that Indigenous people are treated fairly, or not? Do we reject the idea that climate change is caused by human activity, or do we have to change things so that future generations will have a liveable world? What about our tax and welfare systems? Are they just or not?
People will answer these questions differently, and that’s fine in a democracy. My question on Australia Day is how do Christian disciples decide these things? Do we do what many others do, and choose according to what benefits us, or according to which political party we prefer? Or does our faith help us how to choose?
I think it does. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
How can we make sure we are not conformed to the world’s ways, deciding our nation’s character and future only according to what benefits us? How may our minds be renewed so we can discern God’s will?
I think one of the clues is to follow Matthew’s story of Jesus. He shows us Jesus calling disciples, and very soon afterwards he is teaching them. What teaching is it? It’s the teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount.
What does Jesus teach?
Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate is wide and spacious the avenue that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in that way. How narrow is the gate and restricted the path that leads to life! And few there are who find it.
And how do we enter the narrow way? We follow Jesus’ teaching, for example:
Those who in spirit are utterly dependent on God are blessed…
Those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for justice are blessed…
Those who do and make peace are blessed…
Love your enemies…
Don’t store up treasures for yourselves on earth…
No-one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. The day’s troubles are enough for it.
Don’t pass judgement if you don’t want to be judged.
Ask, and it will be given to you.
Everything you would like people do for you, you must do the same for them; for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter through the narrow gate…
See what Matthew does? He shows Jesus calling the disciples, and then he shows how disciples are to live: the ‘Jesus way’ of the Sermon on the Mount.
Australia needs disciples like this. Australia needs disciples who are strong and merciful, disciples whose light shines brightly but doesn’t burn others, disciples who do unto others as they would have others do to them. Australia needs Christian disciples with Christian character.
Australia needs disciples who are devoted to the way of Jesus rather than to any political or ideological agenda. When we are devoted to the way of Jesus, then we may together discern the will of God for our nation, our world and our Earth.
Matthew doesn’t give direct answers to the issues our nation faces today. Instead, Matthew shows us how our minds may be renewed through the Sermon on the Mount, which may equip us to make a Christian contribution to our nation’s life. So please, read the Sermon on the Mount. Read it slowly. Read it as something to be wrestled with and lived. It’s perhaps best read on our knees.
That’s a challenge, not a suggestion, by the way; if you want to follow Jesus in Australia today, present yourself to God as a living sacrifice and let yourself be renewed. Start by reading and seeking to live the Sermon on the Mount.