Epiphany 3b, January 21, 2018

January 22, 2018

Snagged by Christ

Mark 1:14-20


14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


I don’t think my father ever wondered what he was going to do when he grew up. He had some interests outside of the car business, but I don’t think he ever wanted to do anything other than to operate the Chevrolet & Oldsmobile dealership that my grandfather started. He loved Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles and he enjoyed being in the business of selling them. There were people who expected me to carry on the family business, but I was not one of those people, and neither was my father. He would have been happy for me to do that, but he knew better than to push me in to something I wasn’t cut-out to do. I agonized over what kind of work I wanted to do, but I was pretty clear about one thing, I was not cut out for the car business.


I worked at my father’s business when I was in high school and even for a summer after my freshman year in college, but my area of expertise was in washing cars not selling them. I took pride in my car-washing ability, and I enjoyed the company of the men who worked in the body shop. The three men who worked in the body shop had been there for decades, and in addition to knowing how to repair damaged cars they were accomplished comedians. They were highly skilled at exploiting any weakness they observed in whoever happened to step in to their domain. Of course I was the unfortunate object of much of their comic attention, but it was worth it because they put on a good show and I wasn’t always the focus of their routine.


Whenever I was back in town from college and then from seminary I would drop by my father’s business and I always made it a point to step in to the body shop and provide them with an opportunity to generate some commentary on something I wouldn’t want to hear. I didn’t get by very often after we came back to Arkansas and I began my work in ministry, but I’ll never forget the conversation I had with one of those men, W.D. Johnson, when I dropped by for one of the last trips I ever made to my father’s business. Daddy had announced his own retirement. The business was going to close and he was going to sell his building to the Ford dealer in town.


W.D. pulled me to the side, he looked straight in to my eyes and asked me why I hadn’t come back and kept the business going. Under circumstances like that I can usually think of what to say about an hour later, but somehow I realized what to say at that very moment. I said W.D., if I had chosen to go in to the car business we probably would have closed about five years ago. And he believed me. A big smile spread across his face and he went on to announce to everyone what I had said. And this was the truth. I think I had sold about three cars in my life up to that point and I had lost money on every one of them.


I don’t believe that working as a professional minister is any holier than any other form of honest work. I think I probably thought that at one time, but I’ve known enough shady pastors and genuine salespeople to understand that it’s not so much what you do that pleases God, but how you do whatever you do.


I think this story of the calling of Simon and Andrew and James and John can give the impression that it’s more important to be an official follower of Jesus than to maintain the family fishing business, but I don’t think that’s the right message. These men were offered the rare opportunity to spend day and night with the man who came to change the world, and they made the right choice. They were touched by his powerful presence, and they didn’t have to wonder what they should do when he made the offer to follow him. There is a higher calling than catching fish, and it’s an offer that Jesus makes to all of us – regardless of what we do for a living.


Just prior to this story, Jesus had spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself for the work that was before him, he emerged with a clear sense of ultimate reality, and he was ready to talk about it. Jesus knew God, Jesus knew himself, and he knew what he needed to do. Jesus wasn’t deterred by the arrest of John the Baptist, but it’s not like he thought things would go differently for him. Jesus knew he would experience profound resistance, but he also knew that he was in touch with something that could not be stopped by any level of authority that could be generated on earth. Jesus was the man who understood what it meant to abide in the kingdom of God, and he wanted us to understand how to do that as well.


There’s much that’s left undescribed in this morning’s passage. We don’t know if it was a bad day for fishing or a good day. We don’t know if the weather was beautiful or miserable. We don’t know if these were the first people Jesus saw or if he went looking for fishermen. Mark doesn’t give us many details, and by not telling us much I think he’s telling us a lot about the gravity Jesus possessed. His clarity was overwhelming. His presence was compelling.


Jesus had something to offer that was irresistible. When Jesus asked these men to follow him they couldn’t help but to get up and go. It’s as if they had no choice about what to do. It was an instinctual response.


One of the interesting things about the response of these first disciples to Jesus is the lack of analysis that went in to their decision. It doesn’t appear that they thought about what he said, they just did it. I think this speaks to the way in which this faith that we share is not primarily an exercise of the mind – it’s a disposition of the heart. And we can carry that disposition in to whatever it is we are doing.


