Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5,10 Psalm 62:6-14 I Cor. 7:29-31 Mark 1:14-20
As the ministry of Jesus moves to the Sea of Galilee, he connects with the significant fishing communities in the region. In the first century, a license was needed to fish, and often fisherman were exploited and barely made a living. They had to work long hours in strenuous environments to earn their wages, and they were often separated from families and friends. This was the context in which Jesus met and called four of his disciples.
The call of Jesus comes to Simon, Andrew, James and John – and they all respond positively and immediately. Putting aside their trade, they commit to Jesus movements. We see here Jesus going to those, who need him most, and we admire the beauty, simplicity, and immediately of the response. While they probably had very little, they gave that up for an uncertain future with no work or trade to bring an income. So they used their fishing skills in another way, to fish for men.
Be ye fishers of men. You catch them and God will clean them. All the readings for this Sunday remind us that with the Epiphany of God, whatever form it takes - a prophetic call, a prayerful reflection, or an encounter with the person of Jesus, whatever form, there comes a radical shift in values and life goals. Life does not continue the same. Jonah was the instrument of change in Ninevah. Psalm 62 affirms trust in God and immediately recognizes the shifting value of material goods. Paul reminds the Church at Corinth that the surpassing worth of Christ puts all other values in place. And when fishermen are called by Jesus of Nazareth, Mark says they immediately left everything behind.
What is the Good News of God? These first words spoken by Jesus in Mark give us the core of his teaching, which the long-awaited Messiah has come to break the power of sin and begin God’s personal reign on earth. Most of the people who heard this message were oppressed, poor, and without hope. Jesus’ words were good news because they offered freedom, justice, and hope. The same ideals we need today.
Fishing was a major industry around the Sea of Galilee. Fishing with nets was the most common method. Capernaum, the largest of more than thirty fishing towns around the lake became Jesus’ new home.
We often assume that Jesus’ disciples were great men of faith from the first time they met Jesus. But they had to grow in their faith just as all believers are on a faith journey. This is apparently not the only time Jesus called Peter (Simon), James and John to follow him. We see references in Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-42 for two other times. Although it took time for Jesus’ call and his message to get through, the disciples followed in the same way, as for us, we may question and falter, but we work and walk to continue to follow Jesus.
Mark tells us dramatic action-packed stories. He gives us the most vivid account of Christ’s activities. He features facts and actions rather than teachings. The way Jesus lived his life is the perfect example of how we should live our lives. Today’s reading consists of two parts: the beginning verses which make a transition from the introduction and provide a summary of the description of Jesus’ public ministry and later verses give a concrete example of commitment to the word and work of Jesus. After having been tested by Satan and empowered by the Spirit, Jesus begins his public ministry. By stating without explanation that John has been arrested, Mark assumes that the reader knows what is to follow.
The first image is that of Jesus as a preacher, one of Mark’s favorite portraits of him, teacher, and exorcist being the other two. Jesus’ message is that now is the fullness of time; now is God’s time, and the kingdom of God has come near. Both messages are possible, for the kingdom is both present and future according to the Gospels. The background for the idea of God’s kingdom or God’s rule lies in Judaism. The reference is to the total reign of God, found in Isaiah 52:7; Psalm 45:6; Psalm 103:19. When history was so oppressive as to say ‘no’ to the rule of God, hope remained tenacious and said ‘yes’ to God’s sovereign rule as an act from above, breaking into history. Those who heard Jesus’ announcement of the presence of the kingdom were to repent of false assumptions and wrongdoing, turning toward God with full trust in the good news.
The ending verses offer a concrete case of believing response. Jesus preaches the gospel and calls for disciples. The story is so brief. The fact is, Mark gives no details, and this absence of details makes the story that much more vivid. The call of these four disciples is a call for a radical response. Their lives will never be the same.
How would we respond to Jesus’ words, “Follow me.” The response of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and then James and John, sons of Zebedee, is amazing. When I lived in Augusta, on Thursdays, I went to Louisville to celebrate Eucharist and have an adult education class with a little church there. I had it timed that I can leave my house in Martinez at 3:30 and get to the church by 4:30 and the service is at 5. On one Thursday, I was going through Wrens when the traffic stopped abruptly. I looked at the clock, 4:20, no worries. I got out the scripture for the service and reviewed it. I thought we would be moving in any minute. Tick, tick, tick. An African-American woman got out of the car behind me and was trying to
see what was going on. I got out of the car to talk with her. I asked if she knew what was going on. She said that there was a terrible accident and she thinks someone was killed. I said, “Oh no.” There was a moment of silence. I asked about the traffic movement and said I had a 5:00 service in Louisville that I needed to get to. She looked and me, shook her head and said, “You’re not going to make that, honey.” I looked at my watch, 4:30. I said, “Surely, there is a way to get around the wreck.” She thought for a minute, called her friend out of the car and they started talking about turns, and dirt roads. She turned to me and began giving me lengthy directions. I’m sure that my eyes glazed over and she could tell that I was already lost. She looked at her friend with knowing eyes. Then she said, “We’ll take you to the main road, so just follow us.” Surprised, I said, “Oh, that’s great that you could do that. Thank you, Thank you!”
We jumped in our cars, did a swift u-turn and were off…4:35. We headed back toward Wrens and turned on an obscure dirt road I never would have found by myself. I followed them with a sense of trust and belief that God had provided these guides for me. We came to the main intersection, they both jumped out of the car, gave me further directions about two upcoming right turns and then a left on the main paved road. Like cheerleaders, they sent me off with, “You’re going to make it, go honey!” I yelled, “Thank you, Thank you, God bless you!” as I sped on…4:42.
I began thinking… “Come and follow me.” In my asking them for help and their responding immediately to my plea, Christ was present. I was so tempted to speed to get there, but instead I let God have the time, claiming it as God’s special time. I pulled up to the church at 4:58 and we began the service at 5:05 – not bad after such a delay.
In thinking of their openness, I thought they were disciples. As James and John responded, “they left their father.” These amazing women left their plans, they were obviously going somewhere when I encountered them. They abandoned their agenda. Just as the disciples were called into new ways of being, so were my deliverers.
What does that say to us? The call of the first disciples reminds us what it really means to follow Jesus. He told them that they would be instrumental in calling men and women and children into life-giving relationship with God. If we want to follow Jesus, our mission is the same. If we are to follow Jesus, it must be evident in our lives. That evidence is seen in our continual spiritual growth. Spirituality touches the core of our lives. It forces us to take nothing for granted – neither good nor evil, neither life nor death, neither human beings nor God. In the midst of our busy and turbulent lives, we are called to reach inward, with courageous honesty to our innermost selves, reach out with relentless care to our fellow human beings, and to reach upward with increasing prayer to our God. When Jesus asks us to take up our cross and follow him, we are invited to reach out far beyond our broken and sinful condition, far beyond our comfort zone, and give shape to a life that anticipates and celebrates the great things that are prepared for us. We are to open ourselves to see Jesus in all things and to let Jesus direct us in all things. For God alone my soul in silence waits…Silence, so we can hear Jesus’ call…Follow me!! Amen.