Transforming Discipleship

Mark 1:16-20 (NRSV)

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

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.

Following Jesus seems so simple and yet so impossible.  Did these men really drop everything and follow a stranger?  Or maybe Jesus wasn’t a stranger.  Maybe he bought a couple fish from them at the market.  Or maybe one of their other regulars told them about Jesus.  Maybe they’d heard him preach in the previous verse.  Mark 1:15 says, 15 He [Jesus] said, “The time has come! God’s kingdom will soon be here.  Turn back to God and believe the good news!” (CEV).  That’s a pretty short and provocative sermon.  I’d have a few follow up questions.  Especially if I was a wealthy, educated, fisherman running the successful family business.  And as a pillar of the community, I would want to be part of any good news happening in my hometown.  I’m taking a lot of creative liberties here, because Mark doesn’t give us details, but what I can tell you is that they took Jesus’ bait, hook, line, and sinker.  

Mark tells us they left and immediately followed him.  What?  How far?  To the next pier?  To the next town?  To the ends of the earth?  How long?  For an hour?  For a day?  A long weekend?  Forever?  Did they ever come home again?  Did they at least say goodbye?  Do their parents, siblings, wives, children, etc., know they are safe?  Did their families want to come along too?  

And this is the beauty of the gospel of Mark.  As the reader, I have so many questions that I just keep frantically reading to find the answers.  Mark uses the word “immediately” so many times I feel like I’m running to keep up with him.  And when I get to the end, I say to Mark, “wait, what?” and I read it again, sure that I’ve missed something.  And the more I read it, the more questions I have.  And just when I think I’ve figured out a particular passage, immediately I see a hole in the sermon, some detail not explained, some part of God yet to be explored.  What I’ve come to realize is that Mark wasn’t written for our information but for our transformation.  

And that is the good news that Jesus is preaching too.  Turn back to God, be loved, and be transformed.  And I don’t think Jesus was asking them to leave everything, as much as he was asking them to give everything over to the transforming love of God.  This is good news.  This is work with a joy filled purpose.  This is something worth putting your whole soul into.[1]

Mark doesn’t exactly say all of this, but this is what I think might have happened.  Jesus called fishermen on purpose.  I don’t know why these particular guys were chosen or maybe they were simply the men that answered.  I think they were successful at fishing.  Mark mentions the hired men working with them.  They had multiple boats that they were willing and able to let Jesus and the other disciples use to travel frequently for ministry purposes.  So, I don’t think they gave up their fishing business to follow Jesus.  I think they transformed their business.  

And I don’t think they left their families, at least not forever.  Andrew and Simon are brothers.  Simon (later known as Peter) has a home that is sometimes used by the disciples.  And he has mother-in-law that Jesus heals.  (We’ll hear that story of transformation later in this sermon series).  And if Peter has a mother-in-law, he has a wife, and maybe kids.  

So, perhaps, when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” those may have been the disciple’s children.  Maybe Peter said to his wife, “get the kids away from Jesus, Kurtis has been playing in fish guts, Karie is covered in sand, and Penelope is soaking wet[2].”  These weren’t random kids; these were the fishermen’s children.  Maybe some of you understand where Peter is coming from.  Wouldn’t you like to give the kids a bath after a day on the shore before you see your pastor?  I’m going to guess yes, since no one has come to church covered in fish guts… yet.  And even if your kids are a little sticky, they are still welcomed to children’s time. 

Anyway, I don’t think Peter left his fishing business or his family completely, but everything and everyone in Peter’s life was transformed by Jesus’ love and Peter’s discipleship.  

So, according to Mark, after Andrew and Peter follow Jesus, they walk a little further and Jesus invites other fishermen to come too.  And I think this is where Andrew and Peter’s witness starts.  Even though they don’t say anything (at least not according to Mark) they are with Jesus when he calls the next set of brothers.  And I’m so curious about this scene.  Where they competitors in the Galilean fishing market?  Did they know each other?  Did they study with another Rabbi together?  Or did Andrew and Peter simply give more weight to Jesus’ call because they had already decided to follow him?  All the cool fishermen are here, and you can come too.    

And like Andrew and Peter, I don’t think they left everything forever either.  Maybe, they transformed their fishing business into a partnership with Andrew and Peter’s business.  That way, they could share the work of fishing (and the profits) as well as take turns giving boats over for ministry use.  Maybe they form a co-op.  Maybe they learn to look after each other’s business and families so that all of them can be part of the coming kin-dom of God.  Maybe this whole discipleship thing isn’t just about getting to heaven later but about loving neighboring fishermen now.  

