This Sunday in the 11:00 Service, livestreamed from the sanctuary, I’m continuing my sermon series Followership. This Sunday’s reading recounts Mark’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples following the arrest of John the Baptist. It was John’s arrest that prompted Jesus to go to Galilee where he made Capernaum his home base. There Jesus began to call people to “repent.” Sometimes we use the word “repent” as if it means “to feel sorry” for having done something or as if it means “to apologize.” But, the word literally means “to turn around.” I like the way the Common English Bible translates it: “change your hearts and lives.”
Notice the calling of Simon Peter and Andrew, the sons of Jonah and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus said to these fishermen, “Come, follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” They answered Jesus’ call by following him and when they began following Jesus, they left their boats and their nets and all the other fishing equipment. In the case of James and John, they left their father, Zebedee and the hired workers that were part of their fishing operation.
It occurs to me that following means leaving. One cannot follow anyone or anything and stay put. So, if following Jesus means leaving, what does Jesus call us to leave? I think there are a few things. Here are a couple:
When we follow Jesus, we leave the past behind. This is great news! Through the loving grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ, we can leave in the past those memories and hurts and sins that weigh us down. That’s part of what repentance means. It means changing directions by turning our back on our sins and our grudges and following Jesus in the path of forgiveness and new life.
Paul learned this in his life. When Paul met the risen Christ on the Damascus Road that day, he was able to receive the grace and forgiveness of God and put the past in the past. Listen to his words from his letter to the Philippians (3:13b-14): “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Even God leaves the past in the past and forgets it! The prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s words of hope to a hurting and troubled people having a hard time moving forward: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” [Jeremiah 31:33b-34]
When we follow Jesus, we leave our comfort zone. Jesus called those fishermen using the image of fishing to describe to them what their lives would be about. He said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
We tend to think of a hook with bait when we think of fishing. Jesus’ disciples, however, fished with a net that they cast beside the boat. The thing that makes a fisherman successful is to go where the fish are and to keep casting the net. If you want to be a successful fisherman, you don’t look for the most comfortable spot on the lake. Instead, you go to where the fish are.
Jesus was always taking his disciples outside their comfort zone. When he called them, they left what was most familiar to them: boats and nets and family ties and hometown. In other words, they left their comfort zone.
Later Jesus would take them through the strange and hostile territory of the Samaritans. Even though most Jews would circumvent that territory to avoid the Samaritans, Jesus took them straight through it. Over and over we read of Jesus loading the disciples into a boat and taking them—or sending them—over to “the other side.” The other side of the Sea of Galilee was Gentile territory with its strange customs and un-kosher people and food. They even herded nasty, unclean pigs over there! Those people on the other side weren’t like them. It was way outside their comfort zone.
In his teaching, too, Jesus challenged his disciples to leave their familiar prejudices, their familiar understandings, and their comfortable beliefs about the way things are and the way they will always be.
The leaving part of following is a challenge, isn’t it? Why can’t things just remain the same? Why must I change? Why must I leave my comfortable place? Why can’t I remain the same? It’s hard to leave the familiar, isn’t it?
It’s not ALL about leaving, however. Remember that when Jesus called those fishermen, he didn’t say, “leave fishing.” Rather, he said, “Fish for people.” They followed Jesus taking with them the talents and abilities and insights and skills that God had given them and that they had worked hard to develop. Those disciples took their skills and their instincts and put them to use in their followership. What are the resources and talents and abilities and tools and personalities that God has given us to follow Jesus in ministry today? Where is Jesus leading us today? What must we leave behind in order to follow faithfully?
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster