The Call of Jesus
An Epiphany 3B Sermon by Rev. Sarah Kingsbery
January 21, 2024 at Auxvasse Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Mark 1:14-20 NRSV
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.
I am not an impulsive person.
I do not like sudden changes to plans.
I do not enjoy surprises.
Give me time to prepare, to get used to an idea, to adjust expectations.
I will study and analyze, I will mentally categorize pros and cons, and play out every foreseeable outcome.
I trust that God knew that when my first inkling of a call to ministry came when I was 8 years old.
Because it literally took years of imagining myself in a whole list of other jobs. All of which would later show up in the "potential careers" list of my college Myers-Briggs test results….right next to "clergy."
In my senior year of high school I decided I would be a religion major and go into the ministry.
But even that wasn't final. Because I also left seminary after 1 year and had to rediscover my call over several more years.
When looked at across years of discernment, there is no "immediately" in my call story.
…Except there was.
There was the moment when I first thought "I could do that" on a Sunday morning. There was the moment sitting at a mentor's kitchen table when she asked just the right question, and without even knowing it I made the decision to return to seminary.
Moments of Epiphany.
Sudden and important realizations.
God made manifest in my life.
We often talk specifically of the Magi's visit to toddler Jesus as Epiphany - a specific day on the church calendar. But if we approach this time between January 6 and the beginning of lent as a season of Epiphany, we can hear in the Gospel stories how Jesus continued to show up and be Emmanuel, God With Us. Not just in his birth but in his life.
The Gospel of Mark is a particularly good source of epiphany moments because it is the gospel of "immediately." Changes happen rapidly, people do things right away.
After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus responds by beginning his public ministry. This is a catalyst moment – the preparation work of John leads directly into Jesus echoing the same message, the message that got John arrested.
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news
Jesus immediately begins calling disciples to follow him. Individuals who respond to the call immediately.
Andrew and Simon, John and James do not mentally calculate the risk of leaving their work, their livelihood, their father behind. They respond to the call of Jesus without any (recorded) hesitation.
We can speculate on what might have gone into that decision, could consider how maybe it wasn't as spontaneous as Mark makes it seem.
Had they been part of the crowds that heard John the Baptist preach?
Had they been baptized by him?
Were they maybe even at the baptism of Jesus?
Had they talked among themselves about this one who was coming?
Did they rationalize their response as a temporary change, thinking they would be back before too long? (In just a few verses they will be back at Andrew and Simon's house after all!)
Maybe the seeds of their yes to Jesus had been planted in other moments, unrecognized by them, but preparing the way for them to respond with certainty to the call of Jesus all the same.
But in the moment that counted, Jesus called and they followed. Leaving behind what they knew for something…more.
Now, about that call,
You have heard it said that we are called to be fishers of people.
To save souls. To collect confessions of faith like fish in a net.
To find just the right bait to lure them in.
But I say to you, maybe the image Jesus had in mind was something different.
Jesus, who regularly quoted the scriptures of his Jewish tradition, who knew the law and the prophets. Maybe he was calling upon language of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah, who gave the people God's message of judgement…
"because [your] ancestors have forsaken me and have not kept my laws and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors…following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me"
"I am now sending for many fishermen, and they shall catch them…for my eyes are on all their ways, they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight"
Jesus, who began his public ministry when the one who came before him was arrested.
Jesus, who proclaimed the least shall be first and the first shall be last.
Jesus, who would call out the powerful and the comfortable.
Jesus, who challenged the divisions, the categories, the hierarchies of his world.
Jesus, called his first disciples to follow him
For the reign of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
It is the teachings of a prophet, warning and promise tied up together.
God's will to be done on earth means flipping the tables and upending the abusive power structures that deny the humanity, the belovedness of each and every person.
Our vision of being fisher of people imagines us collecting new believers but says nothing of what we should do once we've caught them in our net.
Jesus' call to the disciples was not just to put down the tools of their trade but to walk away from is known and comfortable. To align themselves with a message that already resulted in the arrest of John the Baptist. And would eventually lead to his, and Jesus' death.
Maybe being fisher of people isn't so straightforward after all.
There are those, such as the rich man in Mark 10, who will hear Jesus say, "come follow me" and cannot do so because the cost is too great.
Faithful to the commandments, Jesus tells him he lacks one thing – he must sell all he has and give it to the poor. The man walks away, unable to let go of the wealth that makes him powerful.
Collecting confessions of faith was never the goal of Jesus' ministry.
Even his disciples struggled to say who Jesus was, to see clearly God manifest among them. But they were still disciples, in their doubt and questioning, because they got up and followed. They responded. They said yes when it mattered.
Instead of resolutions I have leaned into the Epiphany tradition of having a star word to guide my attention for the year. I have two words this year – normally it would be just one, but sometimes God has a sense of humor.
The first word is prepare. I was happy with that one, as you can imagine. That is my natural state.
But my second word, one picked at random by a friend from his church's basket of star words, that word is "risk."
When he first told me this was my word, I said "I plan to be very prepared for every risk I take this year."
Except, I expect that won't actually be possible.
Real risk means responding to opportunities, to invitations, to challenges when they appear. Some do require or benefit from preparation. As in so many things in life, it is a balance.
I don't know what God's call on my life will be this year. I don't know what invitation will be offered to me, what opportunity to be part of creating a world more just, more equitable, more faithful to God's will, will come.
But I suspect it will not come without a measure of risk.
Following Jesus, after all, means speaking truth, challenging the status quo, calling the sinful, the oppressive, the powerful to repentance. Because that which arranges humanity into categories of worthiness is incompatible with God's will for this world.
Jesus tells Andrew and Simon they will be Fishers of People.
We don't know what he says to John and James, the sons of Zebedee, mending nets in their boat, but I like the poetic words of Andrew King:
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.
So I imagine Jesus saying to them and to us,
I shall make you menders of the world.
May it be so.