3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 25, 2015
We had quite a long discussion about these very verses last week after listening in Philip Ruger-Jones recite the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. We imagined the picture of Jesus walking along the lakeshore and just snapping his fingers, asking these fishermen to come “Follow Me.”
Did they know him beforehand? Had they heard him teach, and were already intrigued? Did they really just walk away from their fishing business? Some speculated about what their wives had to say about walking away from supporting the family and taking up with this new itinerant preacher. The Scripture makes it sound so easy. If this is really the way it happened, it sets the bar pretty high for what discipleship looks like.
You will find as we keep reading primarily from Mark’s Gospel this year, that the disciples may have joined up pretty quickly, but that didn’t necessarily make them understand what was going on all the time. As a matter of fact, they may be with Jesus most of the time, but they often don’t get what he’s trying to teach them. Even if we may be wiser in hearing what Jesus is all about than those guys who didn’t have the benefit of knowing that he would rise from the dead, and the benefit of thousands of years of theology to draw from, we have a big problem. How are we to follow Jesus when he’s not here? Is there a way that we can understand Jesus’ invitation to us to join God’s community when we are not there at that lakeshore? What would “follow me,” look like in 2015, here in Prineville?
I’ve said a million times that I truly believe that we are all here because we have been invited. I believe that even when someone has a breakthrough moment in which they find God in a blaze, or come back to church after decades of being busy with other things, that it is because God has been inviting them day after day, year after year. God never quits calling, inviting, using the circumstances of our lives to turn us back into relationship. And Jesus call to follow him is the next step on that journey.
We Lutherans have a theology about vocation – one of Dr. Luther’s own ideas that each of us is invited to discipleship right where we are, as we are. Are you a teacher, then that is your Christian vocation. Are you a mother or father, a mechanic, a quilter, a manager, a student? Your call to be Jesus’ disciple in the world is through the work that you are engaged in right now. You are to do your work as if you were doing it for Jesus himself. No work is more important than any other in the scheme of discipleship, it is about your faithfulness in following Jesus’ invitation to be that and do that work that counts. Our faithfulness is how we respond to the love of God that has called us into God’s beloved community – that host of believers throughout time and space – and how we testify to the change in our lives that God’s love for us has made.
And don’t think that doing a wonderful job of your vocation is going to get you extra jewels in your heavenly crown. It’s not like that at all. We don’t earn our relationship with God by being good and doing good. We are good and do good because of the relationship we already have with God, who came to save us and love us into wanting to please God. It’s when our hearts are transformed by God’s great love for us that our behavior is changed and we can be more like Jesus. That’s when our discipleship begins, when our love for the people God loves begins to motivate us.
So following Jesus in today’s world might involve being kinder. It might be learning to curb your tongue, or being more patient in conflict. Following Jesus may include becoming curious about other’s opinions, listening instead of talking. Following Jesus may change where you shop or how you dispose of garbage as you learn about a wider world. It may mean praying for people you’ve hated and getting back in touch with someone you gave up on years ago.
C.S Lewis said that when you come to faith in Jesus, you think that you can just kind of tack Jesus on to the ordinary life you are already living, like adding some sugar to your tea. But instead you find that Jesus wants to turn over your ordinary life and rearrange your priorities completely. Suddenly things you never thought about become high priority and things that were of major importance seem to slip into nothing. I think it’s true. God meets you and invites you into relationship, and you respond by paying attention to how you act, by learning to pray and read and learn more about how God works. The things we choose to do and be because God loves us and calls us to follow start to change us.
Albert Schweitzer was not only a sainted doctor who brought health-care to natives in Africa, he was an accomplished musician and gifted theologian. In the 19th Century he began the struggle to find the historical Jesus and separate him from the Church’s legendary Jesus. But at the end of it all, he said, you can’t do it, because the Jesus you meet calls you personally and becomes something for you. He says:
“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who know Him not. He speaks to us the same word. ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
You see, that’s the thing. It is in following that we begin to learn our deepest vocation. It is in our experience of Jesus’ call and our obedience to all that it requires of us that our faith begins to grow and flower and become a strong and shining thing. That’s where we gain the peace that passes understanding, and the strength to forgive. It is when we give up the life that we know to follow Jesus to the life he has promised that the world changes for us and then we want to begin to change the world into the kind of world God sees.
The reading we have before us this morning contains the first words Jesus speaks in this Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good news.”
That is our good news too. The kingdom of God has come near and Jesus asks us to follow. It is in following that we experience what that kingdom is like. Blessings on your journey. Amen
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.