Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
January 25, 2015
Mark 1: 14-20
“Who Do You Follow?”
Hear now these Holy Words from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verses 14 thru 20
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 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.
17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
May God bless our understanding of these ancient writings.
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Our scripture lesson this morning, out of the first chapter of the gospel according to Mark, moves us very rapidly into the early ministry of Jesus. Verse 14, propels us into the news that John (presumably John the Baptist) was arrested, thus ending his ministry. That is just in the first section of that first verse! Then we have Jesus, having already traveled to Galilee, and he has already started preaching. In this last section of this one verse we have Jesus proclaiming the “Good News!” We haven’t even gotten through the first sentence and already we find ourselves forced to ask ourselves: “So what is this good news!” The writer of Mark was not much of a conversationalist. Clearly his intent was to move us quickly into the activities of Jesus as he began his short, but very powerful and moving ministry in Galilee.
The good news is only understood, as Jesus announces it, if you are well versed on the Old Testament. Good devote Jews, at the time of Jesus, knew of the prophecy of the coming Messiah that was to free them from the bondage and oppression they found themselves in. (At least that is how the average Jew understood the scriptures.) In verse 15, the second half of our first sentence, we hear Jesus saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” The radical shift here, from the message that John the Baptist preached: is the reference to “the time is fulfilled.” Of course you recall that the Baptizer was telling people to “prepare themselves for the Lord was on the way,” and “the one coming was more powerful then John;” and finally the One who was to come “would baptize with the Holy Spirit!” Now there is no missing the point here, Jesus has moved the prophecy forward in his statement “the time is fulfilled!” Jesus was proclaiming the prophecy was complete, it was accomplished – it had been implemented and realized. Quickly and efficiently, Mark has moved us from the end of the Baptizers minister of preparation, to Jesus saying it was finished! What happened and why is Mark moving us forward so quickly?
What we do know is that the Gospels were written down decades after Jesus was executed. We do know that his followers had scattered and it took all this time – before it seemed ‘important enough’ to the small struggling Christian communities, that were developing, to start writing things down. You see, his followers thought that after the resurrection, Jesus was coming back in their lifetimes, yet it wasn’t happening that way. The writings attributed to Mark were the first of the gospels to be written, and the writer skipped over the birth narratives and the list of Jesus’ ancestors back to the time of David, which we find in both Matthew and Luke. Why? Because they didn’t think it was that important. Mark simply wanted us to get to the narrative; he wanted to tell us of the actions and deeds of Jesus so that we would come to believe and be informed of who this Jesus truly was and is! Mark was telling us why we ought to follow this man, as quickly and effectively as possible!
Moving on – we come to see Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee where he observes several common, hard working fishermen. They had been casting their nets into the sea. They were doing this as any ordinary fisherman would do. Nothing special going on here. Just good hard working men, trying to make a living, trying to make ends meet. It is reasonable to assume some of these fellows had more than an aging father or mother at home, perhaps a wife and some children for whom they were also responsible. Jesus calls out to these men: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And astonishingly, they drop everything and follow him!
Clearly, this writer was not concerned about the implications, or the consequences this decision would have in their lives, or to the disruption to their ‘lively hood’ as fisherman, nor the stability of their families. No, evidently, the author of Mark was seeking to move those whom read or studied this document to push swiftly into the heart of the matter: Jesus was not only calling out and reaching out to these first disciples, he was asking them to give up everything and follow him!
Let’s come back to this time period for a moment. When I was quite young I was introduced to the concept of “Follow the Leader.” My memories of those adventurers are that it was fun, interesting and engaging! As an adult this concept of ‘follow the leader’ has been expanded to help build character for children, teens and adults as well. Often with an added twist to doing it blindfolded, thus the participants must put their trust, their full trust in their leader, or the one closest to them that they are clinging to. Used carefully and with good leadership these experiences can be rewarding a real asset to teachers, and spiritual leaders, especially when leading an event such as a retreat.
