A Sermon Preached by Rev. Elizabeth Hagan on Mark 1:14-20
In our gospel lesson for today, we find one of the most distinct “calling” passages in all of scripture. Jesus meets his first disciples, two sets of fishermen brothers, Andrew and Simon, James and John. Christ comes by the lakeshore one day where they were working. Maybe they’d had a long night with nets full of fish to sell in the market that day. Maybe they didn’t. While they were standing by the shore, Jesus calls out to the four men. He says to them: “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And without hesitation it seems that they drop their nets and begin to follow Jesus.
It’s a Baptist youth camp pastor’s dream moment in action A call is extended and on the first verse of “Just as I am” the four super-stars to be in the group and drop their nets and commit. No hesitation. No stumbling down the aisle and turning around. Just one step in front of the other with a bee-line toward Jesus.
It’s a wow moment of faith if there ever was one, don’t you agree?
Let’s stop and remember here that these men have no idea where they were going. They have no idea what they’ll be doing. They have no idea where the journey will take them. They were not promised a pension or a IRA account. They weren’t promised the top of the line Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance.
But, there was something so compelling about the presence of this guy named Jesus. And something even more complying about his message. They say “yes.”
Think with me a moment, if we transplanted such an encounter into a modern context, say a group of brothers who owned their own insurance company, car wash or dry cleaners for example, and a new teacher came to town, visited the guys at work and said leave everything behind and “Follow me!” do you think this story would have the same ending?
In our modern age of skepticism, I would have to think not. Making a commitment of total faith, meaning no background checks, references or previous experience to guide us is not something many of us ever do.
For let’s be reminded here that in Mark’s version of the story, we get no indication that the disciples had ever met Jesus, observed his work, or even knew of his family. It was BLIND faith.
But as they did say yes, the disciples got this—a new message. A calling to guide their journey with Jesus.
“I will make you fishers of men.” (or some inclusive translations use the word “people”).
The calling was this: Jesus wanted to use Simon, Andrew, James and John to share good news with all those they meant along the way of their time together, but even more importantly after Jesus’ death (though of course he hadn’t filled them in on that part of the story yet).
Let me pause here and muse with you a moment. You might be thinking, Pastor, this is a nice Bible story and all but I don’t know how in the world it relates to my life. In fact, you might want to offer back to me: “I’m no Peter, James or John. I do not have the set of skills for anything great. God would surely never pick me. I’m not that holy.”
I’m sure the Andrew, Simon, James or John could have said the same thing. They were fishermen, even though it was a common profession in their geographic region, it wasn’t a sexy one. They had dirty hands and fingernails. They worked long hours. They were underpaid. Most certainly, they weren’t skilled theologians who had previously spent hours of training at the temple. They were just average dudes.
But, yet, again, Jesus doesn’t allow this reason to stop him from extending the call.
Let’s read verse 17 again: “’Come follow me’, Jesus said, ‘And I will make you fishers of men.’”
I love the phrase “I will make you fishers of men” (minus the paricharical part) because I know there are a thousand other things Jesus could have said instead of this. However, he chose to call them on their own terms. It’s like Jesus was sitting down and having a chat with them like this: “Ok, guys, I know you know how to sail a boat and throw a net and clean up a fish, but now come follow me and I am going to transform your skills making you fishermen of another kind, taking what you love and giving it greater meaning. “
This scripture, you see, begs us to notice that Jesus called the disciples exact where they were, exactly as they were. He sees potential in them that they don’t see in themselves. Potential to be both good fishermen but later on good at relationship building that would have eternal significance.
And hear this: while following Jesus did indeed mean making changes in their life (i.e. leaving home), it did not mean the end of their unique personhood too. Their talents, their hopes, their dreams, their fears would STILL a part of the story. And all their annoying qualities too. In fact, it would be their uniqueness that would help write the chapters to come of what would become our gospel books.
Mark chapter 1 points us to this: God longs to use us, all of us, in ALL our uniqueness.