And like Peter, we get little stories about James and John’s family too.  Their mother asks Jesus if when his kingdom comes her sons could be his left- and right-hand men.  And I don’t want to get too into that story except to say, she asked because she believed.  And I don’t think this is a question a mother asks the first time she meets her sons’ boss.  She knew about Jesus’ ministry (even if at that moment she didn’t completely understand it).  And she knew how important her sons were to him.  She saw the transforming ministry in her family and in her community and she knew it was important work.  Again, Mark doesn’t supply us with a lot of details about anyone, but at the end of Jesus’ life, while he is on the cross there are a group of women some of them identified as individuals and she is among them.  She may also be among the women who go to the tomb and find it empty.  She is a disciple too.  

So, no, I don’t think these men dropped everything they were doing and left everyone they knew to follow Jesus for more than a moment.  But, they were willing to give: their business, their family, and their entire souls to the transformation Jesus promised would bring about the kin-dom of God.  And they got to experience that kin-dom in the land of the living.  And we do too.

Jesus is preaching good news to us too.  Turn back to God, be loved, and be transformed.  God’s love can transform your families, your community, and the world.  This is something worth putting your whole soul into.[3]  

This is the part of the sermon where I’m supposed to tell you how to be a disciple today.  But the truth is, I can’t do that.  Sure, I can pray with you and for you and remind you to breathe, I can host book studies or preach, I can schedule service opportunities, but all of those things are really just guiding practices to help you on your spiritual journey.  Spiritual journeys or discipleship are unique and personal experiences.  God is calling you.  

And God is calling us.  I believe that our individual callings have led us all to this community we call Third Church because we were meant to do kin-dom work together.  And collectively we are discerning God’s will for all of us.  Our mission study is part of that discernment, knowing our history and who we are now is part of that discernment, and our worship is part of that discernment.  The relationships we build with each other matter greatly.  We are looking to God as individuals and as a community of disciples.  

Psalm 62 reminds us that we can’t look to any earthly thing or any earthly being no matter how wise or powerful they may seem.  But instead look to God.  To the divine that breathes life into us, to the God who forms the foundation of our lives, to the light of Christ within us.  The good news of the kin-dom of God, the wisdom of the holy spirit, the truth of Christ is that God loves us and chooses to dwell with us.  Each of us has the ability to commune with the divine within us.  And that light will guide us to the kin-dom of God, where everyone belongs and “all are one, all are Beloved, all are welcome, and all are forgiven for whatever they did before they understood that” (Fran Pratt).  

In Fran Pratt’s Litany for a New Day, she reminds us that “We are ordinary people, going about our lives, realizing that we are Beloved through and through, realizing that Heaven is available to us now, realizing that what we do here on earth matters, realizing that Christ’s invitation is for us, too; and jumping in – gratefully, joyfully – to this kin-dom work.

And even in dark times, when the kin-dom seems far way, we might remember Amanda Gorman’s words “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.  If only we’re brave enough to be it.”[4]

You can find the rest of Fran Pratt’s litany on her website but the following is what she posted with the above picture on her social media pages. I really love her book “Call and Response” and have been using it for Sunday worship as well as community prayer vigils.

In Jonah 3, a group of people turn from idolatrous and evil ways, repenting (turning away from) their old, exploitative ways.

Psalm 62 exhorts us to look to God – not to any earthly thing. Not to riches or wealth. Not to powerful people. To the Divine Within.

In Mark 1, John the Baptist is arrested and imprisoned. Jesus is assembling a group of followers – disciples, they’re called. His unifying message is: the Kingdom of God is near! Repent!… In other words: Turn away from your old ways of thinking about success, about victory, about what is really happening, and what is really important in the world; and believe instead in the good news of God – that all divine resources are yours for the taking, that the commonwealth of heaven is a place where you and every other person belongs. Re-wire your brain with the understanding that all are one, all are Beloved, all are welcome, and all are forgiven for whatever they did before they understood that.

I write this litany immediately following the inauguration of the new president and vice-president of the US. We in the US are tentatively hopeful, anxiously expectant. It is a moment in which we have the opportunity to listen to this week’s scriptures in an open-minded way – to hear of the Ninevites repentance, the Psalmic call to trust in God and not in economies or rulers, and the invitation of Christ to turn our attention to the Kingdom of God, which is near at hand and available to us as we move forward, working for change. I hope this prayer inspires and offers some hope.

[1] Yes, I shamelessly stole that from Biden’s speech.  Yes, that means I didn’t even start writing this sermon until Thursday evening.  If there had been another coup this would have been a very different sermon.

[2] This is my husband, Me, and our dog.  If you are stealing this sermon, please change our names.  And remember, your congregation shouldn’t be picturing you soaking wet… It’s ok for them to think of your dog that way.  

[3] Yes, I shamelessly stole that from Biden’s speech.  Yes, that means I didn’t even start writing this sermon until Thursday evening.  If there had been another coup this would have been a very different sermon.

[4] Her poem “The Hill We Climb” from the Inauguration 

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