Sermon for January 24, 2021

“Heed the Call!”

Mark 1:14-20

One day there was a Pastor standing up at the pulpit ready to preach a sermon and a stranger came walking into the church and said follow me and the world will be your parish.  Immediately the pastor left his congregation as they sat waiting for a sermon and followed the stranger down the road.

The next day the stranger came upon an auto-body repair shop and there was a man working to remove a dent out of the fender of a car.  The stranger stopped and called to him, “Follow me and I will show you how to remove dents out of people’s lives.  Immediately the worker dropped his hammer and followed the stranger down the road.

Aren’t those the strangest stories you have ever heard?  Something has to be missing.  Why would any individual drop everything they are doing to follow someone they did not really know?  If you or I were hard at work and someone who we really did not know came up and said, “Come, follow me and I will show you the real meaning of life.”  We would think that they were probably a little crazy.  No, no thank you.  I have got fish to catch.  It is not natural to simply drop everything and follow someone at a whim.

Yet, that seems to be precisely what we read as Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John to follow him.  They dropped their work, left behind their occupations and family, and never really returned to their fishing again as they followed Jesus.

Why did the disciples follow Jesus?  Why should or do we follow Jesus?  That is what I want to talk about today, and also what can we, as a church, do more effectively in calling others to follow Jesus?  I think perhaps the reasons we follow Jesus today maybe the same reasons the disciple’s chose to follow Jesus.  The gospels that describe the beginning of Jesus ministry do give us some clues.  

They and we follow Jesus, first, because there is something special about him.  In describing the beginning of Jesus ministry Matthew writes, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles –the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” In John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as the word of God and the light of all people.

Jesus is more than ordinary. He is the light of the world.  People follow Jesus because God’s light is singly and uniquely within him.  In him are life and a relationship with the creator.

Perhaps in our modern world we do not appreciate the depth of these words.  Our world always has a light on somewhere.  We have so many high intensity bulbs burning in the night that we cannot even see the stars in some places. In biblical times a light burning through the darkness would have been dramatic.  When they spoke of Christ as the light of all people, they were ascribing to him the ability to transform their world from one of darkness and despair to one of hope and joy. 

Perhaps if we lived in Alaska, we could get a feel for darkness.  Barrow Alaska, on the Artic Ocean, is the northern most point in North America.  In winter, it is also one of the darkest.  The sun set there this past November and will not be seen again until the end of this month.  Getting through two months of night is not easy.  One study suggest that the farther North one goes the higher the suicide rate in Alaska.

In the last part of January, when the first feeble rays of sunlight begin to shine, many of the inhabitants will take to the ice to fly brightly colored kites in a jubilant celebration.  The darkness has been dispelled.  Light is now here.

It is not easy to live in darkness.  It is not easy to live without Christ.  Life without Christ is like a day without light for Christ brings the light of life into our darkened lives every day that we live; regardless of the weather.  More than anything I believe that is one way of describing what prompted the disciples to drop all they were doing and follow Jesus.  They found within Jesus something that their lives deeply needed –the presence of God and Life.  I think that the people who often become Christians are the ones who have come to understand and realize this truth. 

If life seems dark and troubled, then lift up your eyes from the world and know that God has sent Christ into our world as hope and the dawn of a new day.  In prayer as an appeal to God for forgiveness and life we can connect to this remarkable truth.  Then the better question will be not why do we follow Christ, but why did we wait so long to lay down the mere work of only our own hands to pick up the life and work of God’s kingdom?

