Rocherty UMC April 11th, 2021
Really Good News: “Answering the Call” Mark 1:14-20

          One of the things that God has been showing me throughout the last year or so as we’ve navigated this pandemic is that we really must hold our plans loosely. Oftentimes, I’ve wanted to do something, or we’ve wanted to do something as a congregation, you know, like worship in person, and the circumstances of life just wouldn’t allow that to happen.
As I was thinking and reflecting upon our Scripture this week, I kept being drawn to people in life who have had a radical change of plans.  I thought of various saints and such throughout history who have answered the call that God had placed on their life. But it wasn’t until just yesterday that Angela reminded me of perhaps the one person who was willing to answer the call, at great cost. And that person is Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Like Mary Magdalene, the woman who was commissioned by Jesus to deliver the good news to the other disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus was called from her plans to something unimaginable just moments before. Remember that Mary was just a young teenager when the angel Gabriel came to her unannounced and gave her the great announcement that she would give birth to none other than the Son of God. Surely, Mary had plans of living a traditional quiet life with Joseph, her soon to be husband. Perhaps she dreamed of the children she might have, the things she might teach them. But again, surely she had no idea that her child would grow up to save the world. But, as we know, God had other plans for this young poor girl from the backwater. He had plans to favor her, to give her the honor of being the bearer of God in the flesh, Immanuel.
But Mary had a choice in the matter. Mary had a decision to make. Just like the other Mary, the one that went and was planning to anoint Jesus for burial, this Mary had to be willing to let go of her hopes and dreams and set them aside for something greater. She had to set them apart to be part of God’s mission to save and redeem the world. In short, Mary had to answer the call. And, as the birth stories record, she did so. She answered with the humility and strength of character that would prepare her for the road ahead. She said to Gabriel, “Let it be unto me as you have said.” She didn’t clutch at her plans and hold on for dear life but rather was willing to let them slip through her fingers for something greater, something even better than she could ever have imagined to take place.
And as we turn to our Scripture this morning, we will find that Jesus too, is very much in the calling business. We’ll see how he goes about turning a rag-tag bunch of fisherman into a band of apostles that go in search of the lost of the world, luring them into kingdom life.
But first, I want us to notice the timing of what is going on in our story. It’s important to note that Jesus only began his ministry after John had been handed over to the authorities. As we talked about in our last message on Mark, John the Baptist represents something of a bridge between eras. In some ways, John represents the capstone of the Old Testament. He was a prophet, much in the same spirit as Elijah and Elisha. He was a recluse, something of a hermit. He lived simply, finding his food in the wild, and speaking of wild, his clothing looked very much the part of a wilderness prophet. But it’s message that is most important. Like the Scripture foretold, John was the herald of the coming of a new age. The coming of one who he was unworthy to do even the most menial of tasks for. He was preparing the way for the Lord himself, God in the flesh.
And as if on cue, the moment John steps off the stage, Jesus enters from stage left. After being prepared in the greenroom of the wilderness among Satan and the wild beasts, Jesus has now proven that he wouldn’t slip up like Israel. He passed the forty-day test and crossed over the Jordan in his baptism into the promised land of his own prophetic ministry. As Israel was commissioned to be a light to the world and proclaim the reign of God, so Jesus would come to announce.
And key to all of this is timing. Time is a key word in our Scripture today. And I want to take a moment to describe to you how the ancient world dealt with time. In Greek, there are two primary words that are used to describe time. The first, chronos, is time in the sense that is familiar to us. It’s the everyday mundane sense of time that passes, one second after the next. In the word chronos, you can hear our word “chronological” or the tool we use to keep time, a “chronometer”—just a fancy way for a watch!
But Greek also had another word for time. And that word was kairos. Kairos time is much different. Whereas chronos time refers to a moment in time, Kairos refers to something that we might call an era, or a special point in time. So, when Jesus tells us that “the time has come, repent and believe the good news!,” he isn’t simply implying that, like a restaurant reservation, we need to get there at such and such a time. No, rather, what he’s saying is the era of salvation has come. The old has passed and the new is dawning. Like a birthday or an anniversary, kairos time marks something special that we don’t want to miss.
And immediately after announcing the good news, we find Jesus out hunting. I know, I know, our Scripture is talking about fishing, so I’m mixing my metaphors when I’m going on about hunting—but indulge me a moment. Jesus is out looking for someone. Not just anyone. And, not just one person. No, Jesus is out looking for partners in this business that God has called him to. You see, it’s not just the disciples or Mary that were called, but Jesus too. Jesus is given a mission as well, to be the agent of salvation and reconciliation for the whole world. But he’s not going to do it alone. Instead, he needs a new nation of Israel to help him out.
