a sermon on Mark 1:14-20
They were just ordinary fishermen doing their jobs on an ordinary day by the lakeshore, but before this day was over Simon and Andrew and James and John would be taking quite a new and different path. Jesus had just begun his work of proclamation and teaching in Galilee, and right away he invited Simon and Andrew—and soon also James and John—to join him along the way.
This was not all that unusual in that day and age. A lot of teachers and preachers wandered the countryside with bands of followers in those first century days, and even some prophets of earlier times had developed similar groups of devotees as they offered their words of comfort and challenge. These groups would wander the towns and villages of Palestine, sharing their varied messages and inviting others to join them along the way.
I suspect that most of these disciples chose who to follow somewhat carefully. Some of them might have had family connections to their teachers, and others probably were had been among the audience for the teacher’s teaching before setting out to roam the countryside. But Mark’s record of the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be Jesus’ disciples implies that there is no such “trial period.” The way Mark tells the story, the disciples had no idea what they might be getting into when they set out to follow Jesus except that something was so compelling about the way he invited them to join him on the journey that they could do nothing other than follow.
Jesus’ message that he had begun to proclaim around Galilee was a curious and strong one:
The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.
These fishermen on the lakeshore don’t seem to have heard this message, had any history with Jesus or any other similar teacher, or even seemed to have been tired of fishing and looking for a change of pace for a while. Mark simply tells us that Jesus called out to them as he passed by and invited them to join him on his journey:
Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
Then, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Why did they do this? What was so compelling about this man, his message, or even the way he talked with them that they would leave their nets and follow? How did Jesus so easily convince these two sets of brothers to leave behind their nets, their boats, their careers, their families—everything, really—to join him in wandering around the countryside to proclaim a message that they had barely even heard that might get them in trouble with nearly everyone?
We can’t know the real answers—Mark simply keeps the story too brief—but even this silence speaks volumes about what was going on. It matches up very well with the general mood of Mark’s gospel, where everyone—especially Jesus—seems to be in a big hurry, for the kingdom of God is coming, not just someday far ahead but soon. I think somehow this immediacy and urgency was clear to Simon, Andrew, James, and John when Jesus spoke to them, and they knew that it was the right thing to follow him right away. So these four fishermen responded to Jesus’ urgent call to join him in fishing for people and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God.
Just as Jesus’ call settled on the lives of these ordinary fishermen on an ordinary day by the lakeshore some two thousand years ago, so it echoes among us too today. I suspect that we don’t hear it with quite the same ears, though. We likely don’t share the same sense of urgency that things need to change as seemed to permeate the world that Mark describes for us. Many of us today struggle to change little bits of our lives to follow Jesus, let alone drop the nets of our lives and leave behind our families and livelihoods to go into an unknown future with him. And so many today are far less open to the kind of radically transformative message that marked Jesus’ proclamation.
Yet Jesus’ call to follow him and join in his proclamation of a time fulfilled, the kingdom of God come near, and the urgency of repentance and new life is still so very strong in our world. It is not easy to figure out what this call means in our lives. It took Simon, Andrew, James, and John three years with Jesus to figure much of anything out about it, and even then they weren’t particularly good at it!
As we struggle to respond individually to this call in our lives, I wonder if it is time for us to think differently about Jesus’ proclamation and invitation, to listen to it less one by one, independent of one another, and to consider how Jesus might be calling all of us together to follow him from the lakeshores of our common life out into the world. There is still of course an imperative for each of us to follow Jesus along the way, to respond to his call out to each one of us on the lakeshore, but the possibilities of transformation that emerge when we collectively respond to Jesus’ call to follow can be far greater. So Jesus calls out to us as his church on the lakeshore, inviting us to put down the nets of our tradition and routine, summoning us to join him in proclaiming that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, and calling us to follow him beyond these walls and out into the world to proclaim and embody the way of repentance and new life each and every day.
Today is a wonderful day to hear this call again as we join together for our annual congregational meeting after worship. When we gather every January to hear reports and take a few votes as we do, we are doing the sort of institutional work that looks a lot more like the routines of fishing that these new disciples left behind. Too often we can pay so much attention to our traditions and institutions that we miss the opportunities to proclaim and be a part of the kingdom of God. But when we are at our best, this meeting today can also propel us forward into something new as we join with those first disciples and countless others since to proclaim the new thing that God is doing.
We have struggled to figure out exactly how to do this over the years. Sometimes we have become distracted by the challenges of maintaining a church building or keeping up the basic elements of our life together. Many times we have scratched our heads wondering how we can find enough people to make the journey worth our while. And other times we have looked so hard for a common missional focus that we have become frustrated when one did not emerge for us.
Yet all along the way, we have kept our eyes and ears open for ways that we could join in the work of proclaiming and embodying the kingdom of God in our midst. We have joined others from around the presbytery in rebuilding homes destroyed during Superstorm Sandy. We have been a consistent support and presence in the work of the Grace Church Food Pantry. And we have reached out to others through other projects brought to us by members and friends who need our support in living out their call to follow Jesus.
In recent months, as we prepared to move into this new year and respond to God’s call to follow Jesus in this time and place, the session looked at all this mission we are already doing with fresh eyes, and rather than trying to replace it all with a unified vision or a single magic project, we decided to embrace the places where we are already working, to recommit ourselves to supporting the emergence of the kingdom of God by supporting this mission in new ways and to work toward deepening and broadening our missional commitments as we look for new places to use our limited resources most effectively. We can’t support anything and everything that comes forward—we have a group already working on setting up some criteria to help guide us in the choices that we make—but when a project helps us to better proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God together, we can support one another in living it out along the way.
So as we journey along the lakeshores of our lives, as we hear Jesus inviting us to follow him, may we leave the nets of our lives behind and join him in proclaiming and embodying the coming of the kingdom of God in this world until he comes to make all things new. Lord, come quickly! Amen.