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Sunday Message for 24 January 2021: “Fishing for People”

Today’s message from Mark 1:14-20 reveals a disciple-building day in Jesus’ early ministry. John the Baptist had been arrested and Jesus was moving forward with his mission of gathering a cadre of dedicated followers.

Jesus’ foundational message to the world was stated simply and with gusto: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). The time was right for Jesus to build his spiritual kingdom. Two sets of fishermen brothers (Simon & Andrew, James & John) responded to Jesus’ invitation as they were working at the Sea of Galilee. The rapid response of the brothers implies that they had been open to a new direction and that Jesus’ invitation correlated with their receptivity.

In calling James and John, Mark’s text indicates that the brothers immediately left their father and the hired workers. James’ and John’s hasty departure left their dad at least two persons short. The hardship this likely caused casts a long shadow. The usual lesson drawn from the brothers’ actions is that following Jesus is worth abandoning all else, including family and fortune.

For better and for worse, the pattern of people dropping everything is a recurrent theme in certain forms of discipleship. By its extreme nature, the act of forsaking all other life commitments seems impressive. As a result, many people have accepted the notion that renouncing worldly duties is the gold standard for serving God.

It takes courage to confront the ideal that God demands of people an extreme obedience. The biblical account of Jesus calling his disciples continues to be used as a justification about how God’s chosen people are holier than the rest of us, that an elect few who forsake everything earn a saintly status. As appealing as is this elitist approach it is not necessarily the only legitimate consideration.

An opposing view to the radical version of discipleship is that while it is wonderful to serve God, doing so does not necessarily imply that you surrender everything. It can be conceded that in many cases it would be unwise for a person to burn all their bridges, especially if doing so alienates the very people whom God calls you to love. At first it seems like a supposed act of valor by throwing everything away to follow God but this is not necessarily the case. How each person struggles to serve God reveals the challenges of being willing and able to respond to a divine call in different ways.

What would it take for you to drop all your roles and responsibilities to follow a spiritual teacher? Nowadays, this process is described as a nefarious cult of personality. Modern people of faith realize that the two pairs of brothers chose to follow the Jesus who would later be proclaimed Son of God. Yet from an outsiders’ perspective, the situation the brothers entered was at best precarious. Those ancient brothers made a wise choice given what we know now but unlike us they did not have the benefit of hindsight.

Then there’s the question of what motivated the two pairs of brothers to follow Jesus. Were they moved by pristine faith, an impulsive decision, or simply a desire for an exotic ride on the wild side (perhaps all three played a role). Whatever their motivations, the brothers’ act of abandoning their family and profession contributed to their later elevation as saints. Given that the brothers may have sacrificed everything is more than compensated by how they became celebrated in the centuries after they dropped their fishing nets and forsook their families. Perceived this way, what those men gave up was nothing compared to the status they gained.

What are you ready to do for God? This momentous question looms because it involves the meaning of life and the weighing of priorities. Pause and reflect as you discern the best way forward. Are you ready to open your heart and mind to a transformed life? Please know that you needn’t surrender everything or become a holier-than-thou saint to magnificently serve God.

There are people in our community whose names we don’t yet know, but they need our help. You need not abandon your family or profession to live-up to the iconic phrase “fish for people” (Mark 1:17). God can use you for who and what you are right now. This is how Discipleship and Outreach—“DO—function. Let’s make the crucial difference in peoples’ lives as we help make new disciples.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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