Have you ever wondered why there were twelve disciples? Have you ever wondered why they were just men and no women were called? I wondered a great deal about this over time. And when I read these stories through the lens of Jesus as a New Israel, it all began to make sense. In Jesus, God is starting over with Israel 2.0. And like the nation of Israel, who had twelve tribes, Jesus is re-founding, restarting, re-creating that nation with twelve apostles.
And today we learn just a little bit about what it means to answer that call. To answer the call to discipleship. While we’re not all called to be apostles or to shepherd the flock, we are all called to follow Jesus, to answer him when he calls, to follow him into the world.
The first thing we learn is that the call is urgent.  Jesus’ call to the disciples didn’t involve a lengthy conversation. It didn’t have a question and answer session or a “learn more about us” tab on their internet page. No, when Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John, the call was in the imperative mood “Come, follow me!” It was a command to drop what they were doing and follow at once.
And we see that that is exactly what they do. They didn’t hang on to their cherished life plans of growing the fishing business or taking over from their fathers. You know, we often think of the disciples as poor and uneducated. Today, most scholars think that isn’t really the case. In fact, from some details in our text, namely that the Zebedee brothers have other people working for them, it really seems like at least these disciples had some wealth and substance to look forward to inheriting.
And that leads me to my second point. The point that the call of Jesus challenges our allegiances. If you’ve been part of our Bible study, you know that one of the central themes of the culture of ancient Israel was the place of the family in everyday life.  The entire world of a Hebrew family revolved around a web of relationships transmitted through the male line. The oldest family male of the family was the patriarch and controlled the destiny of his entire family.
And in our second fishing family, that of James and John, Zebedee was that patriarch. In the ancient world, it would fully be expected that James and John would continue working in the family business as fisherman, going about life mending nets, managing staff, and earning enough to continue on the family line by having children who would, in turn, repeat the tradition.
But in steps Jesus. Jesus, someone who knew well the traditions of Israel, was asking James and John (as well as Simon and Andrew), to cast aside this long-held tradition and step in to something new. The kairos moment had come. The tradition must be relativized now because time is of the essence. Today is the day of salvation. The life of heaven is meeting earth in the ministry of Jesus. The Kingdom of God has come near.
I can imagine the family arguments and fights that must have happened in the Zebedee household. It would be scandalous for these sons to dishonor their father in such a way. After all, one of the commandments is to honor parents. But Jesus is saying God comes first. Although we call Jesus, and rightly so, the Prince of Peace, don’t forget that there was a time when he said to his followers, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword, to divide families.
By using this metaphor Jesus wasn’t advocating violence but was rather being truthful about the cost of discipleship. Sometimes it might mean that we have to make tough choices between two good things. Mary the mother of Jesus had to choose between a quiet family life and a life disrupted by God’s call. And sometimes, that’s a challenge we must face as well.
But thirdly, lest you think answering the call of Jesus is only full of sacrifices, let me assure you of this: Answering the call also bears much fruit. I want to circle back to the promise Jesus made to Simon and Andrew as we begin to close our message for today. “Follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” To make sense of this we have to go back to the times in the Old Testament that God uses the metaphor of fishing.
As we’ve heard this morning in our Hebrew Bible Scripture, in the Old Testament, fishing doesn’t usually imply a good thing. In fact, of all the times this activity is mentioned in the Old Testament, it has a decidedly negative connotation. God is the Great Fisherman who will send out his nets to swallow up the unrighteous and bring them to judgment. That is one fishing net that I wouldn’t want to be caught up in!
But Jesus is calling the disciples to a different sort of fishing. Like a great lake, Jesus is painting the world as a place of great potential. A vast treasury full of fish of all kinds, all stripes. And, as fisherman, these disciples know all about abundant catches. Catches so big the nets break and need mending. And that’s what Jesus is sending them out to do. To drag in the people from all tribes and tongues into the new family, the new Israel. Not one based on ethnic descent or religious heritage, but one big human family the way God always intended, submitting to God’s rule, bearing God’s light and glory into the world, extending the boundaries of paradise as far as the waters cover the sea.
And that’s where you and I come in. God is still in the fishing business two thousand years later. Jesus was out hunting for disciples along the lake shore and we are to be out hunting and fishing in the places that God has for each of us. You might own your own business, and God is calling you to hunt among your clients. You might have children and grand children. God is asking you to cast the net in the waters and see what you might find. You might be called to extend the lure to your friends, perhaps to someone you meet at the grocery store or the laundromat.
In short, if we’ve answered the call to be a follower of Jesus, we’ve been given a fishing license! We’ve been given a story to tell, a life to live, and a commission. That commission is to share the very good news of God with all people. To call them to repent—to turn away from self, selfishness, pride, sin, and all other things that break relationships and to turn toward the path that leads to life. We don’t need to beat people over the head with it, but invite them in. Fishing lures work not because they’re sharp, but because they’re attractive.  Let us be attractive, alluring even, as we go, fish for people, bring in a catch that leads to life, salvation, and wholeness. Amen.