"A Risky Road"
Scripture - Mark 1:14-20
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, January 25, 2015
As this morning's passage opens, Jesus is a one man ministry. John has baptized him in the Jordan River and Jesus has spent 40 days in the wilderness mentally and spiritually wrestling with demons and discerning God's will for his life. He comes to a decision. It is time to launch his ministry, but he will not do it alone. He needs disciples to help him spread his message and carry out his work.
The Gospel of Mark informs us that Jesus is searching for recruits as he strolls along the bank of the Lake of Galilee. His eyes fall upon two brothers who are fishing, Simon and Andrew. They have not taken a day off from their jobs to spend a leisurely day at the lake. This is their job. Their lives depend on catching fish.
Jesus watches the two as they gather their net and then give it a great heave. It fans out, lands on the surface of the water, and begins to sink. Jesus calls out to them, "Follow me and I will make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I will show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass."1 The gospel says "Immediately they left their nets and followed him."
With his first draftees in tow, Jesus saunters a bit further down the shoreline. He spots a few men in a boat mending their nets and makes them the same bold offer. James and John drop the nets, walk away from their father and double the band of followers.
From the looks of it, these first four spent no time pondering the invitation of Jesus. What was it that prompted Simon and Andrew to stop fishing so abruptly? Frustration that their nets were empty? Fatigue from the difficult work? And what spurred James and John to drop their nets and leave their dad in the boat? Had their father raised them to keep their eyes peeled for new opportunities or were they simply bored with their daily routine? Or was it the case that when this charismatic stranger issued the challenge, James looked his brother in the eye and said, "Is this it? Is this what we've been pining for?" And John nodded, "Let's give it a try."
What seems apparent is that when these first followers joined Jesus, they had scarce idea of what would be demanded. I suspect the same is true for most of us.
When we first committed to following Jesus we did not really comprehend the repercussions of our decision. We did not sit down and analyze the sweeping possibilities that might emerge. And even if we had, we never could have imagined all we would encounter by choosing this path. Following Jesus demands a commitment, yet we must make this commitment despite limited information and unknown outcomes.
Did you hear about the young man who went into a photography shop with a framed picture of his fiancée? He wanted the picture duplicated. The shop owner removed the photograph from its frame. When he slid the back off the frame, he noticed there was an inscription on the back of the picture. It read: "My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever. I am yours completely for all eternity. Diane." It had this postscript: "P.S. If we ever break up, I want this picture back."2
Not the kind of commitment Jesus expects from us and not the kind of commitment we require when life hurls temptations and miseries our way.
Making a commitment to Jesus is like making a commitment in marriage. We must make a promise without the benefit of all the information and without the certainty of how our decision will play out in years to come.
When Jesus began his ministry, he called disciples to follow him. He still issues that call. He calls you and he calls me to follow him. He says, "Follow me into the future. Follow me where I lead you."
Frederick Buechner writes, "We want to know who he is before we follow him, and that is understandable enough except that the truth of the matter is that it is only by first following him that we can begin to find out who he is. You do not come first to understand a person fully and then love him. Love comes first, and then it is out of the love that understanding is born.3
To make the commitment to follow Jesus is not a decision to live a risk-free life. God challenges us to go places that Jesus would go, to help people that Jesus would help, and to stand for principles for which Jesus would stand.
Most of us are risk averse. We pour energy into making our lives safe and secure. We strive for financial security so that we are not simply scraping by. We strive for physical security in the places we choose to live and the places we choose not to go. And we strive for emotional security. We take steps we believe are necessary to protect our fragile egos. However, I wonder if we overdo it. God calls us to take some chances because taking a risk will challenge us to grow. If we cling too tightly to the familiar and the predictable we will miss new marvels and miracles, new opportunities and adventures.
Are you open to the whispers of God calling you in a particular direction or to a specific ministry? Or is your life so full and your routine so set that your heart is closed to God calling you to something new?
A colleague tells of a woman who was seeking help from the community of faith. When a pastor responded to her need by offering only a prayer, she wrote:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
You seemed so holy, so close to God.
But I am still hungry and lonely and cold.4
When Jesus gathered his disciples, he did not say, "Have faith in me and believe that I am the Son of God." Instead, he issued a challenge: "Follow me!" Jesus knew that if they trailed along with him, they would see his compassion for others and his thirst for just treatment for all. If they followed him, they would see how rich life can be when you tune into the hurts of the world and throw yourself into mending what is broken.
But following Jesus is also frightening because we have no idea where he might lead us. Are you afraid of where Jesus might challenge you to focus your energy? Are you afraid he will set the bar too high or call on you to do something you think you are incapable of doing? True confession: I have certainly known such fear. I am all too aware that sometimes my priorities conflict with God's priorities. I become cautious when it feels as if God is tugging me to take an unpopular stand. I start generating counter-arguments when it feels as if God is leaning on me to become involved in a controversial cause. However, it is important to remember that from time to time, God shakes up our routines and calls on us to tackle something new.
It is natural to be anxious about following Jesus because most of us want to know from the start where he will lead us. We want to type the destination into our GPS and head out with secure knowledge of where this trip will end. But that is definitely not the way it works when you follow Jesus. You have no idea what will unfold along the way - what people you will meet, what opportunities will appear or where you will end up.
If someone would have told me 15 years ago that Jesus would lead me to a church in Wilmington, Delaware, I would have said, "DelaWhere?" But I believe I was following Jesus when I accepted the call to Westminster. Three years ago, I had no idea I would become involved in supporting a steel drum band that brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim middle school children in Israel/Palestine. Yet, this seems to be one of the places that following Jesus has landed me.
In what ways have you answered the call of Jesus to follow him? At some point in your life you decided to join the community of faith and you have reaffirmed that decision countless times. Your presence demonstrates that you are continuing to say, "I want to follow Jesus," or at least, "I think I want to try to follow him."
Becoming a follower by joining the church, you made a commitment to live according to Biblical principles - chief of which is to love God with your entire being and to love your neighbor as yourself.
You answer the call of Jesus to follow him each time you forgive someone, each time you give away a portion of your income to the church or a ministry focused on helping people. You follow Jesus each time you serve a meal to someone who is hungry, each time you have a cup of coffee with someone who is lonely, each time you deliver a meal to someone who is ill, each time you celebrate someone's worthy accomplishment or shed a tear with someone mourning a loss.
You accept the challenge to follow Jesus when you refuse to laugh at racist jokes, when you resist temptations to lie, to covet, or to rationalize wrong behavior. You follow Jesus when you treat someone who is poor with dignity, when you show respect for the peace-loving faith of a person from a different religion. You follow Jesus when you teach a child what is right and what is wrong, when you admit your own prejudice, when you care for an aging parent and when you walk alongside someone who is traveling through darkness. You follow Jesus when you advocate for a just cause and work for the common good.
Our lives are full of challenges. Life is not a lackadaisical saunter, but a strenuous hike that forges up rugged mountains and stumbles down into dark valleys. Yet, if we follow Jesus, life will be joyful and threatening and exciting.
Listen. Listen to the whisper in your soul. Take note of what stirs your heart. Focus on the phrase of Scripture that gnaws at you. Pray about the suggestion of your friend. Ponder the idea that strikes a chord within you. Pay attention to the story that makes your eyes moist. Is Jesus calling you to step off the familiar path of your life and try a new path?
Keep your heart open this week for the times Jesus will whisper in your soul, "Follow me." Then dive into the adventure that is waiting for you!
Prayers of the People - Randall T. Clayton
God of old hopes and new visions, the desire for peace and justice, for joy and life, have been in the hearts of people throughout all the ages; like those who have gone before us, we too hope for the same thing and place those hopes in your almighty hands. Knowing the love you have shown though Jesus Christ, we trust that your call to follow will lead us toward the fulfilment of your purposes in creation. As we continue to pray for that promised day of gladness, we ask that you give new visions of the possibilities for service and of how we might follow more faithfully. Move us when we are stuck. Slow us down when we move too fast. Push us when we tarry. And when we turn the wrong direction, point us in the way you would have us to go.
Give us new vision for our church that we might understand and embrace your call in this new day, and that we might always trust your care enough to risk even our comfort and cherished traditions for the sake of your kingdom when that is your call. Help us to continue to be a vibrant community, a giving community, a welcoming community, a hopeful community, a sign of your love and your care in a weary world.
We pray for those who are highly placed in power, asking that they focus their eyes on you, asking that their actions, deliberations and decisions might lead to harmony and wholeness for all. We pray for those who are victims of power, give them eyes to see you in the midst of their distress, and give us all the courage to speak truth to power when it is a force that victimizes or hurts.
As we cast our nets for all the resources we need for food, housing, clothing and medical care, O God, help us to cast our nets of care toward those who are lonely, those who are hurting, those who are downcast, those in prison. Where your children are making difficult decisions, bring clarity. Where your people are struggling with losses, give comfort. Where your people are experiencing a sense of displacement, give security. Where people are having trouble discerning a path, give guidance. We ask that those who are nearing the end of their journey on earth, and those who are recovering from illness or surgery, and those who mourn the loss of someone or something dear to them, might know at this time in their lives, the power of your love, the presence of your spirit, and the comfort of your care. We ask these things remembering the prayer which Jesus taught, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
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