Mark 1: 16-20, NRSV
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—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.
Preached Sunday, July 9, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
Ever since I can remember, one of my Dad’s favorite songs has been Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” It’s a song that was released in January of the year my parents got married—1968. It was a turbulent time. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing. My Dad was on a bus to Baltimore from Ft. Benning, Georgia—waiting to be deployed to the race riots there. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Our country was in upheaval. Dad had just gotten back from Vietnam, and I suspect there was something in Redding’s song that resonated with him—this line, in fact that starts it: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco bay.” Dad knew what that was like. He also liked the ending—musical lore holds that Redding forgot the words, so he decided to whistle it instead. Anytime it would come on the radio, Dad and I would whistle that last little bit together.
This song is kinda how I envision Jesus calling the disciples. You see, while Jesus is from the region of Galilee, his hometown is Nazareth which isn’t on the lake. So, somewhere in my mind, I think of ol’ Jesus just sitting there on the shore one morning watching the tide roll away when he spies some fisherman. Mark doesn’t give us a lot to work with here—just four brief verses. But I still think of Jesus rolling up to these fishermen and them looking at him suspiciously. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
I won’t speak for each of you, but if you were a fisher on the Sea of Galilee, wouldn’t you be questioning what some random wanderer was up to if he approached you while you’re doing your work. I know I certainly watch out my office window and who’s passing by and often find myself wondering why.
But see, here’s the thing about Jesus: sometimes he shows up when we least expect it…in ways we least expect…in places we least expect. And when he does, there’s something so compelling about him that, at least to hear Mark tell it, people drop their nets and follow him. And not just once, but twice!
Now, let me tell you about the gospel of Mark and this is actually about all the gospels—they’re each written with an agenda. They’re not solely historical retellings—although we do believe that speak of a historic period of time. They’re written to do two things: (1) Convince you that Jesus is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah and (2) that you should believe in him. Yes, there’s more in each gospel. Yes, we believe the gospels reveal who God is and how God loves. But the motivation of the author of each of these gospels boils down to those two goals: convince you that Jesus is the Son of God and that you should believe in him.
But here’s the thing: each gospel writer has their own way of going about doing that. And for Mark, Jesus is all about impressing you with presence. It’s not about the miracles—not just yet. It’s not about the crowds—not just yet. When Jesus calls his first disciples, it’s all about presence.
Now, let’s go on an get the pun out of the way. Yes, there’s a pun that these fishermen will (at least in more arcane translations) fish for men. But what’s curious is what they leave behind—their jobs, their livelihoods. Fishing wasn’t a hobby—it was work. And these were subsistence workers—they ate what they caught and sold what they could. They left behind the every day tasks and chores, like mending nets, that they’d always thought they had to do to follow the One who would change everything. And they left their families. We’re going to run into the notion of family again in Mark, but suffice it to say that Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, redefines what it means to be family. And early on, Mark shows us just what it means to follow Jesus. It means leaving our boats, our nets, and sometimes, our families, behind.
And sometimes, following Jesus means doing things we don’t want to do like pray for our enemies, turn our focus away from worldly thing, and loving one another. Is that ever something you don’t want to do? Love someone else? If I’m honest, it’s not always high on my list. Actually, it doesn’t seem like its high on many peoples’ lists these days. Flipping to the news or listening to the radio makes that clear. Or logging online only to be greeted by a deluge of opinion pieces.
Our own state has been the focus of many of those pieces in the last week. The case of Nury Chacarria who’s taken refuge in Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven has rocketed the national issue of immigration to the forefront of our local conversations. Truthfully, I hadn’t really been paying attention until I saw an article on Facebook. And after reading it, I went back and read the comments–some of which were on the Facebook walls of our members. And some of the comments (luckily—not from our members) were downright hateful.
Now listen, these issues are complex, no doubt. And the political reality in our country is divisive to say the least. And while even in this room we have many different political beliefs and opinions, we do have one thing that unifies us.
Any guesses? Surprise! Jesus!
And when we choose to follow Jesus, we choose to do what he commands of us. We drop our nets and leave our boats. We leave the things that distract us, the things that give us false senses of security. And instead, we choose to follow him and fish for people using the great gift we’ve been given—God’s love.
When you walked into our building this morning, you walked under a giant banner that read: “Love each other. Each black other. Each Republican other. Each LGBTQ other. Each white other. Each Democrat other. Each Jewish other. Each straight other. Each refugee other. Each despairing other. Each hopeful other. Every. Single. Other.”
The truth is that list could go on and on: each Muslim other. Each child other. Each criminal other. Each lonely other. Each busy other. Each poor other. Each rich other. Each nice other. Each mean other.
And even, each immigrant other. But whatever the “others” are that we list, this remains true: following Jesus means leaving our letting go of our nets and leaving our boats behind. And loving each other. Every. Single. Other.
It’s not easy. But then, Jesus never said it would be. He just said, follow me.