Several years ago, when visiting a family friend in Tennessee, I met a woman named Mrs. Espy who was 87. Due to a bad hip and hearing issues, Mrs. Espy rarely left her home. There were nights when she wondered why she was still living. So many of her dearest friends and husband were already gone.
But who says an 87-year old woman couldn’t learn something new? She did! A neighbor taught her to crochet stars. And Mrs. Epsy found out that she crocheted quite well and loved it making them.
As her confidence grew in star-making was growing, Mrs. Espy’s pastor came to visit her. He wondered if she could make crochet stars for the each of the 4 trees her church put up at Christmas.
Of course, there were a thousand reasons why could have also said, “Not me!” to this big project. Her hands were stiff. Her budget for buying supplies was slim. Her eyesight was failing.
But all these excuses put aside, Mrs. Epsy wanted others to feel love and know love and have something beautiful to hold in their hands. So, every day under her bright lamp in her comfy chair, she worked on the stars. And worked on the stars.
With each new star she made, Mrs. Espy crocheted faster than ever—to the surprise of many. Soon, Mrs. Espy had created more stars than her church needed so she began sending them to city officials, police officers, anyone she could think of really along with a note of thanks. And she gave stars to anyone who would come to her home. Even as a first-time guest one afternoon, I found myself going home with a star. What an honor!
Later I learned the local newspaper and television stations became fascinated by her labor of love and came visiting too. They told her story far and wide about her message of love lived out in crocheting stars. Who would have known—a lady who could have faded away, been sullen in her chair, suddenly became a resounding witness for others to hear Christ’s call of service too in something as “simple” as stars.
I believe you could say that her “star” ministry was her version of saying yes to being “a fisher of people.” A call that came exactly where she was, with what she enjoyed doing and could do at her time and place in life. And this calling was the new message God gave her to share at the ripe age of 87. It’s never too late, you see to share God’s message with our lives.
And if you and take a moment and reflect . . .
If we think about what our world needs at this moment in history in 2018 . . .
I believe one thing we need are more Simons, Andrews, James, Johns and Mrs. Espys in the world HEARING and RESPONDING to God’s calling on their lives. And living out a new message of hope and healing for such a time as this. Don’t you?
For all of us standing on the side lines today, not knowing how to respond a calling by God send in our direction, I want introduce you to the wisdom of theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman who once said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I’ve loved this quote for a long time because it rubs up against the notion of how we church folks make “calling” so complicated.
In the churchy world, we make calling into a word that only “professional Christians” like your pastors get to use.
We make calling into something so hard, so unattainable that only the holy among us get to speak about.
We make calling certainly a word we’d never use about our lives.
But I think Howard Thurman balks at all that saying clearly: “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.”
Simon, Andrew, James and John came alive in their fishing and this act, God called them.
Mrs. Espy came alive making crocheted stars and in this act God called her.
I feel alive when I’m preparing and preaching a sermon to a congregation and in this act God called me out.
Where do you come alive my friends?
On a weekend such as this, when there so much lofty talk about the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (very needed and very well deserved of course), I believe that it’s easy for us to miss the point of his message.
We so easily uplift one amazing guy and forget Dr. King most wanted all of us to be active players in our own lives, to remember that we all belong to one another. For, he was a just a prophet trying to show us the way.
We ALL have a part to play in bringing more of God’s justice to this world.
We ALL have a story to write with our life in our time and through our service.
We ALL are important players in the kingdom of God living and breathing in such a time as this. God’s team is not one that excludes people for lack of qualifications.
We ALL are needed. Every nationality. Every race. Every language. Every gender. Every sexuality. Red, yellow, black and white—we are ALL precious in God’s sight.
“Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of people.”
Do you hear this new message, church? It’s such good news. God wants to include all of us in bringing the kingdom of God to earth. I’ll ask one more time: what makes you come alive? Go and do that my friends. It’s here you’ll meet God. It is here that you’ll meet the world’s deep needs. It is from here that new message God wants to speak from you will spring forth.
Follow me? And what? Jesus says: I will make you fishers of people.