First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
January 21, 2018
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Ahhh, the calling of the first four disciples. It’s a great story. It’s a powerful story. It tells us about Jesus, fresh from his forty-day trek through the wilderness to learn who he is and get all messiah-ed up. While he was in that wilderness he faced hunger, temptation, and trials. For anyone else, it would be our “come to Jesus” time but if you’re already Jesus…..
He passes with flying colors and comes back to civilization all son-of-God-like and starts to work. First things first. He calls together the staff. He calls some disciples. Apparently, the Son of God needs a side-kick or two in order to save the world so he goes to the place where Messiah assistants are most likely to be found…. The fishing village. Because fishermen are so accomplished in people skills and evangelism and stewardship and pastoral care.
He walks past a couple of likely suckers… candidates… and invites them to follow. And they do. They literally drop their nets and follow him. They clock out and take off, not just for the afternoon but for the rest of their lives. In a labor-based economy where jobs are hard to come by and you’re one of the lucky few to not only have regular employment but it’s the family business, leaving your work for some itinerate preacher is about as insane as it gets.
A lot has been said about how easy it was for these early disciples to up and leave the family fishing business. Jesus shows up on the shore, says follow me, they drop their nets and off they go, following this guy who no one knows into the sunset, leaving behind nets that had been cast into the sea or nets in the midst of being mended in the boat. Not to mention their unsuspecting fathers and hired hands that were “left behind” to pick up the slack.
Now there’s an image of being left behind I can relate to. Have you ever been around this place at the end of the Sunday worship services of two congregations? Doors have to be closed and locked. Thermostats have to be turned down. There’s always some item of clothing that gets left under a chair or in the restroom and you have to try to figure out if it came from a Methodist or a UCC-er and try to recall who usually sits in the fourth row on the left. (If I were part of a church that had that other understanding of what it means to be left behind, I’d have reason to think that the rapture had come along and I didn’t make the cut.) Lights are left on and have to be shut off and they’re not always the obvious ones. You have to search for them…. everywhere in the building. Who on a Sunday morning really needs to go into the boiler room and why don’t they turn the lights off when they leave? How many of you even know we have a boiler room and where it is? Great, before you leave, would you go down and make sure the lights are turned off?
Recently, I’ve become better acquainted with our boiler room. It’s the guts of the facility and, as those of us who are getting on in years know, if the guts don’t work right, nothing works right. The list of essential tasks for ministry that are not taught in seminary gets longer every year.
But here’s the thing…. They’re nets, I keep reminding myself. The lights left on? They’re nets. The doors needing to be locked? Nets. The thermostats turned down? Clothing left in the pews? Nets. These are all the nets that are left behind after the faithful, undoubtedly duly inspired, eager disciples leave this boat and head out into the world with Jesus fishing for people everywhere they go. Right? You do leave this boat duly inspired every week, don’t you?
If you do, if you really do, then I’m grateful to have lights to turn off and doors to lock, because it means you’re not sticking around in the boat anymore. It means you’ve gone ashore to carry that inspiration out to share with others and change the world. So, if you’re out doing that when you leave here, I’ve got the lights. And the doors. And the thermostats. Oh, and the clothing? If it’s the right size and style? Yea, I’ve got that, too. You might get it back.
At the beginning of the text we heard today, mention is made of John the Baptist having been arrested. The word used for “arrested” is not quite what we might think at first. Yea, I know, TV invades our mind and we get this image of a toga-clad swat unit showing up with lights flashing and sirens blaring and John handcuffed searched and put into the patty wagon. That’s not quite exactly how it happened. We don’t actually know how it happened but that it did and the word that was used to say so could be read yielded up. It implies that he was turned over, handed over, yielded up to the authorities. The other times that Mark uses the word is in recognizing that it will be Judas Iscariot who will betray Jesus and when the Gospel describes Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion as an act of being handed over, delivered or yielded up. That which happened to Jesus, happened to John first and there’s implication that those who follow Jesus will be handed over as well. But handed over to whom and for what purpose?
Certainly, those who follow in Jesus’ way do, in some form or another hand their lives over to an authority that has power beyond themselves. It’s why we call Jesus “Lord.” Lord. That term not about the perpetuation of an archaic, sexist, hierarchical class system established to keep nobility and servants in their proper place. That’s what we’ve done to the term “Lord.” Originally, Lord is one to whom you owe your life and allegiance. So let’s remember just who it is that we are calling Lord and vowing to walk in his ways: someone who cared for the poor and outcast; someone who fed the hungry and cured the lame; someone who challenged systems of oppression; someone who revealed that the realm of God can exist on earth; someone whose death and resurrection revealed the eternal nature of the love of God. So, yea, I’m okay with calling that guy my Lord. And in so doing, we are called to yield so he can go ahead of us and we can follow. It’s like pulling up to an unmarked intersection. It was interesting to see how ingrained the practice of yielding to the right made things confusing when roundabouts were introduced into our lives. Because when you arrive at a roundabout, you yield to the people that are already in that circle and… if things are going well, they are on the left. But, you yield and let someone else go ahead of you. Following in the way of Jesus is about yielding yourself up to Jesus, to let him go first and then follow after.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one who came into the world, not through royalty or popularity but from poverty and was recognized first by the outcasts and marginalized.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one whose sovereignty came, not through election or bloodline but as a fulfillment of the mercy of God who hears the cries of the poor and the needy.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one whose reign is revealed as the low are lifted high and the mighty are brought back down to earth.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one who preaches words of blessing from a mountainside and not a throne.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one who calms the stormy seas of life so we can make it to the other side of loss and turmoil and get our feet firmly planted on God’s good earth and know that we will not remain in the valley of the shadow of death forever.
We yield ourselves over to follow in the way of one who promises I will never leave you, and then goes on to fulfill that promise over and over and over again.
We yield ourselves over to the one who walks by, all covered in wilderness desert dust and says, I know what it’s like to be tempted and tried and hungry and lost so drop those nets and follow me.
Follow me because folks are getting all tangled up in nets that are getting in the way of God’s footsteps to be seen and recognized on earth.
There’s another part of this following in the way of Jesus that we tend to make light of and that’s the part about being the answer to Jesus’ prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s the prayer he handed over to us and we claim as our Lord’s prayer. If this is the prayer we claim we got from the one who is our Lord, our life-giver and to whom we owe our allegiance, we better start taking what we’re praying for seriously because, as so many of us have professed, God has a way of answering our prayers. And God might just be working on some of us to be making that heavenly will of God for which we pray a little bit more obvious here on earth.
Follow Jesus because the footsteps that you see in the midst of the hard parts of life are none other than the footsteps of God’s mercy and grace.
Follow Jesus because the footsteps that you see in the muddy waters of conflict and power-struggles and hatred are the footsteps that lead to reconciliation and justice and peace.
Follow Jesus because the footsteps that you see going up the steep rocky slope of justice are the footsteps that lead to the mountaintop of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke where little children of all races play equally together without fear.
Follow Jesus because the footsteps that you see have a way of showing that you are loved just as you are, where you are, who you are, who you love and how you love.
And, in order to follow Jesus, you may just need to, no, you will need to leave some things behind in a boat somewhere. Your nets. Those things that might hold you back. Those fears. Those doubts. That bus schedule. Those other demands of life. But don’t worry, God will see to it that your nets will be taken care of. For there will be others whose call to follow Jesus is all about turning off lights and locking the doors after everyone else has left those nets and followed Jesus out into the world.