Called to Follow

Mark 1:14-20 can be found here...

Finally! It begins! Mark, of all the gospels, is the gospel of action—we don’t have the more talkative Jesus of the other gospels, and we do have many instances of the words “Suddenly” and “Immediately” Immediately it begins! The gospel—the good news—starts to get out.

John the Baptist has been arrested—John, who, just a few verses ago, was dunking Jesus, and a many other people, in the Jordan. We don’t find out why John has been arrested for another five chapters. Suffice to say, his arrest is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ arrest. Both John and Jesus have a genius for ticking off the powers-that-be.

And the fact that John is arrested seems to be the thing that spurs Jesus into action. John is out of circulation. Who will preach the good news so that people will know that they can still turn their lives around? Jesus decides to do it.

The next thing we learn is that Jesus comes to Galilee and gives his first sermon. I’ll read it to you:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 

That’s it. That’s the sermon. As I said, this is Jesus, the man of fewer words than the Jesus we meet in other gospels. But that is, nevertheless, a good sermon.

Following the sermon, Jesus finds himself some disciples—followers, people who want to engage in a discipline of learning and growing and changing, with Jesus as their rabbi. Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee, and comes upon two fishermen, and invites them to try fishing for souls for a while. Then he finds a couple more fishermen, and invites them along. Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John—they all leave their boats and their nets—and in the case of James and John, their father—and follow.  

Who knows what it was about Jesus’ words or presence. Maybe the fishermen saw God shining brightly through him. Maybe they’d just had it with fishing. Maybe this was the first time a rabbi had ever thought they would make good disciples, and it was an opportunity not to be missed. Maybe they thought, “Finally!” And got up and went.

They are called to follow. And the nature of their call is, first, to listen to Jesus’ preaching and teaching, and to watch what he does. And then, their call is to become part of what Jesus is doing by doing it themselves.

Preaching. Teaching. Feeding. Healing. Praying.

These are the things Jesus does in his ministry. He preaches the good news of God’s dawning reign. He teaches people how to spot God’s reign in action, and to join in. He feeds people when they are hungry. He heals people when they are sick. And he goes off from time to time, away from the crowds to pray.

Preaching. Teaching. Feeding. Healing. Praying. 

Needless to say, that is a short list, filled with big tasks. And at the outset of his ministry, Jesus calls four men who didn’t go to high school or college or seminary, and invites them along to do exactly these things.

Why is Jesus so sure they can do this? What does Jesus see in these four men who fish for a living, that they are the ones he chooses to do his work with them?

Here follows:

Ten Reasons Why Fisher Folk are a Good Choice for Companions in Ministry.

One. The fishermen of first century Galilee are not lone wolves. They are not lonely crabs scuttling across the floor of silent seas. They cast nets out together, and use their combined strength to pull the haul back in. The first reason: Fisher folk know how work together as a team.

Two. These fisher folk also have specific individual skills they bring to the table. No one is born knowing how to mend nets, but if your mother or father knows how to mend nets, then you can learn this valuable skill from someone you trust. The second reason: These fisher folk are learners, and because of that, they can acquire needed skills.

Three. Fishermen have to know when to mend something, and make it better and stronger, and they also have to know when to let it go. No first-century net lasts forever, even if it has been well-mended. They are all made of natural materials that degrade over time, so there comes a time when they are no longer useful tools. The third reason: Fisher folk learn the difference between tools that are still useful, and tools they must throw away.

Four. Folks who fish the sea get to know the sea very, very well. They become acute observers of their surroundings, knowing what the different kinds of clouds mean, understanding the difference between water that is a clear azure blue and water that is churning mud. The fourth reason: Fisher folk know how to observe and understand what is going on around them.

Five. These particular fisher folk are people of action. Take Simon, whom Jesus calls “Peter,” for example. Along with the other three, he leaps at the chance to go with Jesus. He is the first to say to Jesus, “You are the Messiah,” the Anointed One of God. Peter is the one who decides to put up tents on the mountainside, so that they can all stay in the presence of Elijah and Moses longer. The fifth reason: At least some of these fishermen are persons who are ready to take action.

Six. Simon Peter also shows us someone who is ready to challenge the leader, and he’s not the only one. Now, Jesus doesn’t respond real well to that. I believe the exact phrase he uses to Peter is “Get behind me, Satan.” But do you notice? Simon Peter never gets demoted, he never falls out of favor with Jesus. He remains Jesus’ choice to guide the early church. Leaders need to know that their team includes those who are thinking things through with their own brains, using the wisdom gained from their experiences as well as the gifts God has given them. The sixth reason: The fisher folk show us examples of people ready to challenge the leader when they’re not sure he’s on the right track. And Jesus doesn’t reject or punish anyone who does that.

Seven. Fishermen understand that, some storms, they will work to sail through using all the strength they have; while, others, the only option is to wait, take cover, and pray. The seventh reason: Fisher folks know when to take action and when to let God take charge.

Eight. First century fishermen are not part of the religious establishment. I’ve already mentioned that none of these guys have seminary degrees. It occurs to me that Jesus never chooses anyone from the religious hierarchy, because those folks have their own axes to grind, and are highly likely to want to protect turf that’s working just fine for them, thank you so much. Fishermen, on the other hand, are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The eighth reason: Fishermen are able to enter into Jesus’ fresh new ways of thinking, and aren’t threatened by his vision of God’s kingdom.

Nine.  The fishermen are poor. At least a couple of times in the gospels, Jesus says, either “Blessed are the poor,” or “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The poor are struggling to survive physically—to feed themselves and their families. The poor in spirit, are struggling to hold on to hope. In both cases, the poor know that they, themselves, cannot manage to get out of their state on their own. As is said in Twelve Step groups, they’ve hit bottom, and they know their own resources will not help them. This is a state in which people are often able to open themselves to God, to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. The ninth reason: Poverty—of body or of spirit—makes these disciples most open and eager to learn Jesus’ way.

Ten. It is a good bet these fishermen have wives and families. In a couple of weeks we’ll hear a story about one of their mothers-in-law… and you usually only get those when you’re married. And though they’re only mentioned as an afterthought—all the way down in Mark chapter 15—Jesus had women who were disciples, too. Women who were followers, too. Women who provided for Jesus and the twelve. Actually, the word used in the gospel is “diakonein,” which means “served.” It’s the word that gives us our English word, “Deacon.” The women, we learn later in the gospel, were deacons to Jesus and his followers. You can bet that included some cooking. The tenth reason: Women were needed in this ministry, too.

We are all called to follow. We may not realize that our life experience has fitted us perfectly for Jesus’ work. But I promise you, it has.

Have you, at some point, learned how to work as part of a team…?

Have you learned a skill or two…?

Do you have the ability to discern the things we need to hold on to, and the things we need to let go?

Are you observant? Of people and situations?

Are you a doer—a person who like to take action, get things done?

Are you someone who’s not afraid to offer a different opinion, a new perspective?

Are you able, under certain circumstances, to wait, and let God work on a situation for a bit?

Do you know what it feels like to be at the end of your rope? Is there a space in your heart for God’s love to pour in and through you?

If you have answered “yes” to even one of these questions… has Jesus got a job for you! There is no need to hesitate. There are immediate openings in all aspects of this ministry.

Immediately, we can begin! We are called to follow, every single one of us. And so, the gospel—the good news—will continue to get out.

Thanks be to God. Amen.