Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Let's Go Fishing: Mark 1:14-20
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 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.
It is usually around this time of year that I realize that I am still writing the last year's date on things. On Tuesday, as I worked this week's bulletin, I realized that I labeled it January 25, 2014. I almost did the same thing when I was writing the date on my tithing check last week. I'll probably do it a few more times over the next couple weeks until sometime in mid-February when the lizard part of my brain that controls all of the little rote activities in my life finally realizes that, yes, in fact, it is a new year and, yes, I do need to write the correct date on things. In all likelihood, I'm not the only one who takes a little while to live into a new reality once the old reality has come to pass. I'm probably not the only one who gets stuck in old habits when new activities are called for. To be fair, given that I've been writing the date as 2014 for a whole year. I mean, don't they say, "Old habits die hard." Maybe six weeks is just about the right time to learn to do something new.
I mean, Jesus spent about 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. That's just a little more than six weeks. Out of the wilderness and into the fire, Jesus spread the word across Galilee. He followed the work of John, but also expanded upon it, not only telling people to repent, but telling them that, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near." In just six weeks, he went from the one being baptized to the one calling people to repentance. That is a big change. It kinda makes my struggle to get the date right look a little silly. I mean, in six weeks time, hopefully, I'll be able to correctly write a check. In six weeks, Jesus figured out how to be the Messiah and welcome the Kingdom of God into this world. Makes me feel like I've got some catching up to do.
Today's Gospel lesson shows us what happened when Jesus figured out what he was called to do and began his ministry. It appears that he realized that he couldn't do it alone. He began to call co-workers who would follow him. He went out into the rural areas of the community where he had been raised. First, he saw the fishermen, Simon and Andrew, hard at work. He invited them to join him, saying he would make them fish for people instead of haddock or smelt or whatever you fished for in the Sea of Galilee. And, they followed him. Next, Jesus saw James and John, you know, Zebedee's boys, who were also out working. He called to them, and they followed him too, leaving their dad in the middle of the boat with their hired man, surrounded by busted fishing nets and likely wondering what his boys were getting into.
Now, many sermons on these passages highlight the unexpectedness and strangeness of the disciples dropping everything to follow Jesus. It does seem pretty mysterious. It does seem like he just wanders in out of the blue, says, "follow me" and everybody says, "Ok." It's almost like they are hypnotized, like he does some kind of magic that gets them to find his invitation to be so compelling that they are willing to drop everything, to follow him. They left behind jobs, familial responsibilities, everything. What is perhaps most surprising is that Jesus didn't even give them any specifics. He just said, "Follow me." And, they did.
Now, some scholars will argue that is unlikely that these sets of brothers didn't know Jesus before he invited them to follow him. Some say that it is totally possible that they grew up together, or at least knew Jesus by reputation. There is also a good chance that they had heard John preaching. Remember, Mark told us that people traveled far and wide to hear him. Some suggest that the brothers may have believed John's word that God was preparing to do something new, and that they were just waiting for the opportune moment. When Jesus showed up, saying, "All that stuff John was talking about... that's happening now. Come and be a part of it," they could have already been ready to go. Maybe they had been preparing for just that time, and jumped when they were called into service. And, maybe, for some of us modern interpreters, it seems a little easier to understand the brothers' actions if they are following someone they knew, someone they trusted, into a mission that they already believed in, rather than that they dropped everything for a mysterious stranger.
I'll only speak for myself here, but I'm much more likely to follow someone I know than a stranger. If I hear a stranger telling me that the Kingdom of God is at hand, I'd probably ignore them. However, if a friend were to say to me, "I know that we have been waiting for some good news. I have finally heard it. God has come near... is present with us in a way that we've never experienced before... the Holy Spirit is running through my veins. Will you join me to make sure that everyone knows that creation belongs to God, not the forces who oppress us?," I'd be far more likely to take that person seriously. I might even, depending on who that friend is, consider that to be an invitation worth risking my well-being for. Simon, Andrew, James, and John, they felt like this invitation was worth trusting. Even though they didn't seem to have a plan, they knew what the end-game was and they were ready to work towards it, even though it would alter the course of their very lives. So, they dropped their nets, and walked away into the future with Jesus.
