There are some things that you have to respond to immediately–a fire alarm, for example, a tornado alert, labor pains coming 2 minutes apart. As one mom reported, “My son was born 10 weeks early. I hadn’t even finished What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Hey, I hadn’t even taken any childbirth classes.” But “immediately,” she and her husband called the doctor, and her son was born not too long after.
Mark launches into Jesus’ ministry “immediately”–no pause to talk about his birth or growing up, just 8 quick verses to introduce us to John the Baptist and then Jesus appears on the scene to be baptized. “And [then] immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.” Jesus returns from that wilderness testing just after John is arrested, and Jesus takes up John’s message, “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.’”
Jesus walks along the shoreline and, seeing Simon and Andrew casting their fishing nets, calls them to follow him and become fishers of people. “And immediately, [Mark says] they left their nets and followed him.” Same thing with James and John–”Immediately he called them; and they left their father and the hired men and followed him.”
“Mark begins like an alarm clock,” Ted Smith comments, “persistently declaring the time and demanding some response.” (Cited by Kate Huey in weekly seeds, 1/25/15) “God is on the march in the ministry of Jesus,” another remarks (William Abraham, in Huey) and as usual, Eugene Peterson sums it up bluntly with “Time’s up!” (The Message) The time is now.
It’s tempting to focus on the response of the fishermen. On one level, it sounds like “The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”–”IMMEDIATELY THEY DROPPED THEIR NETS AND FOLLOWED HIM,” eyes glazed, bodies stiff, their movements not their own. Bruce Epperly suggests that Jesus had spent time with these fishermen, talking with them, telling them about this Kingdom of God that was present with him, and this was simply “the right time,” when he asked for their decision. [Process and Faith, 1/25/15] That happens to us, doesn’t it? Someone proposes something to you, plants a seed, the germ of an idea, which then you think about, mull over, and at some point–at “the right time”–you know you’re going to do it, it’s the right thing to do, now is the time.
But Barbara Brown Taylor says that focusing on the disciples’ response is putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. (Cited in Huey) The focus, she suggests, should be not on the disciples’ action but on God’s action. God has the power to change lives. This isn’t a story about our power to change. Jesus doesn’t ask the fishermen to add one more thing to their busy lives. He gives them a new identity, a new way of being. They will still be fishing, but in a whole new way.
One wonders if our “call” from God isn’t simply being more fully who we really are but perhaps in a whole new way. Maybe you are a math teacher, but your “call” may be to teach much more than math. Maybe it’s to teach kids how to be whole human beings, their true selves, working as whole beings the way that mathematics –which you love–works as a whole. Or maybe you run a business–a photography business, say–and yes, to stay in business you have to sell pictures but maybe your call is to help people see in a whole new way, to discover beauty in surprising places, maybe even within themselves. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” “Follow me and I will make you teachers of wisdom, revealers of beauty, patrons of children, healers of souls.”
What would make you drop everything to take up a new life? A marriage proposal? A job offer? An invitation to travel? A crisis halfway around the world, like an earthquake in Haiti or the Ebola crisis? I have such huge respect for those doctors and medical personnel who have put their careers on hold to offer 3 months–or more–of service at great risk to their own health to fight the Ebola epidemic. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so physically uprooting. One writer asks, “What might be so compelling to invite you to leave what you know and venture out in quest of, and in service to, something new?” [David Lose, working preacher.org] He wonders if just such a question might shed light on why our churches are in decline here in the west.
The 2 causes most often cited for that decline in church attendance, he says, are 1. the move from an age of duty to an age of discretion. People no longer see church attendance as a “duty” they are obligated to, but rather have many choices to help them make sense of and get the most out of life. And the second reason is, he says, that “many [would-be]church-goers haven’t found the Christian narrative a particularly helpful lens through which to view and make sense of their lives.” And that’s mainly because we haven’t communicated that narrative or story in a way that’s helpful or compelling. “So what if we decided,” he asks, “to talk about what would make the time we spend together on Sundays more compelling? What would church need to look like to make it worth their time? How can our congregational life enable them to become the kind of people they want to be and, even more, believe God is calling them to be?” Whereas many of us are looking for “comfortable,” and have found “comfortable” in this place, others are looking for compelling, a call that is worthy of their lives. [Greg Carey, Huffington Post, 3/19/12] Serving on a committee or listening to an interesting talk or having coffee with nice people is not compelling.
Bruce Epperly puts Jesus’ invitation this way– “Will you follow me into the realm of uncertainty, with no guarantee of success, or will you settle for familiarity and security? There are risks in following me, but the promise is that you will have many adventures and discover more about yourself and God than you could ever imagine.” [Ibid.] Now that’s compelling. How do we translate that into the life of our church?
We’ve been sharing “epiphany moments” with each other this month, but maybe we’ve been too tame about that. Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary, defines an epiphany as “an immediate and meaningful understanding of something. Surprising. Sudden. Profound… There is nothing comfortable about epiphanies. They rock your world.” (workingpreacher.org, 1/18/15) Not, “Hmmmm, that’s interesting,” but rather, “Yikes! There you are. What will you do now?” Maybe we should add a second part to our Epiphany moments–maybe after describing the moment we could offer a sense of how it changed us or our understanding. (We’ll see if anyone dares to offer an Epiphany Moment next week!)
“For God alone my soul waits in silence,” the psalmist says in today’s psalm. For God alone. Can you imagine that kind of longing? That readiness to respond? That clarity about what is really important in your life? Can we imagine as a church being that hungry, that “leaned in” to listen for and discern God’s call to our congregation? “Faith is being grasped by Being-itself,” Paul Tillich wrote. Are we ready to be grasped?
“Follow me,” Jesus said to Simon and his brother Andrew. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of 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…mending their nets. Immediately he called them; and they left…and followed him.” They thought they were just going to work that day. They thought they’d have the usual conversation with their father. But in a moment, a
moment that was not a minute but was the fullness of time, their lives were changed, and they were made new, all while they were mending their nets …
This is how Andrew King imagines it [“Mending Their Nets”]–
It is a day that could be like any other.
The water is calm in the morning light
as the gulls thread the air with their singing.
The sun is warm on the backs of their necks
as the fishermen bend to their mending.
The blunted points of their wooden needles
float in, float out of the webbing –
create a loop, pinch with finger and thumb,
thread the needle through and then around again,
tighten the knot, pick up the next mesh –
callused hands repeating the operation
that has been handed down, fathers to sons,
from generation to generation.
The net’s hole rapidly closes. Conversation
weaves in, weaves out while they’re working,
returning often to talk of a preacher
whose words have set their hopes rising,
the hopes handed down like the knowledge
in their hands, woven into the fabric of living.
The wind is warm on the cheeks of his face
as the preacher comes near with his message.
The world is torn, there is brokenness of heart,
there are wounds everywhere in creation.
But the preacher has news, good news of change:
that God’s healing love is accessible,
and he knows this good news can mend the torn world,
can be threaded into every heart’s beating.
Now the preacher is calling them, calling their names,
calling them to take up new labour,
calling them to see, with the vision of hope,
people gathered in newness of community,
one they will help build, like a great catch of fish,
abundant with fresh possibility.
The water is calm in the morning light
and the gulls continue their singing.
The sun is warm on the backs of their necks
as the fishermen join Christ in his mending.
It is a day that is not – and yet could be – like any other . . .[A Poetic Kind of Place, 2015]
May we be awake to that kind of day when we are called to be part of this great vision of hope, people gathered in newness of community, which we will help build,…abundant with fresh possibility. It could be today.
Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark