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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Up and Away - Mark 1:14-20

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.

Jesus was walking along the lake, and seeing the fishermen in their boats, he said, “Follow me,” and they did. Easier said than done! This week, I was staying with a friend in DC. Wednesday morning, we planned to go grab some breakfast and she wanted to show me her office. Since I was then leaving town and she was staying at work, we took separate cars. She hopped in her car and said, “Follow me!” Easier said than done.

We went across DC in morning rush-hour combined with however many million people trying to get out of DC after Tuesday’s events. There were accidents all over the place, stalled-out vehicles, and blocked intersections. As we drove across town, she forced her Honda Civic through places it was rude for one car to squeeze through, let alone two, especially when the second has out-of-town tags! Now, those of you who have ridden with me know that I have no problem being a bit “assertive” and pushing my car into places I need it to be, but even my limits were stretched on that. “Follow me!” she said, which is sometimes easier said than done. May we pray.

I love this passage of Scripture. I remember learning this one at a very young age in children’s church, and we had a song that went along with it and everything. As Mark tells it, it was all very simple. Jesus said, “Follow me!” and they did. Jesus said, “I will make you fish for people,” and they all nodded in agreement, as if they completely understood everything he was saying.

But I wonder if wasn’t more complicated than that. Mark, as you know, has a way of telling the story that sorta hits the highlights and moves on. I wonder if the disciples asked where they were going to be following? Or for how long? Or why they should follow him in the first place? I wonder how Zebedee felt when he watched his business succession plan drop their nets in the boat and walk off without even stamping their timecards. Who knows, maybe Zebedee was a bad father and a hard boss, and the boys were grateful for anything that took them away. I wonder if Simon Peter or Andrew or James or John stopped and said, “He’s going to make us fish for people? Does anyone know what he means by that? Are we going to be gone for just a couple of hours or what? And WHEN are we stopping to get something to eat?”

Mark doesn’t answer these questions—in fact, he is not even concerned with them. And really, for Mark, these few little verses are a transition – little more than a stopping point on the story to explain how a few followers ended up on the journey.

When Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him, to be his first disciples, we realize that we are being given a glimpse of the beginning of their journey with Jesus. Think of being one of Jesus’ disciples as a journey with Jesus. Journeys, as you know, have a starting point and a destination, but there is a whole lot that has to happen between those two things. This evening, for example, I have to drive to Jacksonville, Florida for a series of meetings. I have a beginning point in mind – Boone, NC. I have a destination in mind – Jacksonville, FL. But do you know what has to happen between Boone and Jacksonville? Several hours in the car, through very boring and mundane parts of South Carolina and Georgia. Eventually, I’ll arrive, but I won’t arrive there all at once. It will happen over time, mile by mile, as I close in on my destination.

I think it’s easier and more exciting to become a follower than it is to remain a follower. Becoming a follower of Jesus is pretty easy on day one. Or starting a new diet, or a new exercise regimen, or quitting smoking, or getting organized or any other new venture is always easiest on day one. Starting something is easy, but sticking to it and following through with it is a little more difficult.

Think of the commitment your most significant relationships take. With your partner, your children, your parents, your siblings – these relationships require constant commitment. When the relationship is new, it’s exciting, it’s fresh, it’s a constant adventure. But somewhere along the line, you get used to it. And, you may even begin to get bored with it. That’s where the commitment kicks in.

This is one of the things I stress to couples who are about to get married. A wedding, though it can be costly and somewhat stressful, is easy. But marriage can be more difficult. The wedding is fun—a great big party with all your friends and family, everyone dressed up in fine clothes, celebrating, happy, smiling—that’s just a fun occasion! But marriage—the day-to-day ins and outs of communicating, putting up with weird habits, and learning to place someone else’s needs higher than your own—that takes a lot of work. The wedding is the fun part, but marriage takes work. It takes daily commitment. It takes waking up every morning and saying “Today I am going to treat my partner with greater honor than I treat myself.”

That’s a big commitment. That’s a lot of communication. That’s a lot of willingness to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” That’s a lot of sticking together through days that aren’t all that exciting, through very mundane chores, through times of want and plenty, through times of joy and sorrow, through times of better and worse. It’s a commitment, and it takes some work.

A wedding is great, but you know what’s even better, in my opinion? A third anniversary. After about three years, the shiny has worn off. Things may not be as exciting any more. Quirks that used to be adorable are now annoying. A third anniversary is something that should be celebrated, and a 5th anniversary, and a 9th, and a 14th – these should be celebrated because they are reminders to us that two people have stuck it out through what may have been very difficult, painful, or just plain boring circumstances. I can still remember the party celebrating my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. Papa publicly thanked Grandma for 27 happy years of marriage.

By the way, I don’t recommend that. Members of my family delight in pushing my grandmother’s buttons just to get a reaction, and we all learned that from him. But it was also an honest admission that it wasn’t all wine and roses, but these two people chose to face it together instead of apart. They were in it for the long haul.

Jesus said he was going to make the disciples fishers of people. Now, many of you are probably familiar with catch and release fishing. This seems an odd practice to me. When I was growing up, we didn’t catch fish simply to throw them back in the lake. If you aren’t going to take it home and eat it, why would you want to catch it, torture it by poking holes in its lip, and then put it back in the water?

