January 25th, 2015 “The Call” Rev. Heather Jepsen
This morning we find ourselves in the gospel of Mark, which is the featured gospel for this lectionary year. John the Baptist has been arrested, and Jesus sees that as a sign to begin his ministry. Of course it is a foreboding sign, and the writer of Mark’s gospel wants us to see that. Jesus’ road will not be an easy one. For his start, Jesus heads into Galilee, which is a bit of a backwater town, a city on the margins. Much like our own home of Warrensburg, Galilee was not too big or too small, just a regular everyday place.
The message that Jesus proclaims to get the ball rolling is “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near!” He then calls folks to “Repent, and believe in the good news.” We often think of repent as a feeling of regret, especially when we talk about repenting of our sins. To us, repent means to feel sorry or bad for what we have done.
But, when Jesus says repent he is using the word in a different context. He is not talking about regret; instead he is talking about a major change. Jesus is telling people that they need to turn, to change direction, to get a new orientation in life. This use of repent is not about what we have done in the past, rather it is about what Jesus is doing in the future. This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his first word to the world is look out, get ready, something new is on the way.
You see, if the kingdom of God had come near, then people need to change direction to be a part of it. That’s why Jesus immediately begins the work of changing people’s lives. He walks by the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew casting nets into the water. Jesus calls out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Unfortunately we have gotten used to this phrase, so it has lost a lot of the power it once had. Our Christian culture has adopted the title “fishers of men” and we use it often to discuss the work of evangelism. But one has to admit that the sentence, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” sounds like nonsense at first listen. Fish for people, what is that supposed to mean? I have to admit that if someone came up to me on the street and said that, I would give them a confused look and slowly back away.
What is so strange about this passage is that Jesus is so charismatic, so incredible, and has such a persona about him that this strange sentence is literally all he has to say. I sometimes wonder if Jesus didn’t have power over human hearts, in the same way that he had power over the wind and waves of creation. After he speaks, Andrew and Simon immediately leave their nets and walk after him. The strangeness continues as they happen upon the brothers James and John as they are mending nets with their father Zebedee. When Jesus calls them, the brothers leave the nets, and their father, and follow him.
What is so remarkable about this story, is that these men have nothing to go on. They have nothing to recommend Jesus to them as someone worthy of following, let alone worthy of giving up one’s whole life for. We have to remember that this is their very first encounter with Jesus. They have never met Jesus before, they have never heard him preach, and they have never seen a miracle. Jesus is just beginning his ministry, and so the four bothers have never even heard someone else talking about an experience of Jesus. They have no idea at all who this guy is. And all he has to do is walk up to them, make some cryptic remark about fish, and they drop everything and follow him. When we study it afresh we find that this really is a shocking and amazing story.
When we read the story carefully, we can see that these men were not just looking for something to follow; they already had all they needed in life. Andrew and Simon were well off enough to afford their own boat, nets, and fishing supplies. They were what we would call small business owners now. And James and John are equally successful in the family business, and sure to take over the fishing trade when their father retired. These men are leaving behind stable and secure lives. These men are leaving behind their homes and jobs. Perhaps most painful, these men are leaving behind family and all the expectations that go with that. I can just imagine the look on Zebedee’s face as his boys leave him alone on the beach and turn to walk away, following after some stranger.
Surprisingly, challengingly, this is the true nature of the call that Jesus gives to us. Jesus is bringing the kingdom of God with him. He does not just tell us to repent and feel sorry for ourselves and regret our past actions. No, Jesus tells us to repent by changing direction. Jesus calls us to do something drastic in our life for the Lord. If you are really going to repent and follow Christ, then your life is going to change, it has to.
Now for many of us, the call from Christ, does not ask us to leave behind our homes and jobs. But we know some people who have done these things in Jesus’ name. And we certainly know the ways we do or do not represent Christ in our places of employment, and in our daily lives. In addition, many of us have not had to literally leave our family for the Lord. But, we know some people who have. And all of us have to admit that when we answer Christ’s call, it does change our family relationships.
What this scripture challengingly asks us to see, is that Christ’s call is radical, it’s powerful. Christ’s call is disruptive; it messes up our lives, our jobs, and our families. Christ’s call goes against the general good sense order of things. The decision these brothers made, to walk away from everything, would not have been a popular one.
This scripture also teaches us that Christ’s call is intrusive. The call of Christ to drop everything, to repent and turn around, comes into our lives when we are not looking for it. It comes into our lives when we don’t want it. Christ intrudes upon our happy hum drum, and demands of us to make big changes in his name. The kingdom of heaven has come near, and it is going to take big changes if we are going to participate.
In this midst of this call discussion it is important to remind ourselves that following God, choosing to answer the call of Christ, is not a one-time event. Just like we talk about the kingdom of God as being here now, and also in the time to come; present and not yet. So too, the life of discipleship is an already and not yet event. We are all disciples, and we are all growing into disciples. It is a lifetime’s journey, as much as it is a one-time commitment to follow.
In the church we continue to be in the season of Epiphany. This is a season of realization and revelation, a season of seeing and knowing who God is in a fresh light. This is a great time for self-examination, and so today I want to ask you to consider your own call from the Lord. All of us have heard something, all of us have felt something, or we wouldn’t be here. There must be something that moves all of us to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, on your day off, and to go about the business of getting ready for church. So what is it? What have you heard?
Today is a good day to ask how Christ has called you in your life? Where has Christ called you to be or what has he called you to do? How has your life changed because of the call? How is God continuing to call you into the future? What things do you need to leave behind, and what new things do you need to embrace? Let us take a moment of silence and consider these things in prayer . . .
Gracious Lord, we thank you that you have come and sought us out. You have called us out of our comfort zones, and you have challenged us to join in the kingdom of God. Grant us the courage to drop everything we are holding on to, and to move forward in faith. Grant us the vision to see where you are leading us. May we have the faith to answer your call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.