January 22, 2012 - Third Sunday after Epiphany
†††††††† Iím standing in my
waders beside a lovely trout stream, rigging up my favorite fly rod. I can see
big fish rising in a pool just upstream. My fingers tremble as I try to tie on
a matching fly as quickly as possible so as not to miss the moment. Then
someone taps me on the shoulder and says, ďPut down the rod, take off the
waders, and come with me.Ē No, itís not the game warden nabbing me for fishing
out of season. Itís my image of how the call of Jesus to those Galilean
fisherman must have felt to them.
†††††††† They just went. Thatís
the weird thing. They went, ďimmediately.Ē Thatís the word Mark uses in both
verse 18 and verse 20. First Simon, whom we know as Peter, and his brother Andrew,
then James and John. Jesus calls and they goóimmediately.
†††††††† ďImmediatelyĒ may be
Markís favorite word. He uses it about forty times in his Gospel. It was in
last weekís text where he said the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness immediately after His baptism. Itís part of Markís whole clipped style of telling the
story. Everything happens for Jesus immediately, boom, boom, boom. He comes, He
gathers disciples, He teaches, He does some miracles, He crosses the Jewish
authorities, He dies, He rises. Mark is the action flick version of the Gospel.
†††††††† Yet thereís truth in
Markís style. Jesusí whole public ministry was three short years. All those
events which changed the world, and which change the lives of anyone who
believes in them, happened in a brief span of time in a very small corner of
the world. It was all very fast. And so, it seems, was the call and response of
those first disciples.
†††††††† Picture it however it
fits for you. You are sitting at your desk working on a report due tomorrow
morning. Jesus walks by and says over His shoulder, ďCome on.Ē Youíre in your
car a at stoplight when He walks up, taps on your window, opens the door and
tells you, ďLetís go.Ē Or youíre mopping the kitchen floor and Jesus puts His
dusty sandals right in the middle of it and says, ďFollow me.Ē
†††††††† Would you leave the
papers on your desk, the keys in the ignition, the mop in the middle of the
floor, and just go? Itís pretty hard to imagine, isnít it? We have jobs,
families, responsibilities. We canít just up and leave in the middle of all
that, even if it is the Lord of the universe asking us to go.
†††††††† It was hard for those
fishermen too. Peter and Andrew were casting nets. They were knee deep in the
water, watching intently for silvery shapes of fish to swim by. Then they would
fling their circular webs of rope out over them with a practiced flourish,
holding tight to the cord they would use to draw back their catch. We know that
at least Peter had a wife. Mark mentions his mother-in-law in verse 29. They
had families depending on them for something to eat that night, for the money
they would make selling those fish. How could they possibly just walk off and
leave it all behind?
†††††††† James and John were
getting ready for a better catch than they could get with hand nets along the
shore. They were in the family boat. Perhaps they were more successful fishermen
than Simon and Andrew. We know from Luke that Peter had a boat too, but James
and Johnís boat was large enough to carry them, their father Zebedee, and some
hired men. They were repairing larger nets that could be let down in deep water
to surround great schools of fish. The boat and the nets represented a big
investment for the Zebedee family. How could the two brothers just crawl over
the side, leave their father alone to manage the business, and walk away down
the shore behind Jesus?
†††††††† Maybe it wasnít quite
as quick and abrupt as Mark makes it seem. We have four Gospels, and two of them,
Luke and John, fill in background here. John chapter 1 shows us that Andrew and
Peter had already met Jesus. Andrew had actually been a disciple of John the
Baptist. But when Jesus came along, Andrew followed Him and also brought his
brother Peter along.
†††††††† In Luke chapter 5 we
learn that this encounter along the seaside wasnít as short and sweet as Mark
tells it. We learn that Jesus actually got into Peterís boat, used it as a
platform to preach a sermon, and then went fishing with these men. He gave them
a miraculously huge catch of fish at a time of day when, in their professional
opinion, there would be nothing to catch. Peter was impressed and frightened.
†††††††† The scene we read here
today in these few verses from Mark (and by the way, in this case, Matthew
tells it in almost exactly the same words) has some history. Itís a bit like
our text from Jonah 3 this morning. Read just that and it sounds like when God
told Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he just got up and went. But of course
thereís the whole back story of the first two chapters, when Jonah tried to run
away and God caught up with him in the middle of the ocean. It was only after
becoming whale lunch and then whale vomit that Jonah was ready to go when God
†††††††† So those four men may
have history to make them ready for Jesus to show up. A little like Jonah,
Peter had already been scared out of his wits by Jesus. So maybe Peter and
Andrew were casting the hand nets because they had already beached and stowed
their boat. James and John might have had the hired men there just because they knew they would be going soon with Jesus and didnít want to leave their
father to handle all the fishing tackle alone.
†††††††† In other words, we
could suppose that these four first disciples got up and went when Jesus called
because they had been prepared to get up and go. And maybe thatís true.
But remember that Mark is the first Gospel to be written. No one could compare
Luke and John when this story was told by Mark the first time. So letís ask
ourselves, why did Mark tell it this way?
†††††††† Why would Mark choose
to leave out almost any suggestion that Peter, Andrew, James and John had any
prior acquaintance with Jesus? Why did he write it in a way that makes it look like the call to discipleship and the decision to follow all happened instantly?
What was Mark trying to say to us?
†††††††† Mark is the action
Gospel, as I said. Events around Jesus happen fast and furious, in a way that
might make Tom Cruise or Vin Dieselís heads spin. Right at the beginning Mark
wants us to understand that faith in Jesus means action, decisive action. Mark
knows nothing of a faith which is just a cozy warm feeling in your mind or
heart. For him, trusting in Jesus means getting on your feet and going wherever
†††††††† The issue then, that
Mark raises for us, is when and how you and I will get up and follow Jesus
Christ. Where is our Lord asking us to follow Him? And what will we need to
leave behind to go there? What action will we take in this story?
†††††††† It was graphic and
concrete for the fishermen. Mark wants us to feel it. They were to leave behind
their jobs, some of their possessions, and even family. Itís a pretty high bar
for Christian discipleship. How are you and I possibly going to do anything
like that? Hardly any of us would even be here today if we thought following
Jesus meant a radical departure from some of the basic elements of our lives.
How are we going to understand this?
†††††††† Maybe weíve gotten
ahead of ourselves. Iíve focused on how the first four disciples responded to
Jesus, but Iíve skipped over something fundamental. Weíve been worrying about
what the disciples left behind, but letís talk for a bit about what Jesus asked
them to do. Why did He ask them to follow? Itís right there in verse 17,
after saying, ďFollow me,Ē Jesus said those famous words weíve put into a
childrenís song, ďand I will make you fishers of men.Ē Or as good inclusive
language puts it now, ďof people.Ē
†††††††† Whatever Jesus wanted
of Peter, Andrew, James and John, whatever He wants of us, it has to do with
this, with going out and joining in an enterprise that draws in people the way
a net draws in fish. Jesus obviously liked this image. In Matthew 13 He compared Godís kingdom to a net catching all sorts of fish. Which ties this
all together. As we said last week as we read verses 14 and 15, the good news
Jesus preached is the Good News of the Kingdom of God. God is making His
kingdom on earth, in the hearts and lives of people. The work, the call of
Jesusí disciples is to draw men, women and children of every age and race and
color into that kingdom.
†††††††† To put it bluntly,
Christian discipleship is not about you. Itís not about your personal,
individual salvation. Thatís in there, of course. If you follow Jesus, like
those fishermen did, you will have a wonderful new life. You will be caught up
in Godís net of love and grace and forgiveness. You will receive the promise of
eternal life. But following Jesus is bigger than that. Itís not just about
whether you land in the net. Itís about taking hold of the net yourself and
helping draw together a whole wild, wriggling catch of a community of people
who are loved and forgiven by God.
†††††††† So when we ask, ďHow
am I going to respond like those first disciples?Ē or ďHow will I leave behind
what needs to be left behind and follow Jesus?Ē what weíre really asking is ďWhat
do I need to do to join in the kingdom community God is drawing together?Ē Itís
not just about getting our own lives saved in Godís fishing net, itís about
entering into relationship with the rest of the fish, the people of God, the
kingdom of God.