I wonder if that wouldn’t create a lake full of fish with low self-esteem and bad attitudes. You have to go back to your friends and family with holes all in your lip and explain that you weren’t good enough. They didn’t want to eat you. All your life you’ve wanted to grow up and feed a hungry family, and then you’re caught, they look you over, and throw you back in the water.

Can I tell you something about the way Jesus fishes? Jesus isn’t into “catch and release.” When Jesus catches you, he means business. Jesus cast his net and caught these fishermen up into the kingdom of God, and there was no looking back. And so it is with us. When Jesus catches you, he’s not offering you a leisurely vacation. He’s not catching you simply to throw you back into the water. When Jesus catches you, it means that he wants to keep you, that he is committed to you, that he makes an everlasting promise and covenant with you that begs your participation and cooperation.

This morning, we baptized Lydia Grace Dean. Her baptism marks the beginning of her journey with God, it marks when Jesus walked beside the lakeshore and called her name, it marks the day that she became a disciple of Jesus Christ. God is committed to her, and God asks us to commit to raising her and nurturing her in the Christian faith. And you know what? This is something that will happen daily. Today is not the end of the story! Baptism is the beginning of a journey, a time when God has said “yes” to each of us, and it anticipates the days and weeks and months and years of our continuing to say “yes” back to God.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a one-time static event. So many times we act as if someone’s baptism, or their public profession of faith, or their salvation moment, or their heart being strangely warmed or however we choose to describe that experience is all that matters, when, in fact, that moment simply highlights an important part of their spiritual journey. Being a disciple is something that happens each and every day of our lives as we say “yes” and recommit ourselves to the life offered in Christ. People will sometimes ask when I became a disciple of Jesus Christ, and my answer has always been this: “I became a disciple of Jesus Christ at my baptism, and by the grace of God, each and every day since then.”

I’m sure that on that day beside the sea of Galilee, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They had no idea what was about to unfold before them. I’m sure there were numerous times they were ready to walk away from the whole thing, ready to walk away from Jesus. And, quite honestly, there was nothing that forced them to stay.

But look at what they would have missed out on. They would have missed out on the teachings, and the healings, and the miracles. They would have missed out on a vision of the kingdom of God that was broad and glorious, a vision of the kingdom of God that cast a wide net and invited the whole world to come and be part of God’s family.

Friends, when Jesus goes fishing, he’s not into catch and release. When he catches you, he wants you to be a child of God. He wants you to be one of his disciples. He wants to pull you up out of the water and away from its murky depths. He wants you on his fishing crew, casting his net far and wide, a fishing crew that doesn’t only work weekends, or who plays catch and release, who pick and choose among all those who are dying to know God. Our calling is to cast the net and let God do the sorting. We don’t have the freedom to decide who gets to be loved and accepted and called by God. We don’t have the leisure to say, “He’s no good. She’s no good. Throw ‘em back in.”

Brothers and sisters, the time for picking and choosing is over. Now is the time for inviting everyone we find – the good and the bad, those who smell good and those who smell bad, rich and poor, black and white, those whom we like and those whom we don’t, Republicans and Democrats and Independents, Carolina fans and Duke fans and Wake Forest fans and State fans and even Florida and Boston College fans, those who are popular and those who are unloved, the educated and the simple, the cultured and the unrefined—everyone—we are called to invite everyone into God’s presence, to cast our net wide and haul them all in and then let the Master Fisherman figure out what He’s going to do with all of ‘em once they’re in the boat.

No wonder you can’t do this job part-time. It just shows that a relationship with Jesus, like any other relationship, is a continual, daily, intense thing. There are times it’s going to be hard and challenging and gut-wrenching. There are times when people will say all sorts of things about you. There are times you’ll be absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed by the enormity of the family business.

But look at the payoff. You’ll see it in the eyes of people who never considered that they could possibly be loved or accepted by God. I was discussing this text with Brooke Newsome earlier in the week. Some of you know Brooke. She graduated from ASU last May. She was active in the ministry of the Wesley Foundation, and she became an affiliate member of this church during her time in Boone. She’s now a full-time missionary through the United Methodist Church’s US-2 program, and is in the middle of a 2-year placement at Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana, Illinois. Many of the kids have been in and out of multiple foster homes and juvenile detention facilities. About 75% of these kids have been sexually abused. All but two are on daily pshychotropic drugs. They are kids society would have otherwise given up on, kids who thought that God could never call their name or have any desire to fish for them.

But through the work of Brooke and the rest of the staff and volunteers, these kids are discovering what it means to be made in the image of God, how much they are loved and valued by the Master Fisherman. She said, “you have no idea what it means to these kids when they have been unloved and unwanted all their lives, and they realize that God not only loves them, but wants them in his net.”

Friends, I realize that we all have our own stuff going on, and our experiences with God have all been different. Maybe God called your name a long time ago, and you walked together, but you’ve been gone for awhile. God wants you back. Or maybe you’ve never really thought that God or anyone else could love you, and you’ve kept your distance. God wants you, too. Or maybe even Christians or some Church somewhere told you that you were outside the reach of God’s net, that God didn’t love you, or that you were somehow a second-class citizen in God’s plan. That’s simply not true. God wants you, too.

Jesus continues to walk the shores of our lives, calling each of our names, and inviting us to be caught up in his net. He wants each and every one of us on his fishing crew, casting the net far and wide – touching every person with his love and grace.

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