(A sermon for Sunday, November 2, 2008 based on Mark 1:16-20)
We are told nothing of what kind of day it was—whether it was cloudy or clear, cold or hot, rainy or dry. We are told nothing of what was in the fishermen’s minds—were they happy or sad, focused or distracted, fresh or tired? We are told nothing of what had been happening in their lives before this moment—had they ever seen Jesus before, were they faithful in the practice of the Jewish faith, had they been pondering the meaning of their lives?
Yes, we are told nothing—nothing except that on that day Jesus came walking by and said to these four fishermen the words that changed not only their lives but the very course of human history: “Follow me.”
And, amazingly, they followed.
Why did they follow? I have no better answer than that something happened to them in that moment; they heard the voice of Jesus and it sounded significant and authoritative to them. Something about that voice in that moment made it necessary for them to make a decision that would change the course of their entire lives. They did not, so far as we can tell, have a significant amount of prior information about Jesus. They certainly were not privy to the kind of knowledge about Jesus that we now possess. Yet, the power of his presence and the summons of his voice were to them irresistible.
And so here you are today, mending your nets and getting ready to do the stuff you do in your life, or busy thinking about all that you need to be doing. You are busy, busy with your work, busy with your family, busy with your hobbies, busy with making money, busy with spending money, busy with worrying, busy with playing, busy with parenting—you’re just plain busy. But now here comes this voice saying, “Follow me.” And believe me, that voice is just as present and just as real today as it was 2000 years ago beside the Sea of Galilee. Through the Holy Spirit that voice still calls, still summons, still beckons for us to follow.
So you’re hearing it today, maybe for the first time, maybe for the thousandth time. The four Galilee fishermen apparently responded to the voice the first time they heard it. So can you. Others of you have heard it over and over and have not yet responded. Why not? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter, not today. What does matter is that you can hear his voice and you can follow today.
At issue here is whether or not you will become a disciple. Jesus says, “Come after me.” We know now, in light of the life and ministry of Jesus, that to come after Jesus means to follow him in the way of the cross. It means to take up our cross and follow him. It means to abandon our lives and our priorities and to give ourselves over to him in radical obedience.
It doesn’t mean to follow perfectly. You’re not going to do that. So if you’re sitting there thinking that you have to wait until you can get it just right, then you’re going to spend the rest of your life just sitting there and waiting. You’ll never get it down perfectly, and that’s not what being a disciple is all about anyway.
It doesn’t mean to stake your life on the quality of your following. That would deteriorate into a works righteousness that will drain your life from you. If you’re wondering if you can do well enough to make it all the way through, then you need to know that the answer is “No.” Besides, what you’re able to do is not what being a disciple is all about anyway. Yes, you are the one being called to be a disciple, but what you are being called to do is to follow Jesus. You must keep your focus on Jesus, not on yourself. Watch Jesus, learn from Jesus, follow Jesus, and let Jesus empower and enliven and enable you, and then you will be a disciple. The focus in not on being a disciple; the focus is on being Jesus' disciple.
Furthermore, the focus is first and foremost on belonging to Jesus. Your prayer should be the wonderful prayer of Thomas Merton.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thoughts in Solitude)
Don’t think too much about outcomes. Don’t think too much about destinations. Don’t think too much about results. Just follow. Just trust. Just rely on his presence with you, and then no matter where he leads you it will be all right.
That is important to know because where he leads you may not be an easy place to be. The road these four fishermen had to walk was not an easy road. It was a road of deprivation, of sacrifice, of misunderstanding, of failure, of loss, of grief, and of pain. For most of them it was a road that ultimately led to martyrdom. But it is the only road that, no matter what it takes you through, finally leads to joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died as a Christian martyr in a Nazi prison camp, put it this way.
And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York: Collier, 1963), p. 41]
“Discipleship means joy.” Do you really need to know anything else? Discipleship means following and sacrifice and obedience, but at the bottom of it all, discipleship means joy!
But you must make a decision. Your life was given to you by God and so it really belongs to him, but he has given you stewardship over it and freedom to do with it as you choose. What will you do with the rest of your life?
In the classic post-World War II film The Best Years of Our Lives, Dana Andrews played one of several returning veterans on whom the movie focuses. A drugstore soda jerk before the war, he had risen to the rank of Captain as a bombardier in the Army Air Force. During the course of the film, all went wrong for him. Now, his marriage over, his job gone, his is preparing to leave home, going anywhere. Before he leaves, though, he goes to an old airfield where many junked bombers are stored. He climbs into one of them, crawling into the nose cone where the bombardier worked. The camera showed the wings of the bomber, now without engines. That plane was going nowhere for him. His former life was over; there was no future there for him. He was going to have to find a different path and follow it if there was going to be a future for him.
And so must be your response to the call to follow Jesus. Everything that has happened before this moment is significant; those events have brought you to this moment. But this is the crucial moment. This is the moment when, either for the first time or the tenth time or the one thousandth time, you are hearing the voice of Jesus saying to you, “Follow me.” Following him is where your future lies. Following him is where your purpose and your meaning lie. Following him is where your hope lies.
You just need to do what he calls you to do: follow him.