The texts for today’s sermon for this third Sunday after Epiphany at St. Peter Lutheran Church are Mark 1:14-20 and Jonah 3:1-5, 10. I found helpful this 2015 reflection from David Lose, and the idea of the nets was modified from today’s entry in Sundays and Seasons.
Not directly related to the sermon, we also introduced new children’s worship bags this morning at the 8:30 service, where the Sunday School kids also sang in worship.
For many of you, this story of Jesus calling his disciples is a familiar story, but have you ever wondered what tone of voice Jesus used? Mark tells us that Jesus walked by Simon and his brother Andrew as they were at work fishing, and said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Ok, but how did he say it?
Was it demanding, “Follow me right now?” Threatening? “Follow me or else?” Commanding? Begging? Was he inviting them to join on an adventure, something like Gandalf coming to Bilbo’s house in The Hobbit, “Hey guys, come and join my fellowship for a grand adventure?
I’d really love to know how Jesus said it, because this is a ridiculous story. Jesus sees Simon and Andrew and says to them “Follow me,” and they actually do it! And not like on Instagram or Facebook or something. They actually leave their fishing nets and follow him–”immediately,” Mark tells us.
And then, a little farther down the shore, Jesus sees two more guys, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and he does it again, and they too leave everything and follow him.
I’ve always wondered how Zebedee their father felt about that. Maybe he was excited for his sons, that this rabbi thought they were worthy to take on as disciples. Of course, I can also easily imagine him not being too happy that they just left their half-mended nets laying in the boat. Maybe he was even a little disappointed that Jesus hadn’t called him to follow.
I also wonder how he explained it to his wife when he got home that night. This guy walked by and said follow me and something about fishing for people, and our boys just got up and left with him. Must have been a fun conversation.
If it were me, I’d have some questions before I’d leave everything behind and follow. How long is this going to take? Where are we going? Where are we going to stay tonight? Is there a dental plan?
There are all kinds of things that would keep me from just up and following like they do. In fact, I have to confess, there are all kinds of things that keep me from following like they do, like I want to.
I have a job. I have a wife, and a dog. I have plans and responsibilities. Lent is only a few weeks away; I don’t have time on my calendar to just take off and follow Jesus. Those aren’t bad things, but they make the thought of just dropping my nets to follow Jesus pretty hard. Maybe that’s true for you too.
I have trouble even finding the time and discipline to regularly keep up with daily devotions, and I work in a church. Sometimes I have this great idea that I’ll pray when I go to bed, which pretty much guarantees I’ll fall asleep that night in about 30 seconds. As I’ve said before, I’m really good at seeing opportunities to help people and be Jesus to them, and I realize it about five minutes after the moment passes. I care too much about my bank account and my calendar to do what the disciples do in this story.
Just listing all of that is kind of discouraging, but sometimes it’s helpful to just name what’s hard about this call from Jesus. So what is it for you? What keeps you from following Jesus?
At the end of each pew, you’ll find some strips of paper. Take a minute and write down what it is for you. You don’t need to put your name on it or anything. I don’t think any of us are professional fishermen like Simon and Andrew, so we don’t literally have nets to drop, so what would Jesus say to you? What would you need to leave behind?
[Write on one side of paper]
Everyone done? Just hold on to your paper for now.
The trouble with this story is that Simon and Andrew and James and John seem to have this incredible faith that most of us just can’t live up to. Of course, if you keep reading the story, it turns out they have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. There’s some strong evidence that with the exception of Peter, all of the disciples were teenagers when they started following Jesus. These aren’t elite, accomplished, learned people. These aren’t the cream of the crop.
They’re not even that faithful. As the story continues, they’ll keep missing the point of Jesus’ teachings, they’ll ask some really stupid questions, and they’ll eventually even abandon him when things get tough.
Isn’t that comforting? Even though right at the beginning they seem to have this incredible faith, the disciples turn out to be normal, flawed people, people like you and me, and yet Jesus calls them anyway, and the Holy Spirit inspires them to drop their nets and follow. The story of the disciples is a story of God using ordinary people, despite everything they’re carrying, despite everything that should hold them back.
Think about Jonah. Today we heard the successful part of his story, the part where he listens to God. But it took a pretty dramatic encounter with a whale to get him there. Jonah’s story is a great example that faith and obedience aren’t usually as instant as they appear, even for Bible characters.
So what are we supposed to do with this story? Sometimes, this story is used as an example of what we’re supposed to do. Maybe we are supposed to drop everything and follow Jesus. Is that what Mark means by sharing this story with us, or even with his original readers?
Not quite. By the time Mark wrote this down, the chance to literally get up and follow Jesus has passed. Jesus is no longer walking around in the flesh, calling disciples.
How is it, then, that you and I are called to follow Jesus? I’m confident this is intended to be an inspirational story, so what are we supposed to be inspired to? We’re supposed to drop our nets, leave behind whatever is keeping us from following Jesus, but then what?
Maybe you are called to become a pastor or a missionary or work at summer camp or become a monk or something. If so, that’s great. The church certainly needs pastors, and if you feel called to that form of ministry, let’s talk about it.
But Jesus’ calling goes way beyond any of those roles. Jesus calls you to follow him in your daily life, and that can look like a whole bunch of things. Sometimes, it can be a lot harder than being a professional Christian.
What does it look like to follow Jesus when you’re a student in school? Maybe it looks like standing up for someone who’s being bullied, or helping someone who has a hard time with math homework.
What about as an adult? Maybe it looks like buying coffee for a friend who just needs someone to listen. Maybe it looks like speaking up when people are gossiping about a neighbor.
Maybe it looks like bringing your kids to church today so they can hear the good news of Jesus calling them too. Maybe it looks like making the time to pray, or stretching yourself to give a little more than you usually would this month for God to use.
Maybe it looks like volunteering your time to serve meals to seniors, or serving on the fire department, or volunteering as a coach so kids have a role model to look up to.
What might Jesus’ calling look like for you? On the other side of that strip of paper, I want you to write down an idea of where Jesus might be calling you to follow. Maybe it’s something big that will take some time. Maybe it’s something you can do later today, or this week. Maybe you’re not even sure if it’s something Jesus is calling you to. That’s ok. Take a minute and write it down.
[write on other side of paper]
Jesus’ call is not always easy to nail down. When you drop your nets, you don’t really know what you’re getting into, or where all this is going. I don’t know what exactly Jesus is calling you to, or where he’s leading you. But I do know that this call from Jesus is for everyone, including you.
To end the sermon today, I invite you to respond to Jesus’ call by bringing up your strip of paper and placing it in the nets.
Let it be both an action of dropping your nets, dropping whatever holds you back from following Jesus, and an offering of your desire to follow where Jesus is calling you, whether it’s what you wrote down or something else. Go ahead and bring up your strips of paper.
[Bring forward strips of paper]
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we give you thanks for calling each of us. We know you do call each of us, even if we can’t see it right now.
Help us to see where you are leading us, and help us to drop our nets—whatever those are—and follow you. We love you, Jesus, and we want to follow you. Thank you for loving us and calling us.