Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 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. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
My sermon from 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 25, 2015) on Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
What picture do you imagine when you hear that line? Do you see a boat? Some pristine lake waters, maybe several young fishermen tending their nets under the hot midday sun. There are, within these short verses from Mark, enough words and phrases to paint a very vibrant, beautiful, outdoorsy scene – reminiscent of some visit to a national park, mountain vista, or a memorable camping trip. But how many of us, when you hear these words from Mark, immediately find yourself in Orlando, Florida?
Because I do.
So let me explain.
A few years ago while on a visit to my in-laws outside Tampa, my wife and I drove to Orlando to visit an unusual theme park called The Holy Land Experience. The park is a fantastical representation of what Jerusalem was like during Jesus’s last visit there. There’s a Temple, Roman soldiers wandering around, and young men and women dressed in togas being very helpful and directing you to various things to see. And everything is Jesus-centric. We can reenact the Last Supper with Jesus every hour or be a witness to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection at 12 or 5:30. But the experience that I remember most is called the Scriptorium. It’s not really a ride but more of a narrated journey through a series of rooms where we traced the history of God’s word coming down to us. Each room consists of old bibles, pieces of paper, images and stories about how the words of Scripture were first written, recorded, and translated. We got to see pieces of Scripture that was touched by ancient Romans and Syrians and texts that come from Turkey, the Middle East, Egypt, and all throughout Europe. And as we went further and further into it, we got a sense of my role in history as being, like so many countless people before me, a bearer of God’s story. There’s something powerful about seeing how we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
Now, by the time we got to the end of the ride – into the last room – I’ll admit I was a little caught up by the emotion of it. And…that was kind of the point. The creators of the Scriptorium wanted you to feel this sense of history and purpose – this sense of drama because they wanted us to be changed. They wanted us to commit ourselves to following Jesus, to realize that we’re not as good at following as we should be, and to head out into the world to try harder. And so when we walked into that last room, the drama started. The room was pitch black – music turned up – I could feel the vibrations of the bass in my bones. And as the music started to get louder and louder, a voice from on high spoke out. And it identified all of us in that room as bearers of God’s story. We were told to go out, tell Jesus’ story, and be as brave as everyone who came before us. We’re to be as faithful, devoted, and powerful as those first disciples, called by Jesus, 2000 years ago.
And then – at the climax – the walls of the room were lit up. There, in the middle, was a painted representation of Simon (aka Peter) the fisherman. And this Peter – he was huge. He had a great big beard, wonderful thick hair, piercing blue eyes, and huge bulging arms carrying a net full of fish. He looked like a cross between Rambo and the Incredible Hulk, able to beat-up anyone who stood in his way. Peter had the strength and the biceps to be a mighty warrior for God.
And that’s one way to imagine how these first disciples looked. These ones who first heard Jesus’s words – who first followed his voice – it’s so easy to see them as that mighty, powerful, faith-filled person worthy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it’s easy to think that we – as heirs to those first folks who fished by the sea – that we have to be like that too – like some Rambo for Jesus – or else our belief is just not good enough. And if we can’t be that big, strong, incredibly mighty follower of Christ – then maybe something is wrong with us. Because, if we were doing what we’re suppose to do – then God would make us strong. God would make sure we never doubted. God would make sure we never mourned or were worried or thought that God wasn’t with us. We feel we need to be that Rambo for Jesus – because, then, and only then, can we be sure that God love us.
But this vision of Peter, or the first disciples, I believe it misses the point. That image takes these words from the gospel and misses what God is actually doing. Because when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus wasn’t assembling a team of god-believing-superheroes to his side. He wasn’t wandering through the neighborhood picking the biggest, the strongest, or the smartest, to be part of his team. No, Jesus wasn’t calling the best – Jesus was calling everybody – even the lowly fisherman, working on the Sea of Galilee.
The focus of these stories isn’t on who is called but on who does the calling. And what we don’t hear is anything about being a spiritual Rambo. Instead, we hear that John the Baptist has been arrested. We hear that Jesus goes to the area around the sea of Galilee and that’s where his proclamation – his preaching and teaching – begins. Jesus’s message – his gospel – his good news – is that God’s presence is here – right now – whether you like it or not – and this message is intimately tied to these early call stories. God’s presence can’t be separated from God’s calling. The proclaiming of God’s love and presence in the world – the proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, right now – that proclamation goes hand-in-hand with God’s meeting us, God’s getting to know us, and God revealing God’s-self to us. The good news isn’t only that Jesus is here. The good news is that Jesus is here for us – and Jesus isn’t going to wait until we’re good enough, strong enough, or faithful enough to finally meet us. No, Jesus is going to come to us where we’re at and say “follow me.”
So if God meets us where we are and calls us just as we are – what, then, does this “follow me” actually look like?
Does it mean giving up our day job and families, being like those early disciples and literally walking off the job – leaving our dad in the boat – and hitting the road, seeing where God might take us?
Or Jesus’s call might mean something that can be even harder. It might mean realizing that in everything we do – in all our relationships – in all the little interactions that make up our lives – God is there. When we wake up in the morning, yawn, and rub our eyes – God is there. And when we put our head down to rest at the end of our day – God is there too. Because Jesus’s word is simply that the kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is right now. The kingdom of God is happening and that matters in everything that we do. From how we do our jobs, to how we study at school, to even how we interact with our parents and children – God is here, Jesus is present, and we all are apart of it.
Following Jesus isn’t about being a superhero of the faith. It isn’t about being that spiritual Rambo that never suffers or feels pain or who never doubts or wonders where God is. Following Jesus is about following Jesus. It’s about hearing the good news that God isn’t waiting for us to be perfect before loving us but that God loves us first and foremost and there’s nothing we can do to change that. God is in the business of meeting us, coming to us, and being part of our lives even when we’re too busy to notice or see it. God isn’t waiting for us to make up our minds before getting involved. No, God is here. God is present. God is making a difference in our lives now. That’s the reality that Jesus is calling us to live into. Jesus isn’t going to let us become perfect before asking us to follow him. No, Jesus is here, right now, whether we’ve got bulging biceps or not – Jesus is inviting us, all of us to live into God’s reality – to live into God’s love – to live into God’s hope – and Jesus is doing that with just two simple words: “follow me. “