Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – January 21, 2018
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” That’s fantastic news! We love to hear it – Jesus has good news for us – the kingdom has come near, we are called to turn and follow God, and to believe that the good news of love and forgiveness are actually for us. Yippee! But we get a little bit further in and we realize that Jesus came proclaiming the good news so we could follow him and also become “fishers of people.” Boo…. Now we’re uncomfortable. Now we’re in over our head. And yes, I did in fact mean that to be a water/fishing related pun!
This story is short and sweet. John is arrested, Jesus starts preaching, he calls some disciples, and we’re off to the races. The whole Gospel of Mark moves like this from one story to the next, like the author is running a race, trying to get us to understand this good news for our own lives. The whole Gospel urges us onward, always asking, “what would you do in this situation? Who will you say Jesus is?”
And so we get the story of Jesus walking along the shore, asking Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow…and they do. Immediately. There’s no sign of hesitation. There’s no conversation with family or friends –James and John up and leave their dad on the spot and we later learn that Simon is married! Awkward! One possible explanation is that they already had heard Jesus teach and preach – that it’s only the account that makes it seem like an on the spot decision.
But there’s something in me that likes thinking about it with immediacy and spontaneity. There’s something mysterious, freeing, and adventurous about that. I wonder if the disciples felt a little like Belle from Beauty and the Beast: “I want much more than this provincial life! I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell, … I want so much more than they’ve got planned…” Maybe somewhere inside of them there was that yearning for something more – for a life beyond village life, for something more like the stories of the kings and prophets of old, for something deeper, something that would last. And maybe that longing is within us, too.
The thing about adventures is that they are exciting, but can also bring forth our deepest fears and struggles. They can pose external dangers, but also the threat of having to face things about ourselves that are best left in the settled and comfortable corners of our lives. We see this in all the great stories and movies that captivate us. As Joseph Campbell explains about the hero’s journey: “[the first stage] – the “call to adventure” – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented; as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”
For the disciples, Jesus’ call invited them into this “zone unknown.” For them it would look like trekking from village to village, across the land of their ancestors, encountering religious leaders, the sick, the unclean, prostitutes, Gentiles, Samaritans, and even demons. But it would also look like them coming face to face with themselves – their strengths and weaknesses, their fortitude and their foibles.
We, too, have been invited on this grand adventure. Jesus comes and says, “Follow me.” He speaks not only when we’re thinking about believing in God, but even when we’re trying to discern the next steps in our lives. It’s a journey in which we meet friends and foes, people who will help us and those we will find difficult to love. It’s a quest where we’ll be pushed into the wildernesses and wild places we never thought we might end up. It’s the call that will make us confront our own struggles, wounds, sin, and wrongdoing – the call to turn from selfishness to God and God’s ways. It’s that sacred call that touches us at the very core of who we are. It tugs at our heart persistently and cannot be ignored or denied. It invites us and changes us at the same time. As Fr. Pedro Arrupe puts it, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
I imagine the disciples being so captivated by this man calling out from the shore that they had to learn more. It makes sense to me. When I read about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – how he lived and what he did out of love for us – for me – I had to know more. It was my “follow me” moment. And I have found that as I go along, the journey of faith and discipleship is an adventure. It takes trust, which I’m not always great at, and the road doesn’t always lead where I think it will go or where I would have it go. There are times when God seems distant and it hurts to feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness alone. But it’s precisely in those moments that I’m reminded that this adventure in following Jesus is never something we undertake alone.
Jesus called Andrew and Simon, James and John, in pairs, and for good reason. We have been chosen and called, not just to hear the good news for ourselves, but to share it with others. To become fishers of people not by ensnaring them in nets, but by entering into relationships with them. By eating with them, talking with them. Meeting their needs in feeding and clothing them, serving them and offering a listening ear, love and support. To share God’s love not just by proclaiming God’s love and faithfulness, but by showing it in our presence and actions.
In fact, the Metro D.C. Synod is working on a three-year campaign called the New Connections campaign to reach out to more people in the area. The hope is to share the good news and increase congregational growth by 10%. That’s a net (that’s the second fishing pun for this morning!) of 3,000 people for the Synod. This may seem like a huge undertaking, but think about what it would look like if we all invited one person to Sunday School or worship. So many of you have already done this at one point or another. All of this is based on engaging and investing in relationships with others.
One of our favorite movies growing up was Hook – a modern retelling of the Peter Pan story. At the very end of the movie, Peter, a grown up who has just rescued his kids and defeated Captain Hook, returns home. As the family is reunited, Granny Wendy says, “So… your adventures are over.” And in true Lost Boy style, Peter answers with a twinkle in his eye, “Oh, no. To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”
In baptism we have been chosen and equipped for a life of discipleship. A life of the adventure of following Christ. We do not know where he might lead us, but we know that to live following him will be an awfully big adventure.
Adventures can be full of darkness, danger, and uncertainty. And Jesus never promised that life as a disciple would be easy. But we set out and we follow, knowing whom we follow, who holds us close, and who will never let go of us. That is the promise we have been given. So we go, always pulled inexplicably to the One who has always been calling us. Thanks be to God. Amen.