(listen along for a more enhanced sermon experience!)
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; change your hearts and minds, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
How do you feel about following Jesus?
We know what the answer should be, right? Why don’t you tell me that? How are we supposed to feel about following Jesus?
[Great! Never better! Delighted, happy, to do whatever Jesus says. And do it immediately, like James, John, Simon & Andrew. Don’t look back — even if leaving your business behind. Your dad. It’s SOOOO rewarding!]
Is that actually your experience? Let’s get real. How do you really feel about following Jesus?
Probably need more than one word to describe.
So, I’ll give you a minute to actually think about what it has been, is like for you.
(Congregation shares their answers.)
We talk about following Jesus like it’s a choice: Consider the pros and the cons; true/false; cost/benefit; the logical and the illogical parts of believing. And then decide — Yep. Nope. I’m in. I’m out.
And that’s that.
But IS it? A choice? In the story from Mark this morning do Simon, Andrew, James and John make a choice? Did they give it any thought at all? “IMMEDIATELY…” No questions. No conversation. Not even with each other. Or, for James and John, with their dad.
No apology. No explanation. Not even any arrangements. Just abandon their dad. Their family business. OK, Dad, you’re on your own now and you’ll have to make do without us. Kind of like zombies!
Who would make a choice like that? I wouldn’t. It’s appalling what they leave behind.
Of course, we’ll never know. Maybe all these guys hated their work. Maybe they felt stuck in small town Galilee.
But when you listen to the story, doesn’t it seem like something snagged them about Jesus? It a well-thought out choice made of their own free will — they were caught by what he proclaimed:
The reign of God is near. Change your minds and your hearts and believe the good news.
Maybe it was curiosity. Or the possibilities he described. The depth of something true they wanted to understand and be a part of. Or just being closer to someone like him.
How was it for you? Did you make a choice to follow Jesus? Or did you get snagged? Or maybe you aren’t sure either one has happened for you.
I’ve always hated the idea of fishing for people. What?! We’re supposed to used barbed hooks? Lures?
A friend and I watched some folks net fishing off of Hartstene Island last fall. They spread the net out in the water and then slowly dragged it toward shore, gathering all the flopping, helpless fish to a place where they could grab them and throw them in the boat. They had no interest in the fish. They weren’t holding each one up in awe. They just wanted a big catch. Lots of fish.
Is that what Jesus wants us to do? Fill our faith nets with people flopping and helpless, like fish?
I have chosen to try to follow Jesus. But when I actually think back, even more than that — I’ve been snagged. By grace. Caught in a net I could never quite disentangle myself from — even when I tried.
I have this image of myself walking through life with just enough grace net wound around my little toe that I drag it behind me, wherever I go — and sometimes, it trips me up short.
Like when there’s a stick stuck to your boot or your pant leg? You don’t notice it until you trip over it, or start down a path where the stick goes sideways, wider than the trail or the passageway and stops you in your tracks.
You have to stop, and shake your foot and see what you’re hooked on and why you can’t move in the direction you were going. Have to admit it: I’m snagged. My life isn’t entirely my own. I’m tangled up in God. I’ve been caught in ways that weren’t entirely my own choice.
When and how and with what has God caught me?
I think about how as a child, I was moved by President Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s stirring speeches about how we are called to serve a purpose much greater than ourselves. Speeches about a future that wasn’t here yet, but was coming. There was something here for me. Something I yearned for.
And then there was the shock of all the assassinations of these same inspiring visionaries. Of racism and injustice up close in my Kalamazoo, MI junior high and far away in the south. I was on the call committee for a new minister when I was in high school, and I remember we had one of the candidates over to our house for supper. He had been President of the Student Body at Kent State at the time of the killings there and told us his story.
I didn’t think of it like this at the time — Maybe I haven’t thought about it that way until now — But those events made me ask questions — big questions — faith questions: Who IS my neighbor? What is this all about? And there was just enough conversation about it at home and in my church to make me think God was a part of the movements to make things right and good.
The music of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell snagged me — I knew all the words back then. I went to a Catholic high school, and believe it or not, there were teachers there who didn’t scoff at our teen-aged angst, but made space for it. My sophomore biology teacher, who was also the wrestling coach, Mr. Daly, went on retreats with us where we could stay up all night wondering about life and relationships and God and be goofy at the same time. Pearline, who worked at the Western Michigan Library with me, also snagged me with God’s grace. She was a very proper and very devout young Black woman — always dressed in simple clothes — white blouse buttoned up to her neck. I liked her well enough, so when she invited me to come to her church choir’s concert, I went. I had NO idea what I was in for: it was my first taste of African American Gospel music — and God was SO present there — I was overwhelmed with tears of joy!
Even times of weariness and doubt snagged me. I went through a crisis in my early 20’s. Pastor Harald Sigmar, former beloved pastor of this congregation, kindly took me on as a volunteer pre-seminary intern when I felt God might be calling me to be a pastor, but I didn’t know any women pastors and I had no clue what being a pastor was really about or even why I felt drawn to it. I felt like I might have to give up everything I knew.
Harald didn’t sing the praises of being a pastor. Instead, he set out to give me a taste of the realities of pastoring — sharing that he had times of doubt, that there were people who drove him round the bend, and things he didn’t like doing. He had me doing things I’d never done before and had no clue how to do — preaching, visiting, teaching, etc. In fact — first hospital visit, to a member of the church gender reassignment surgery.
I had no idea then, that God was snagging me through him — Showing me God’s grace is for pastors, too — for the times ahead when I bumped up against the impossibilities of ministry. When that happens now, I (usually) know, following Jesus may not feel so great — but I’m still snagged by God’s grace.
I could go on — but I’d have to tell you all kinds of stories — about people and experiences and mistakes and questions woven into the whole story of my life. So many snags — teeny tiny and pretty huge, when you look them altogether — they really do end up making a kind of net — a net that has gently and tenaciously held me.
I don’t mean it held me like one of those traps on the ground that suddenly springs, trussing a deer or bear or whatever up until they are hanging helpless (there’s that word again) above the ground.
I am thinking of a net more like the firm and gracious arms of someone who loves us — always and without reservation — continually drawing us toward who we can be, and more abundant life and wholeness. For us, and increasingly, for the sake of others, too.
I know, I know.. I keep trying to persuade myself and all of us to love God more and love our neighbors more, — with ALL our heart, with ALL our mind, and with ALL our hearts, etc., etc. But, honestly, maybe sometimes it’s good to pay attention to how entangled and connected we already are to God.
That even BEYOND your own efforts, grace has caught you and keeps connecting you to the living God.
And go with that…
So, I ask you again: When, how and what snagged you to follow Jesus? What grace is wrapped around your little toe, occasionally making you go, Huh! God must be here — that’s good! To be willing to leave behind some things and people? To close the door to some possibilities?
Take a few minutes.
Close with 2 quotes — Gerhard Frost — poet and pastor:
With all those answers, where’s the need for faith?
To traffic in simple answers–
isn’t that promising too much?
Is this respect for Truth–
Truth always unfolding,
deepening and reaching beyond?
Where IS the life of faith unless one follows where one cannot see and has never been before?
Let us pray with the poet Mary Oliver:
Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made, and help me to hear and to hold
in all dearness those exacting and wonderful
words of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying: