This sermon was delivered on 1/22/12.
Text: Mark 1:14-20
I am an unlikely fisherman. I don’t have a boat, or a ton of fishing gear. I do not disappear every weekend, nor do I have a Bass Pro Shops credit card.
It even goes deeper than that, though. I am allergic to fish. I have several Epi-pens stashed around in case I inadvertently consume something I shouldn’t; because, if I eat fish, I experience an anaphylactic reaction: my throat closing, blocking God’s life-giving air from reaching my lungs. I break out in hives, as the swelling begins in my ears, eyes, nose, throat; causing the most intense itching you have ever experienced. All before the lights go out and I meet my Maker. Thankfully, I haven’t yet made it to the end of that process.
My allergy sensitivity used to be even worse. As a child, I was so sensitive that I could not touch a fish without a reaction; I could not be in a home or restaurant where fish was fried without risking certain death.
The peculiar thing, when you think about it, is that I ever started fishing in the first place. The obstacles were numerous and severe:
I could not place minnows on my hook.
If fortunate enough to catch something, I could not remove it from my hook.
Should it come off on its own, I could do nothing with it—not put it back into the water, not fillet it to give to anyone, not cook it, and certainly not eat it.
So why did I start fishing? I became a fisherperson because I was called.
I had the fortune of knowing a great fisherman: my grandfather. He has fished for years. He knows all the best techniques, has all the proper gear. He has a boat, and has fished the same body of water for decades. And he loved me enough to take me along, to teach me how to fish.
He loved me enough to bait my hook…to remove the fish I caught…to throw back the fish that were too small…to fillet the “keepers”…to cook and eat the day’s catch while I ate hot dogs…
He also loved me enough to weather criticism from others for even teaching me to fish. What is the point, so many wondered, of teaching a person so ill-disposed to the task? Why fish when you can’t eat? Why teach someone who can’t even do it without help?
The answer, of course, was and is love. It was never about fishing; it was always about each other. It was about sharing…growing…developing…together…
I read our NT text and I see a lot of Jesus in my grandfather, or perhaps more appropriately, I see a lot of my grandfather in Jesus.
When you consider the tasks that will be required of Jesus’ disciples, you have to second-guess his choices. Here Jesus calls four fishermen, a perfectly respectable if socially low vocation. But these are uneducated tradesmen, whereas a proper Rabbi gleans disciples from the rabbinical schools, persons who have been instructed in religion since childhood.
Maybe they weren’t allergic to fish, but they don’t look like good choices from any perspective.
And lest any of you feel compelled to rush to the disciples’ defense, remember that they are around Jesus 24/7 and still don’t get it.
At the Last Supper they don’t get it.
At Gethsemane, they don’t get it.
At the crucifixion, they don’t get it.
At the empty tomb, they don’t get it.
When the resurrected Jesus appears to them, they don’t get it.
And even when Jesus ascends into heaven, they still don’t get it. An angel has to explain it to them.
The disciples might be fishers of people, but Jesus spends three years baiting hooks, removing the unlikely catch from their lines, preparing their catch, and generally holding their hands throughout the process. As a parent, I have learned just how time consuming this kind of fishing is, what a labor of love, and how difficult it would be for Jesus to do any fishing of his own. But Jesus, like my grandfather and like me now, trusts the process, values the present & relationships over and above the future & a measurable “catch.”
They are as ill-fit to being disciples as I am a fisherperson. But that is the way our God works. That is the way love works. And isn’t it amazing?
Jesus is calling to us: It’s time to fish. We don’t need a big bass boat, a $250 baitcaster, or a thousand dollar fly rod. We don’t need a big budget, a flashy house band, or hundreds of people.
When Jesus calls to these four fishermen, he doesn’t tell them to bring their gear, and they don’t ask what equipment they will need. Jesus calls them precisely because they don’t have what it takes; for that guarantees they will receive it from Jesus himself.
For the Kingdom of God is not built by the strong:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inhereit the earth” (Matt 5:5).
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
In fact, the only thing remarkable about these four disciples is their response to Jesus. Their obedience to his call is instantaneous, if not complete.
As commentator Elton Brown reminds us, “This is not the end of the story. This is just the beginning… Ahead, for [the disciples] and for us, there is much to learn, much stumbling, misunderstanding, and backsliding. Becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime” (Feasting, 284-6).
Still, stories like this one legitimize the spontaneous, impulsive trusting of the prompting of the Holy Spirit. They inspire us to listen for the call of our Master, and cause us to reflect on the promptness of our obedience to that call.
There is a remarkable story of such obedience from early Christianity:
Supposedly, Abba Sylvanus, one of the early spiritual leaders in the desert of Egypt, had a disciple named Mark, who was known for his obedience. To support himself, he copied old manuscripts, and Abba Sylvanus loved him because he was so obedient. So much so, in fact, that Abba Sylvanus’ other eleven disciples were jealous that he loved Mark more than them.
Some other Christian leaders heard that Abba Sylvanus was playing favorites, and they were upset by it. They were so bothered by this that they took it upon themselves to visit Abba Sylvanus one day to correct him.
During their visit, Abba Sylvanus took them on a tour of their little community, knocking on the doors to his disciples’ rooms, and saying “Brother, come out, I have work for you.” None of them appeared right away.
When they arrived at Mark’s door, Abba Sylvanus knocked and said “Mark.” As soon as Mark heard the voice of the old man, he came outside and Abba Sylvanus sent him on an errand.
Turning to his inquisitors, Abba Sylvanus asked them, “Where are the other brothers?”
Then they went into Mark’s room and found a book he had been copying when Abba Sylvanus knocked. Mark had been in the middle of writing the letter “O”—a letter with only a single stroke— and—upon hearing his master’s voice—had not even finished writing the “O.”
“Truly,” the visiting leaders said,” we love the one you love, and God loves him too.” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 123).
Obedience. Radical, immediate obedience is the response to Jesus’ call in this text. These men stop in the middle of what they are doing, somehow recognizing that the call of Jesus takes priority over every other area of life: work…friends…family…possessions…social & cultural obligations……
How often am I too busy to respond to God’s calling?
How many times do I put it off, wanting to finish what I working on?
Do I respond as did Jonah, who first ran in the other direction because he disagreed with God?
How many times will I turn away, before I will accept God’s call?
Do I respond as many would-be disciples in the NT?: “Sure, Jesus, I’ll follow you, but first let me do this…”
Do I spend enough time listening for God that I even notice when God is calling?
Or does the call of Jesus take first priority? Will I allow God to “interrupt” my life and work, not even finishing the letter I am in the middle of writing? Not even hanging up my nets to dry before I walk away?
Jesus is calling: It’s time to fish. Are you coming?