Traditional sermon Epiphany 3
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
Have any of you ever thought about just dropping everything and starting life anew? I’m not talking about being given the chance to go back in time to start all over and do things differently to correct past mistakes or bad decisions. What I am referring to is actually dropping everything and starting life from that moment on without looking back. The goal is to leave everything behind and go on a new life journey. This, of course, is a fantasy—it is easier said than done. There are all kinds of things to take into consideration. For instance, where are you going to live, how are you going to make a living (especially if you didn’t win the lottery), what are you going to be doing, how are you going to deal with letting go of the interpersonal relationships of the past, etc. The things to take into consideration, if one really wants to deal with them, can go on and on and on. It can get very complicated!
Unfortunately, when I have had this urge to just drop everything and start life anew or if I have heard of anyone else having the same desire, it always seems to surface when things are not going very well. Life can be tough sometimes and we all have to deal with unpleasant situations. These unpleasant situations can really take their toll on us to the point where it seems like we are in a hole that we cannot get out of. Wouldn’t it be nice to just drop everything, get out of the hole we are in, and start life with a clean slate and not look back? Again, easier said than done! Wishful thinking for the most part!
Now, let’s take this scenario one step further. What if someone, a stranger, comes up to you and says, “Follow Me” with the goal being that you would drop everything and follow this person on a new venture in life? To top things off, you have no idea what this new venture is or what you are getting into. How many of us would actually do something like that? I doubt that most of us would be trusting or even brave enough to follow through. Yet, it’s this scenario that we see in today’s reading from Mark. We see Jesus approaching four men—two sets of brothers—who are going about their jobs as fishermen. Jesus tells them to follow him and they all willingly comply. It was only to the first set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, that Jesus says he will make them “fish for people.” That was the only hint Jesus gave as to what was to come about in the future. There are no clues as to how Simon and Andrew reacted to what Jesus meant by fishing for people. I know that if I would have been in Simon or Andrew’s sandals, I either would have been scratching my head or at least asked questions to clarify what fishing for people meant.
As with almost all of Mark’s narratives in his gospel, Mark does not provide much detail. This narrative of Jesus recruiting his first four disciples is short and to-the-point. Jesus approaches the men, tells them to follow him, and they comply. There is no indication that any of the four men felt that they needed to drop everything to start life anew because things were not going well, like the fantasy I noted in the beginning of this sermon. There are no hints that the four men were in a job with no advancement, no prospects of making money, or they just hated being fishermen because the fish smelled or they were bored with their work… On the contrary, the four fishermen owned their own boats and nets, and that Zebedee, the father of second set of brothers, James and John, also had hired hands. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary points out that this indicates that the fishermen were from prosperous families. Moreover, for Mark’s contemporary audience, the idea of dropping everything, namely to leave behind family and occupation, would have been considered extraordinary and even offensive because the four men would be putting their families’ fishing businesses in jeopardy. Frankly, I would presume that even we, today, would find the actions of the fishermen extraordinary.
So, what prompted the two sets of brothers to heed Jesus’ calling and follow him without really taking nothing into consideration? The answer: the same thing that guides us today—the Holy Spirit! If we think about it, the work of the Holy Spirit guiding us to follow Christ is what we have in common with the four fishermen. What is also worth noting is that the fishermen were ordinary people out doing their jobs. They were as ordinary as you and me. That said, let’s put ourselves in the positions of the four fishermen, just going about our day-to-day lives doing whatever we are supposed to be doing. What do we do when God is calling to us? How would we respond? If God is calling to us to be followers, do we follow or do we turn our backs and ignore God?
Following God and walking in the way of Christ is not easy, especially today when we have so many distractions, temptations, and other things that pull us away from God because we have become accustomed to thinking about ourselves and tending to putting ourselves first. To follow Christ, we probably should be like the fishermen by letting go and leaving things behind. To put that in today’s context, we are looking at letting go and leaving behind all the distractions and other things that prevent us from having a relationship with God. If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can be better at being open to the call to follow as well as to trust God and believe in the Good News. If we really believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, we can be like the fishermen—disciples of Christ! In fact, in Mark 1:15, we see Jesus proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News.” The kingdom of God is here—namely, God is already here for us; God is within our reach and always has been within our reach! That is the Good News of today’s gospel from Mark. Jesus will always be there for us! God has always been within reach and will never turn us away, even if we turn away from God. We are the ones that should make the effort and the Holy Spirit is right there to help us, that is, if we are open.
Again, easier said than done! There are those of us who have been very good about following God’s call, and then there are those of us who have not been that good and, unfortunately, there also are those of us who could not care less. Using metaphors, we can view the act of fishing as the call from God and the fishing nets as the Good News—the Word—that snares us into God’s realm, and the fish represent us. Jesus, if one thinks about it, is the true fisherman who is out fishing for the souls of people through his ministry and proclaiming the Good News, and having the Good News proclaimed down through the centuries. Yes, there will be fish that escape—those of us who turn their backs on God, but the nets and the fishing hooks—the Good News—will always be there to pull us back in. For those of us who have gone fishing at one time or another, especially just for fun and relaxation rather than catching fish for food, what is common practice is to throw the fish back into the water. Rest assured, Jesus will never throw any of us back into the water. Jesus will always be there for us and welcoming us into the kingdom of God!
With Lent soon upon us, I personally have always found the Lenten period to be a good time to do some serious self-examination in my relationship with God with the goal of improving that relationship. Of course, we can do this self-examination at any time during the year and I would not be surprised if there are folks who are constantly re-examining their relationship. This self-examination is where repentance really comes in. Through repentance, the issue is not just admitting our sins and faults, but also to change our ways to be completely right with God—to align our values and way of life with God’s way—to follow Christ! This is why Jesus, as seen in verse 15, calls upon us to repent as well as believe in the Good News. Let us all reflect on the Good News, especially on what Jesus did for you and me to cleanse us of our sins. He died on the cross and defeated death. May we have the strength with the help of the Holy Spirit to repent and believe in the Good News so that we, like the four fishermen, will follow Christ. Amen.