Secondly, the disciples followed Jesus because most likely Jesus was not a total stranger to them.  We read that as Jesus began his ministry, he was all through Galilee preaching and healing.  Our text is best understood when we do not disconnect it from the things of life that happened before and were happening then.   If you read the other gospels you can find various stories of Jesus and Peter meeting each other.  In John’s gospel Andrew goes and gets Peter and tells him that he has found the Christ.  In Luke’s gospel we have the story of Jesus preaching from Peter’s boat. These stories are relating different moments.  Peter and Andrew most likely were approached by Jesus more than just one time, and they were already somewhat knowledgeable about who Jesus was.   When Jesus said follow me, they had probably already made up their minds about wanting to learn more from Jesus.   A seminary teacher I know once spoke on the early Jewish tradition of education.  He said that it was common for all Jewish children as they were growing up to learn the basic elements of reading, writing, and studying the scriptures.  However, at a certain age one had to either be accepted by a teacher and become a disciple in learning, or one had to pursue an occupation of another type.  So a person would approach a teacher and ask if they could continue their learning with them.  The teacher would either accept them or reject them.  If a person was rejected by everyone they asked then they had to find a job as a labor, fisherman, carpenter, farmer or some other job.  Higher education went to the ones a teacher deemed worthy, and it was considered a step up in life to be so chosen. When Jesus asked Andrew and Peter and James and John to follow him he was living out a normal custom of his time as a teacher seeking good students.  He just chose people not in the temple but by the seashore, and he went to them rather then them coming to him.   I think it is quite likely that there is something of Jesus own personal persistent presence in their decision to follow him. 

If it is likely that the disciples came to follow Jesus because Jesus was persistent in his contact with them, we may ask ourselves today how persistent are we in bringing others to Christ?

Thirdly, people followed Jesus because things happened when Jesus was around.  Lives were changed.  Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.  Doesn’t that sound like a place to be?  In the presence of Christ there is a continual growth in the knowledge of God and health and wholeness.  There were real and lasting results in the lives of the people who followed Jesus.  Just think about the Disciples. 

We read in Acts 4 when the disciples were brought before the Sanhedrin, and the religious rulers “saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  Jesus indeed did as he said he would.  He transformed these ordinary fishermen into fishers of men.  Has Jesus made a difference in your life? 

If you tell me no, then there something wrong, because I know Jesus has made all the difference in my life.  I would never have gone to seminary and become a minister if Jesus was not real to me.  If Christ had no effect on my life I would not be here, but Jesus is real, and I am drawn to seek out a greater understanding and relationship with him everyday that I live.  That makes a difference in the knowledge I learn, the person I am striving to be, and the life that I am living.  My life has largely been shaped by the reality of God in Jesus Christ.

People followed Jesus, because he made a real and tangible difference within their lives.  Within Christ comes the knowledge of God and health and healing.  This is the legacy, gift and challenge to the church today.  The church in a very strong way is to be a living learning growing and healing community.

Finally, I believe people followed Jesus because he carried on and fulfilled the proclamation of John the Baptist.  We read that Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  In Matthew 3:2 we read that John the Baptist preached, “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Jesus first sermons picked up on the same theme as John’s.  His message was familiar to the people, and in keeping with the teachings of the Old Testament.  Sometimes people like to think Jesus proclaimed a whole new message, but that isn’t so.  Jesus simple proclaimed the essence of what the Jewish faith was really about and fulfilled the promises of God’s plan for us.   People followed Jesus because he spoke the truth and fulfilled God’s word.    I think that the church of today does not need to rethink the old gospel message, we just need to be truly living it out and proclaiming the message we have been given in heart, word, and deed.

So finally, the big question for the day comes to us from this text.  How can we as a church be more effective in calling people to follow Jesus?  The answer is simple.  We like the Disciples need to simply heed the call. 

We must clearly be the representative of Christ ministry in our world today.  Are we representing the light of Christ in our world today, and showing people how they might escape from the darkness of sin within their lives?  Are we a special people so abounding in the love and life of God that we draw others to us?  Are we persistent in our love and care for others?  Is our church a place where lives are being changed?  Are things happening here?  Are we growing in the knowledge of God and promoting health and wholeness in the lives of those who meet us?  Finally, are we preaching the Gospel of Jesus, and no other?  I believe the more we represent Jesus ministry in our world today, then the more people will be drawn to us. 

This will not be our work but it will be the work of the Holy Spirit within us, and when people come and truly find the Spirit of Christ present with us, then they like us will drop what they are doing and immediately follow Jesus too.  Amen.

Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
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.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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