Third Sunday after Epiphany 25 January 2015
(Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Psalm 62 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Mark 1: 14-20)
“One Beggar Asking Another for Bread!”
I must admit that earlier this week when I took a closer look at today’s scripture texts, there was a pause as I read today’s Gospel text from Mark of Jesus calling the first four disciples. My first thought was, “this sounds exactly like the Gospel text from last week where Jesus calls the first disciples.” The only difference being, last week was John’s Gospel and today is Mark’s Gospel. My hesitation was, “how can I, two weeks in a row, preach about Jesus calling disciples?” Oh me of little faith!
I will give you a warning! This is not going to be your typical “fishers of people” evangelism sermon, the one you usually hear with these stories of Jesus calling his disciples! And I will tell you why, right up front! Although this is the most favorite description of Christian mission (“fishers of people”), I think we have been way too simplistic and unsophisticated and naive in the way we have read these stories of Jesus calling his disciples.
Let me tell you what I mean. [My apologies to all the fishermen here this morning, especially those who “hook and release.”] But that is not what was happening in the fishing village along the Sea of Galilee. There was no “hook and let go.” We are talking big, strong men with nets over-flowing with fish. These men were in it for the business, and so, at its crudest, such “fishing” was akin to scalp hunting, and I almost want to apologize for even saying that.
But…..therefore….. if we use this image as one for Evangelism, it means simply getting as many people to join the Church as possible! The focus is totally, completely on quantity, which is exactly why so much Evangelism has become the obnoxious knock-down-your-door, intrude-in-your-face, pledge-allegiance-to-Jesus kind of mission for some churches. And where such thinking prevails, people simply become statistics of success, objects to be counted, fish to be hooked—rather than persons to be loved.
So how to we begin to figure it out? I think the clue to Jesus’ meaning, at least in Mark , is Mark’s Jesus. Remember, we are only at Chapter 1, verse 16, which began “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ….” So only 15 verses later Jesus begins calling people to join in that Good News.
The “Good News of the Kingdom” according to Mark, is about what happens to people and it is about people, it’s about community. It is about loving and caring for people at a level where they make changes in their life direction.
Evangelism at its best is not about numbers; but rather about people changing their life direction because of the way others care about them in the name of Jesus Christ! It is about nurturing and building each other up, and nourishing other’s spirits and souls.
So, one more thing happens in this text. Simon and Andrew leave their nets. James and John leave their father. What might we make of that? I will ask you to hear these verses in a slightly different way.
I wonder if, when we hear that Simon and Andrew leave their nets, and when James and John just walk away from their father who is still in the boat, I wonder if we might be able you hear this as a protest—a protest not against life and family, but more generally, against all structures of society which simply perpetuate and trap people into the service of the status quo and all the false gods this then perpetuates—things like privilege and prestige, elitism and advantage.
When Jesus calls these four individuals (and eventually eight more) to follow him, his call becomes so socially disruptive so as to upset a system not only for those called but also for those left behind. Jesus called for a new way of looking at life, wherever you are, a new set of priorities, changed values, and much more. It meant a new God, or better, a return to the God of compassion and justice.
“They left their nets and followed him” [1:18]. Following Jesus always begins with putting some things down, leaving other things behind. Like each one of you, I don’t always have the conviction as did Simon and Andrew to leave behind what it is that prevents me from taking the risk of following Jesus in new ways when He calls. So that’s why, I’ve concluded, it is good to hear, two weeks in a row, stories of Jesus calling his disciples!
Martin Luther gives us one of the best descriptions of Christianity I’ve ever heard. It is this: “one beggar telling another where she/he found the bread.” It is my favorite description of Evangelism, no less, because it speaks of relationship between individuals. It speaks of sharing. It speaks of nourishing. It speaks of attending to the presence of God, while at the same time attending to the hunger in another.
The poet, Mary Oliver, in her poem entitled, “The Summer Day,” ends the poem with a question that becomes Jesus’ question for us this morning, words that disturb me in the best possible way. She writes: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild, and precious life?”1 This becomes the question for each of us this morning. Amen.
1 House of Light, Mary Oliver. p.60.
Third Sunday after Epiphany 25 January 2015