Of course there are some pretty smart people who have chosen to follow Jesus, and they have made some interesting observations about these stories of Jesus. When I read about Simon and Andrew and James and John they all look like average fishermen to me. Two of them were casting nets on the edge of the lake and two of them were mending nets in a boat along with their father and the hired men. When I read that story they all look similar to me, but Biblical scholars point out that there was a large socio-economic divide between the men who were standing in the water casting their net and the men who worked from boats along with hired men.


And this is an important message for us. The call of Christ is to all of us, and Jesus knows how to speak to all of us. It doesn’t matter where we came from, and it doesn’t really matter where we go. The work is the same, but there’s no limit to where it will take us.


The contrast between the Kingdom of God and the way the world generally operates is stark. This passage began with the notice that John the Baptist had been put in prison. This wasn’t good news for a person who was about to embark on a very similar mission, but Jesus was undeterred. Immediately after John the Baptist was put in prison for proclaiming a message that challenged the civil and religious leaders of the day, Jesus picked up where he left off and proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come near. He called for people to repent and believe in the good news.


This doesn’t sound very threatening to us, but Roman rulers weren’t known for their tolerance of rival kingdoms. And the religious leaders of the day weren’t wanting to hear this call for people to repent. We’ve sort of turned that word, repent, in to a call for people to behave, but that’s not what Jesus was saying. The word does mean to turn around, and it can be a call for someone to turn away from their bad behavior, but the call is for us all to change our normal way of seeing and judging and calculating and to embrace the way God sees and judges and evaluates life.


When Jesus made this appeal for people to repent he wasn’t pleading for better behavior. When Jesus called for people to repent he was pressing people to change their allegiance. He wanted people to turn away from serving the little lords of the earth and to live in relationship with the Lord of all Life.


And this is a relevant appeal for us. This Kingdom of God didn’t just come near to those people in that small fishing village of Capernaum on that day that Jesus came by. The Kingdom of God is just as near to us, but it’s also just as far away. This repentance business is hard.


I have no regret about not going in to the car business. I really don’t believe I would have been very good at it, but I don’t believe it’s any easier for a professional minister to be a true follower of Jesus Christ than it is for a person who works in business or any other profession. I’m not saying there aren’t some shady professions and unhelpful operations. Sometimes repentance calls for us to leave behind evil behavior, but the challenge to repent is as real for a pastor as it is for anyone else.


The challenge for us all is to let go of our petty little agendas and to embrace the Kingdom of God. The call of Christ is compelling, but it’s also very threatening. And you see this play out in the lives of Simon and Andrew and James and John. They were quick to follow Jesus, they knew he had something they wanted, but in the days and weeks and months that followed they perpetually failed to grasp what he was saying and teaching.


Those first disciples weren’t perfect in their pursuit of God’s kingdom, but they knew what they wanted because they had experienced what it felt like to be in the presence of the King. And I believe this is true for us as well. None of us have perfect records when it comes to responding to the call of Christ, but sometimes we find the right words to say or the right places to go.


We all have our little worlds to manage and our little rulers to satisfy. Following Jesus doesn’t remove us from the petty demands that this world places upon us, but if we can repent and believe the good news that the Kingdom of God is near we will learn to see what is most essential and what is to be ignored.


I think we all have those moments when we clearly hear the call of Christ and we know what we need to do. This was certainly the case with Simon and Andrew and James and John, but the challenge of faith is fresh every day and the need for repentance never departs. Fortunately the presence of Christ remains as well and his claim upon our lives comes to us in new and fresh ways throughout our lives. Jesus continues to call us and to use us to spread the good news of the nearness of God’s Kingdom. We all are charged to carry out the most important work that anyone has ever done – to share the love of our living God. There’s no retirement from that work, and no end to the blessings that accompany it.


Thanks be to God.



One Response to “Epiphany 3b, January 21, 2018”

  1. Earl Says:

    Your comment about our faith not being an exercise of the mind but is a disposition of the heart was very powerful and comforting to me.

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