†††††††† Thatís why those guys
had to leave their nets and boats and parents and walk on down the beach with
Jesus. The Lord meant them to meet and teach and minister to all sorts of
people they would never encounter if they stayed home and just kept fishing for
†††††††† One of the hazards of
being a pastor is that people sometimes feel the need to justify themselves to
you. So occasionally I meet someone and hear something like this, ďSo youíre
the pastor of a church. You know, thatís just fine with me, but I donít really
need to go anywhere special to worship God. I have deep spiritual experiences
just meditating or praying in my own home.Ē There are variations on that theme,
maybe making a golf course, or a garden, or a sports event the place where an
individual can feel personally and privately very close to God, without any
need for a church, thank you very much.
†††††††† That expression of
private and individual spirituality completely misses Markís message and point
here about discipleship. Itís not about you, at least not about you by
yourself. Itís about joining in Godís kingdom, about being part of a community
which God is drawing to Himself. Itís about sharing in Godís love for others
and connecting with them in a way which pulls them into that love along with
†††††††† To follow Jesus means
to follow Him into relationship with other people. It means following Him to
places where your life gets all mixed up with those other lives in ways that
are both wonderful and difficult. It means following Him out to where people
are alone and hurting, and finding a way to connect with them and draw them
into Godís love. And we cannot do that at home or anywhere else alone and by
†††††††† Which all means that
what you or I might be asked to leave behind when Jesus calls may at first be
as simple as our own beds or easy chairs. Each of you followed Him this morning
by walking out of your house or apartment and closing the door behind you. You
left your private fishing spot to come here where God is fishing. Thatís
†††††††† And for some of you,
like for James and John who left their father, it was even harder. You didnít
just leave the comforts of your home, you left someone behind, a family
member, a friend. You wished they would come with you, but they wouldnít. Maybe
they didnít even want you to come here today, but you came anyway. You
followed Jesus to be with His people, to be in His kingdom. Thatís
†††††††† During our worship
service, many of us dropped an offering into one of those maroon bags we hand
around. You just put it in and left it there. That money might have been your
safety net for this month, during hard times. But you just left it and when
weíre done, you will get up and leave it behind for the sake of Jesus, for the
sake of His kingdom. Thatís discipleship.
†††††††† At the end of March,
four men from Valley Covenant, like those four disciples long ago, are going to
leave their jobs and schools and homes and families to get on a bus and go to Mexico
for ten days. Theyíre doing it to meet poor people in a little town and cast a
net of Christís love around them. Thatís discipleship.
†††††††† You may not be able to
hear the actual voice of Jesus or trail behind His sandals down a lakeshore,
but you are following Jesus when you do these things, when you leave home and
family and possessions for His sake and for the sake of the people He loves and
is fishing for.
†††††††† I didnít want to say
this next part too soon. Itís important that we hear the call of Jesus like
Mark wanted, fast and furious and demanding. But not all our leaving behind is
literal. Thatís the gist of our lesson from I Corinthians 7:29-31 today. Paul tells us we can leave and give up what we have, for the
sake of Jesus, by our attitude, by the disposition of our hearts. So he teaches
that our families, our personal griefs and joys, our possessions, and all our
business dealings in this world should be things that we have, but hold as if
we did not have them; that we possess, but as if they did not fully and
completely belong to us.
†††††††† You donít have to walk
away from your house forever in order to leave it behind for Jesus. Use your
home to host a fellowship group, or entertain neighbors who need Christ, or
shelter a Christian friend who needs refuge and you are giving it up for Jesus
even though you still own it. Make your job a place where you behave like a
Christian and open yourself to opportunities to share Christ with people you
know, and you have put your nets to work fishing for God even while youíve kept
your job. Invest your money in a project that does good in the world, and
youíve offered it to God, even while youíve saved it.
†††††††† I think itís a
combination of both, actually. Markís story of how Christian discipleship
begins wonít let us get away with imagining that we can follow Jesus without
actually and literally leaving some things behind. If we havenít left something
for Jesus, we arenít following Him yet. But we can also follow by leaving
everything else we have behind in our hearts, turning people and possessions
and work over to Him and His kingdom.
†††††††† Jesus Christ is still
walking through this world. His voice is still calling, ďCome, follow me.Ē
Letís leave our boats and nets and learn how little they matter. Letís follow
Him and join in the good fishing He will bring us. Letís get caught by the
greatest Fisherman of all.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj