AND IMMEDIATELY . . . . THEY FOLLOWED HIM
A sermon preached by Rev. Richard A. Miller, Minister at Trinity United Church, Montreal, Quebec, January 22, 2006. Mark 1:14-20
And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
- Mark 1:18
Today we have another Gospel reading about Jesus calling people to be his disciples. Obviously Mark considered this to be an important part of the story of Jesus, for he gives so much attention to it, and a fair bit of detail too.
This morning I would like to focus on three elements of what was happening in that story. The first is that we are told that Jesus called Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow him. Notice that the scripture does not say that he invited them. Nor did he ask how they would feel about traipsing around the country with him. No, he said, “Follow me.” And they did. Certainly there is an element of invitation in the call of Jesus, but there is also a compelling aspect to his call. It was something that they knew they had to do. And so it is with you and me today.
The second thing I would like to say here is that those first disciples did not tarry. They did not say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” They did not engage in a prioritizing exercise to decide whether this was the place they should invest their energies. No, we are told that “immediately they . . . followed him.”
And thirdly, they left what they were doing. They left behind the things that could have been excuses for why they couldn’t do it. We know that there are other places in scripture where someone does give a reason why they can’t do it now, don’t we? And what did Jesus say? He said that whoever puts their hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom. Today there aren’t very many people in North America who plough by hand – probably none at all in Montreal. So we would change the metaphor, but we still get the point. When Jesus calls, you go. Otherwise you may very well miss out on the most important thing that could ever happen to you.
Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him. James and John left their father and the boat and the hired men and followed him. They knew they had been called by the one who was the Master. They knew that his call was not something that you hedged on. No, they left it all behind when Jesus called.
Friends, I think the same things are true about Jesus’ call to you and me today. First of all, it is an invitation, but a compelling one. We have to respond. There used to be a poster that said, “Not to respond is to respond.” Some of us may remember seeing that poster in the narthex or the Sunday school: “Not to respond is to respond.” Many churches received them and had them tacked up. The point is that when Jesus calls, we respond one way or another. We either accept his call or we reject it. There is no in-between.
The second thing about his call is that there is an immediacy to it, and an expectation that we will not procrastinate or dilly-dally around, but that we will respond immediately. And we say,
“Yes, Lord, I’ll go where you send me.
And I say, yes, Lord, I’ll do as you will.
I will listen for your voice,
for I have no other choice,
but to say, ‘yes, here am I, send me.’”
(Written by Jean Lipsius, of Seneca Castle, New York.)
Those words are the chorus of a song that Nancy and I learned five and one-half years ago when we made the Walk to Emmaus – what we call Cursillo here in Montreal. And the music of the song also gives you that sense of immediacy. Like those disciples of old, you know that you have to respond now.
And then there is the matter of leaving our nets. Let’s notice two things here about those nets. The first is that if a fisher-person knew how to use the net, she could greatly increase the catch over other methods of fishing. But if he didn’t know how to use that net, he could just get tangled up in it and not catch anything at all. So you and I can see how the danger of the things we rely on is that they can keep us so tangled up that we never get around to following Jesus. All too often our nets are the excuses we fabricate for why we can’t respond to Jesus’ call.
Ah, but there is something else for us to notice here. What else did Jesus say when we called Simon and Andrew? “Follow me and . . . ” what? “Follow me and I will make you” . . . what? Yes, that’s right: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” In other words, they could put their skills at fishing to work in the service of the Jesus. They didn’t have to abandon everything that they knew – though they had to be ready to do so if necessary. But Jesus recognized that the skills they had at fishing were also talents that God had given them, and now God would make use of those talents in spreading the message. From henceforth they were to fish for people – to use their fishing skills to bring more and more people to message about Jesus.
And that is also how it is with you and me. Think about your skills – the things that you like to do – the things that you do well. God does not want you to give those things up when you become a Christ-follower. Rather, God wants you to put those things to work in sharing his love with more and more people. Let me give you a personal example. Back when I was in high school, I was the editor of the school paper. And this did not only involve getting the articles in, but it also had to do with the format and layout on the page. I did not know it at the time, but that was the beginning of my gaining some interest and some skills in printing. And so, when I am preparing a church bulletin, or writing a congregational letter, I try to give some attention to how it looks on the page. And I hope that if it looks appealing, then the reader will find the message more appealing too. We may remember Marshall McLuhen who said that “the medium is the message,” but also that “the medium is the massage” – it is what helps us to take in the message and incorporate it into who we are.
And so, I would like each of us to think of some things that we are good at – two or three of them. If you have more, that’s OK too. And after you have named those things – those gifts from God – then ask yourself how you can put those things to use in the service of Jesus Christ. I know here at Trinity many of us are already doing just that – we are doing it in choir, in teaching Sunday School, in making handcrafts and doing building repairs. We are doing it in working in the arts, and with computers, and other ways too. But it is still important for us to ask ourselves that question, and then see where God is pointing us. And it is also important for us to know that the talents we have do not always just appear magically. Often we have to work at acquiring them or perfecting them. But either way, they are the nets that we don’t have to leave behind – the things that can help us to share the gospel of the love of God with more and more people.
So then, on this day, let us first of all hear that call – that compelling call – to follow Jesus. His call is there, you know, for you and for me – calling us to follow him.
Secondly, no procrastinating. No putting it off. One way or the other, his call evokes an immediate response.
And thirdly, our nets. If they entangle us, leave them behind. But if they are effective tools to spread the message about Jesus, then by all means put them to work.