Hearing the Sermon First, before Following Jesus

GOSPEL: Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Our sojourn into this time of transition, this time in between continues. We began at the River Jordan with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, and then we went with Jesus as he called Nathanael and Philip. We discovered that despite these two disciples not knowing what they were getting into…what mattered was Jesus finding and knowing them. And Jesus finding and knowing us. 

As we continue into this short season of green before Lent where Jesus is revealed to us in new ways, we do so entering into a world and year of unknowns. In so many ways we are living with competing stories. If 2020 was about constant and surprising difficulty and hardship, 2021 seems to be (so far) about threads of good and bad. The world seems to be in chaos, insurrections have been mounted, vaccine distribution has been disrupted, a governor general has resigned in disgrace, our vulnerable northern indigenous communities are suffering from severe COVID-19 outbreaks. 

And yet new a US president has been inaugurated, full of compassion and empathy, honesty and selflessness… traits in a leader that we did not know we needed so badly. A new Vice-President, a woman, a black woman and woman of Indian decent has been sworn in, letting so many women and girls all over the world know that they too can achieve heights thought impossible before. 

And here closer to home, after months of lockdown, our case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have finally dropped enough to allow us a few measures of relief… to shop for anything we might want or need. To have visitors, though limited in number, allowed to come into our homes. 

Threads of suffering, threads of hope. All at the same time and intermingled with each other, intermingled with our own stories of family, work, and community. 

Today, we hear another call story. Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John. A story different than the one last week. Philip and Nathanael were looking to follow a Rabbi. But the four today are fishermen, some guys just out doing some work to make a living to feed their families and feed their community. 

So when Jesus just strolls up into the scene, calling them to follow, it might seem a little off. Now following a Rabbi was a privileged life in Hebrew society. Only the best and brightest Torah students were chosen for this honour, and the possibility of earning a position of prestige. So maybe it isn’t that crazy that Simon and Andrew, James and John leave their boats to follow Jesus. 

And yet, as these four make this choice to drop everything and follow the wandering preacher, it still feels pretty far fetched. Why would with a Rabbi wander up and call a bunch of fishermen to follow? And how can these 4 just leave their jobs, their families, their communities. Certainly people were depending on them. Certainly they were responsible to put food on the table. 

This year as we make our way through the gospel of Mark, we are entering into a conversation with the text in unique way. John preaches long sermons to his readers. Matthew and Luke, tell and then interpret the stories of Jesus. But Mark expects something more from his readers, from us. He invites us into a conversation, one where we already know the story, where we know things that the disciples and others don’t. We are part of the story, we are characters always in the background. 

And so Mark is posing questions to us, one about following and discipleship. Is it crazy to follow this Jesus? Why do those disciples just go? Why do we follow?

Questions that reveal our own complicated and messy relationship with authority and leaders these days. 

Certainly we are people living in a complicated time, born into a complicated time. We are people living a world that is struggling with the idea of changing ourselves for the betterment of our neighbour, of fighting for inclusivity and equality, opening our doors, knocking down fences and making room at the table. While at the same time wrestling with our instinct to put ourselves first, to circle the wagons, to keep people out or make others change to fit our vision of the world. Threads of selfishness, threads of faithfulness. 

As much as last week we contemplated what it meant to not know what the future has in store for us, this week the notion of following someone who says “Trust me” can be triggering. We have seen this story too many times before… and still there is a part of us that catches the vision. It is hard, even after months and struggle, to hear the pleas and exhortations of our leaders to come together and work for the common good and not feel a bit moved by them. 

And yet, something inside of us – the original sinner inside of us – knows that we cannot fulfilled these calls to be better angels. That we will always succumb to our fear and failings.

And so when Mark asks this question of the reader, “Why would you follow Jesus?” 

It isn’t the starting and ending place. 

Mark does’t begin with a promise of a leader who says they will solve all the problems, nor with an exhortation to the power of the human spirit. 

Mark begins, or Jesus begins, with the very first sermon that Jesus preaches in the Gospels. 

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus doesn’t begin with us. Jesus doesn’t even begin with himself. Jesus begins with God. 

The time is now and the God is entering into this human world, this human struggle between threads of suffering and selfishness, threads of hope and faithfulness. 

And God is coming near, God is bringing a new world into this old one. 

So repent, be changed, be transformed.

Believe the good news, trust in the one who is trustworthy. 

And it is here that the conversation with the reader begin, here where we become characters in the story.

Because even though this is the first sermon of Jesus in all the Gospels, it is a sermon that requires the hearer to know the end of the story. 

Because the Kingdom of God is revealed most fully not a in a place or throne room, but on a cross. 

Because the Good News is that we can trust is not all our suffering and problems being taken away, but resurrection and new life coming about on the 3rd day, about the story of life going on instead of ending on Good Friday. 

And in Mark’s question to the reader is also the answer. 

“Why would you follow Jesus?”

Because in the Christ suffering and death are no longer our ending, but instead life goes on in the One who is raised from the dead and who bring the Kingdom near. 

Maybe it wasn’t just seeing a Rabbi walk down the Beach that made Simon and Andrew, James and John jump from their boats. 

Maybe they needed to hear that sermon first. 

Or maybe like us they needed to be reminded of the end of the story. 

While we struggle between threads of hope and faithfulness and threads of suffering and selfishness, God is reminding us of, God is bringing us to, God transforming us for a different world. 

And as this moment in our history shows us both our best and worst simultaneously, as this moment reveals these two forces colliding in us, forces that would work for a better world, and forces that would push us to look after only ourselves…

Jesus reminds us that our salvation, our future, our hope making is not up to us. 

Jesus reminds that our failures and mistakes, our selfishness and sufferings to not destroy us. 

No matter the soaring speeches given is Capitols and on TV. No matter the whining and vitriol spewed online and in-person… 

That this world and our future belong to God. 

That we belong to and follow the One who brings the Kingdom near. 

That we are transformed by the God in whom life begins and has no ending. 

That we hear again and again the good news of promise given for us in the Word proclaimed and love shared between siblings in the Body of Christ, and that is why we follow. 

And so with that Good news ringing on our ears, with the voice from heaven naming Jesus and us beloved Children, as we are found and known like Philip and Nathanael… Jesus strolls onto our beaches and into our lives reminding us of the Gospel truth that we already know and calling us again by saying, 

“Follow me”

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