Now, you probably realized a long time ago that the church council is not Jesus. But, you have allowed them to serve as the leadership of this church, a position that calls for no little bit of trust on the congregation's part. Later today, the church council will be offering you an invitation. While I'm pretty sure that they aren't going to ask you to quit your jobs, they will invite you to continue doing the work of the Gospel.
In preparation for planning our future together, they, and other servants of this church, have taken some time collecting stories of how we have served and worshiped together over the last year. And, my, what a year it has been. This year, we lost some people who are near to our hearts, both in our church and in the broader community. We miss them and are thankful for the ways they blessed our lives. This year, we also welcomed new people into the church, through baptism, marriage, and transfer of membership. We have also had several people who had been away from this worshiping community find their way back. We are, right now, averaging about 10 more people in worship than last year.
You all celebrated the ministry of one pastor and called a new one. That in itself is a statement of trust in the Holy Spirit. Even as you have watched attendance and chunks of your ceiling fall, at this point last year, you decided that you felt called to find a new pastor, even if you could only pay her half-time. You stepped forward on faith, in hope that you could find someone with whom you could continue to serve God through this worshiping community. I am so glad that you felt that call. That's how I ended up here. And, you all have helped me do ministry in this place. You visit church members and make sure that I know when folks are sick. You explain to me how to say the names of all the little towns and make sure we have grape juice for communion. You put your carpentry, plumbing, lawn-care, and sewing skills into use, if not every week, most weeks. You read scripture and sing in the choir and occasionally show up with a euphonium. And, you make pies... 218 of them at last count.
In the short time that I've been here, I have learned that this congregation, while great in faith, has felt concerned about its' future. I have learned that stewardship and budget seasons have often been times of anxiety. I have learned that while you trust that you have a part in God's creation, you have not been sure how to keep this one little part of God's kingdom going. That kind of anxiety is also very often paired with both a very real sense of scarcity and concern that you won't have enough, as well as turn inwards towards self-preservation. What has made me hopeful for this church is that, despite the anxiety, you haven't completely turned inward. You still show up and welcome new people. You called a new pastor. You renovated the sanctuary. You supported missions outside of the walls of this congregation that you understand to further God's reign of love and compassion. You give hundreds of hours of time to keep our doors open and, this year, for the first time in a very long time, this church has a significant budget surplus. This last year, despite being worried that this church community is falling apart, you gave and worshiped and showed up to sing God's praise every week. Because of that, you gave far more than you expected to be giving one year ago. That speaks of great hope on your part, and for that we should celebrate.
Now, the church council hasn't been quite as free-wheeling as Jesus appears to have been when he called his first disciples. Given that they aren't Messiahs, with the help of the various boards of the church, they put together a plan to present to you before they ask you drop your nets and follow them. I think this plan reflects the renewed hope that this congregation has demonstrated over the last year. Now, my own personal hope is that this plan doesn't represent all that we do, but acts as the starting point for all of our service and worship over the next year. Because, no budget, no matter how thoughtful, can fully account for the Holy Spirit. It can't account for those times when Jesus shows up out of the blue and says, "Hey, God is near. Want to help me make sure people know?" This budget is the beginning of our work, but, by no means is it all of it.
So, please join us after worship today. Learn about last year. Make suggestions for new ministries to develop in the next year. Spend some good time in fellowship and maybe even eat some pie. But, also, prepare yourselves. I think the time is ripe. Jesus told us that God has drawn near. I think that means it's time to do some fishing.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon
Michael Rogness' Commentary on Mark 1:14-20: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2315
Karoline Lewis, "The Immediately of Epiphany": https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3500
Sermon Brainwave Podcast #398 Third Sunday After Epiphany:
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.