January 24, 2021

Series: January 2021

Category: Deepening Our Understanding of Familiar Passages

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Today's Scripture

Mark 1:16-20

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—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. 

Today's Sermon



I feel like this scripture passage is begging for a story about fishing.  If only my dad were here … he would have hundreds of stories for you, and pictures too! He loves to fish and goes fishing whenever he can.  I think one of the great disappointments of his life is that neither my sister nor I were ever very interested in fishing.  So, I’ll tell you a fishing parable instead.

There once was a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, which equipment to use. They invested millions in boats and gear and a fishing headquarters, hired a staff, even sent emissaries around the world to seek out information and knowledge from other fishermen.

One day, a young child stood up in one of their fishing meetings and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen—how come you’ve never caught a fish?” Indeed, no one in the village had ever actually caught a fish. They had never even been fishing. [i]

I wonder if this might be what our lives of faith look like sometimes.  We talk about being disciples of Jesus.  We read and study about what it means to follow Jesus.  We lift up others who are following Jesus.  We worship for an hour on Sunday mornings, praising God and celebrating the importance of discipleship.  And then?  Do we actually live as disciples?  Do we actually follow Jesus in all that we are and all that we do?  Every moment of every day?  Perhaps some of you do.  Well done.  Carry on.  You are a shining example for the rest of us.  But, for the rest of us – and I do include myself – there is still much work to be done to transform our lives into lives of discipleship.

There is good reason why many of us hesitate to leap headlong into discipleship.  Following Jesus is hard!  He says so himself!  He tells his disciples that they should expect hardship and persecution.  He is upfront about the fact that they will have to leave behind important pieces of their lives.  In this story from Mark’s Gospel, the people whom Jesus calls leave behind their family, their co-workers, and their livelihood in order to follow him.  No, following Jesus was not easy then, and it is not easy now. 

But, even though the fishermen face all these challenges, Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew “immediately” leave their nets and follow Jesus.  Immediately.  Now, if it had been me, I can imagine my response being something like, “Wow, that is quite an offer, Jesus!  Let me get back to you in a few days.  You’re asking a lot of me.  I should probably do a cost/benefit analysis.  I definitely need to write a list of pros and cons.  I should probably talk it over with my friends and family.  Let me get back to you this same time next week with an answer.”

However, if we keep waiting for the exact right moment to follow Jesus, it may never come.  I can think of a whole list of excuses.  I need to make sure I am financially secure enough before I start acting with the generosity to which Jesus calls me.  I need to make sure my own relationships are secure enough before I start advocating for the oppressed and the downtrodden whom Jesus calls me to care for.  I need to make sure I am knowledgeable enough to understand the unjust systems of this world before I begin the work of dismantling those that Jesus calls me to challenge.  The list goes on.  Did I mention that the work of following Jesus is hard?

Thankfully, we don’t have to know or do everything all at once.  The disciples certainly didn’t.  They immediately followed Jesus, and then they realized that they had a lot to learn. The Gospels are full of stories about the disciples not understanding Jesus, frustrating Jesus, even deserting Jesus at the end of his life.  The weren’t perfect disciples right away … or ever.  But, they gave it their all, immediately committing to Jesus to follow him.  I once heard a pastor explain that becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime.[ii]  It only takes a moment to decide to follow Jesus, and a lifetime to learn how best to do that.  

So, might this be your moment?  Might you decide immediately to follow Jesus?  What would that look like for you today? 

Pastor and author David Lose suggests, “We follow Jesus by treating others with the same regard, love and patience that he did, including all manner of people but especially those overlooked by society. This,” says Lose, “is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: to try to live and treat others as Jesus did, embracing the values of inclusiveness, love, forgiveness, and healing that he radiated in word and deed.  Look ahead to the coming week and anticipate times and places and occasions where we might follow Jesus by treating others as we see Jesus treating people.”[iii]  That sounds like something we can do immediately.

Our Wednesday class is in the middle of a series on hymns, and this past week, we studied the hymn “The Summons” by John Bell.  We had a beautiful discussion that included several participants sharing their own call stories – from being called to be a preschool teacher, to being a parent, to being a church planter.  I was awed by the diversity of calling even in our small group.  We also noted our various experiences with call – from pure joy, to much struggle, to unexpected outcomes.  God calls us to follow in very different ways.  And the experiences we have when we follow will be unique to our own path.  However, what each one of us can do is to answer “yes,” when Jesus asks us to follow 

“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? 

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? 

Will you let my love be shown; will you let my name be known;

will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”

That is the first verse of the song, when God reminds us that answering the call is not easy.  We will go where we don’t know!  We will never be the same … and change is hard.  But, God also reminds us that we will not be alone.  God will grow in us just as we will grow in God. 

“Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,

And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?”

This verse reminds us about some of what Jesus calls us to do.  Yes, following Jesus is about treating others with kindness and compassion just as Jesus did, and that is important.  Following Jesus is also about taking bold action when necessary.  About making the unpopular choice when it is the right and just choice.  About setting prisoners free and kissing lepers clean.  Not for our glory, but for God’s glory.

The last verse of the song imagines our response to God. 

“Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.

Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.

In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.

Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.”

May that be our response always, immediately.  Amen



[ii] Elton W. Brown, “Feasting on the Word,” Year B, Volume 1, page 286.