Also, as a young lad, I was taught to never follow someone I did not know. In the Twenty-First Century this lesson is strongly stressed by responsible parents and adults. Of course these fishermen were adults. Clearly, they knew whom they were following, didn’t they? Surely, the stories of Jesus baptism by John had been spread throughout the region. Although there is not a lot of mention of it in Mark’s gospel, we do know from the writings in Matthew and Luke that Jesus was doing marvelous things throughout the region. We must assume that these men had heard of these happenings. So they left everything and everyone behind and followed Jesus.
You and I we have heard about all the wonderful stories of Jesus. Every Sunday, you come to church and listen to me or someone like me and we talk about the stories and accountings from scripture. Surely, everyone here is ready to set all else aside and follow Jesus too! Sounds different when it’s about you doesn’t it. Last week we talked about being called. This week we are talking about following, just like in the children’s concept of ‘follow the leader’, and it’s expected that we should do what Jesus does. Jesus is clearly the leader!
That makes it a little harder.
It’s harder because: now, we are talking about our lives, our all too real realities here in the Twenty-First Century. The truth is that we really have to do – as the one in whom we put our trust and faith – and commit to follow. It’s kind of like joining the church, now that you’ve joined it, we are inviting you to stay after church today, and be part of this community, thus taking part in our annual meeting. You are invited to share in the joy and the sorrows of this community. This is just like what a pastor says to a newly married couple, thus reminding the new couple that they are now a family, and they shall share in everything together. Today, as we join together in the annual meeting of this congregation, we are reminded that we are in this together! You now will get to vote and when you get to vote you then share in the responsibility for what and how you vote. Following, like belonging and joining: these are words of commitment.
Jesus invited others to follow him and they did! Jesus has invited you to follow him; your parents made the commitment to do exactly that when you were baptized and then, at your confirmation, you took responsibility for this commitment. As members of this church you have re-affirmed your commitment to follow the leadership of Christ. You do this, just as we are doing today, by studying the scriptures, coming together to sing praises to God, and praying together. This is how we grow stronger and more willing and able to keep our promises.
In this fellowship there are a multitude of avenues to participate in the life of this church, thus being an active partner in the faith and teachings of this fellowship. Leadership roles via the Church Council are vital to the day-to-day operations and leadership of this fellowship. The countless hours of our Moderator, and those that work with her, do a lot to keep this community running smoothly. Our ministry teams: Education, Operations, Outreach, Resources, Spiritual, Endowment, Pastor Search Committee, Pastoral Relations Committee, Worship Committee and a number of real life activities to go with these ministries. To name a few: Our Rummage sales, Serving meals at Daily Bread, The Children’s Hunger Project, Volunteer Staff workers. Let us be grateful so many follow the pathway of ministry through their talents such as our Choir and The Vocal Group, as-well-as our volunteers who help make the flow of our worship services run so smoothly.
Following is not only here in the church, as we are expected to live the life of a God centered person in all our daily activities. That’s right, as followers we are expected to live the life of a Christian all the time, unsupervised. You and me, we are not children that need a parent or guardian to make our choices in life any longer. As adults we feel a sense of responsibility to follow through with our choices. As members and friends of this faith community – we need to affirm our commitment. We need to trust that our God will continue to lead us on right paths.
You know a lot about God. You have experienced God’s love and mercy. Therefore I urge you, all of you, trust your inner instincts. Trust your desire to follow and go ahead allowing your heart to lead you. Rest assured that it is God whom you follow; God touches your heart, tugging on it constantly. As adults, you have come to a point in life where you do have the ability to accept responsibilities; and you do understand what is expected of you, and thereby you can and you do, make the right choices every day, so continue to make good on your obligations, as-well-as your promises and commitments. Each one of you are good followers of the teachings and ministry of Christ.
Be reminded of the good solid community of faith that you have helped create and are a part of this very day! Look how you have created an environment where leadership is free to create new things. You can see examples of it in every aspect of ministry throughout this building and fellowship! Look to how you have done the essence of the bidding of God, you are surely following in the footsteps made by Christ – who came before you – Look around you and see how completely you are welcoming to all of God’s children.
Well done… well done.