January 24, 2021, How We Become, Mark 1:14-20 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000233
One of my favorite childhood memories is a morning I spent fishing with my Dad when I was little. We had gotten up super early – so early that it was barely light, and when we got to the river the mist was curling up off the surface of the water like magic. We set ourselves up beside an old metal bridge that spanned the river, and baited our hooks, and settled in to wait. There was a kingfisher sitting on the top span of the bridge, and as we watched him, he dived down and caught a fish for his breakfast. I don’t think we caught very many fish that morning, but I will never forget standing there with my Dad, watching awestruck as that kingfisher dived into the river.
I remember so many little details about that morning: I remember the sound of the reel spinning out the line when I cast it out. I remember the little red and white plastic bobber that floated over the place where my line was. I remember my great excitement when the bobber disappeared and I thought I felt the tug of a fish on the line. Mostly it was a false alarm and I just ended up reeling in a hunk of slimy weeds or a branch, but I was excited every time just the same. I remember the feeling that we were the only two people awake in the whole world. I remember the strange and mysterious things in my Dad’s tackle box. I remember the smell of my Dad’s cigarettes mixed with the damp fishy smell of the river bank. I remember the fog and the chill of the air and the early-morning song of the frogs and birds. But more than anything else, on that rare and precious morning, I remember being with my Dad.
Back in Jesus’ day, of course, fishing wasn’t a holiday pastime for accountants and their little girls; it was a way of life. In fishing villages, like Capernaum and Bethsaida, the occupation of fishing wasn’t something you decided to do when you grew up; it was passed down from generation to generation. Men like Peter and Andrew and James and John grew up on the sea, cleaning the nets and tending to the boats side by side with their fathers practically from the time they were able to walk and talk. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John to follow him; when he told them they were going to learn to be a new kind of fishermen, he was calling them into a new apprenticeship, into a new life of learning-by-watching-and-doing like the life they had known as sons of fishermen.
And that meant that Jesus was calling them to leave an awful lot behind. Those four men walked away from everything they had known and prepared for from the moment they were born. They left behind their fathers who had always expected their sons to work by their sides until they were too old to go out in the boat themselves, who had always assumed that these sons of theirs would carry on the family business, that they would continue to support the family, just as they had carried on from their own fathers before them. It’s hard to even imagine what an enormous thing it was for Peter and Andrew and James and John to turn their backs on their nets and their boats and their fathers and the expectations of their families, and to follow Jesus.
The kind of “church-y” word “disciple” that we use, that sounds kind of technical and theological, really just means a person that tags along after someone and learns from them by watching and listening and working alongside them. James and John were disciples of their father Zebedee long before they were disciples of Jesus, because they grew up learning all about weather and boats and nets as they worked alongside their dad. The little Amish boys you see in the fields leading teams of enormous Belgian horses or helping their dads load hay into the barn, and the little Amish girls you see caring for baby sisters and brothers or tending the garden with their mothers, they are disciples of their parents. I was a disciple of my dad, in a very small way, when we went fishing together.
And now we, all of us here, we are all disciples of Jesus Christ, not because we go to church and read the Bible and know things about God and obey the Ten Commandments, but because we have been called to follow him, to walk in his footsteps, to learn to do his work. We are his disciples when we work hard to make our hearts and our hands move like his, when we focus all our mind and heart and strength on learning from him what is important, and what is good, and what is right. And that also means we have been called to leave behind a lot of other demands and expectations that our lives and the world have put upon us.
We’re going to be reading through the gospel of Mark this year. And as we read about the life and ministry of Jesus, we are going to also be reading about the discipleship of his friends, how they learned from Jesus to be “fishers of men,” which just means becoming people who were so much like Jesus that they drew people in to the kingdom of God like he did. Everywhere Jesus went people came running because there was something about him, some delicious scent of the kingdom of God, that drew them in like the smell of new bread, hot and fresh out of the oven, something that made people hunger and thirst for the new abundant life he had come to offer them. As they followed him, the disciples were learning to have the same wonderful scent, to draw people in to the kingdom, just like Jesus did.
In his opening remarks to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church on Friday, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, spoke of the way the Church in America has too often followed a way that doesn’t look anything like the Jesus we know from the gospels. He said this: “I want to submit that if it doesn’t look like Jesus, if it doesn’t walk like Jesus, if it doesn’t smell like Jesus, if it doesn’t talk like Jesus, it is not Christian. If it does not have the ring of love, it is not Christian.”
As we read through Mark week by week this year, I would like us to try to keep our eyes on Jesus with the kind of attention that we give to something we really want to learn. It’s so easy to read the same familiar stories over and over, year after year, until they become a part of our mental furniture that we don’t notice very much anymore. But if we would pay attention to Jesus the way a wood-worker watches a master carpenter making a new kind of joint, or the way an intern watches a surgeon perform a delicate operation: if we would give Jesus that kind of whole-hearted attention – then we would be learning to be his disciples so that we can begin to look and walk and smell and talk like Jesus, and so that our lives will begin have the ring of his love.
There was so much for the disciples to learn from Jesus. Mark tells how the disciples watched Jesus reach out to touch a man with leprosy, how they could see he was not disgusted by him or afraid of his horrible disease, and then suddenly they saw that the man was well. And they saw how Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day, who cared more about rules and regulations than about compassion and mercy. And Mark tells how Jesus talked with people his disciples thought he had no business talking to, like women, and Samaritans – and Samaritan women. Mark tells how the disciples saw Jesus bring the dead back to life and tell a violent storm to calm down and cast demons out of a wild man. They saw him give sight to the blind. They saw him hug the little children who were brought to him. They got to help him feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
It was all part of the disciples’ training, the fishers-of-men apprenticeship program, because it was only by walking side by side with Jesus, by watching and listening and learning, that Peter and Andrew and James and John and the rest became the men they became – men who drew people from all over the known world into the kingdom, like a great net cast into the sea, to become the beginnings of the world-wide family of God that we are now a part of. And as we read these stories, as we put the words and teachings of Jesus into practice in our own lives, not by our own efforts, but always in company with his Spirit, we are growing up into the people we were created to be, disciples of Jesus Christ, fishers of men – and women and children – in our own times and places.
But the best, and really the most important, part of discipleship is this: we get to hang out with our Dad. Because to follow Jesus is first and foremost living and moving and having our being in the Father. The very first verse of Mark’s gospel was this: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And as we go on learning to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but notice that everything Jesus did flowed out of his relationship with the Father. From beginning to end, the life of Jesus Christ was all about serving his Father, and doing the work of his Father and making his Father known: bringing the love of the Father right down into our midst and drawing us up into the Father’s heart. Discipleship is the process of growing up – and we are never done growing up, no matter how old we are. And Jesus has invited us to leave everything else behind, and to grow up at the side of the One who knows and loves us best of all.