“We Are Called”
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 sea--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.
This is how his ministry began, with a call. Mark’s call story was the first one written, followed by variations in the other three. Paul too had a call story to share. So do we. How did you become a Christian? By this I don’t mean “My parents had me baptized as an infant. How did you become an active, card carrying Christian? Who was the most significant person in your faith journey? Or, was it the spirit, that still small voice within, calling you into a life with Jesus?
(briefly share - pass the mike)
These call stories in the gospels always baffle me. Those men just dropped everything and followed this man they had never met!? That’s preposterous! Is that my 21st Century mind speaking, or was something else going on here? We don’t know how long Jesus had been wandering around the hills of Galilee before this encounter. Had his reputation preceded him? Was there a longer conversation as they sized each other up? Were they just curious? Or- did the spirit move them to see something in Jesus that compelled them to follow and learn more? What did you see in Jesus that kept you coming back for more? It wasn’t just the coffee and pot lucks.
And what did Jesus see in them? They weren’t Rhodes Scholars - just ordinary fishermen working hard to earn a living and support their families. As we see in the many call stories in the gospels, all were invited, even those you wouldn’t expect to be. Jesus didn’t discriminate.
“The time is fulfilled,” he proclaimed, “and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.”
That must have baffled them too. “Pardon me sir, we’re living under Roman occupation, ruled by that brutal puppet of a leader named Herod, remember him? - and that iron fist of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem? Could you please elaborate a little more on what you mean? We don’t see the Kingdom of God anywhere near.” Well, maybe they didn’t say that, but I would imagine they might have been thinking it. We may still be thinking it today.
“The time is fulfilled.” Jesus wasn’t talking about linear time, minutes or hours. He uses the word Kairos - a moment of truth that divides the past from the future and ushers in a new kind of life. It’s described as God’s time. God is getting involved in the world and our lives. Kairos time is “fulfilled” - in a perfect and complete way in the person of Jesus.
So pay attention, because God shows up today where we least expect God to be: in throngs of people in pink hats marching through our streets last weekend carrying signs of hope: in the words of a modern day prophet reminding us that he has a dream, and it can be more than a dream if we make it so; in a nine year old boy making sandwiches and handing them out to homeless folks on the streets of Cambridge.
Yes, God shows up in little and big ways, to remind us that we’re not alone - even in those dark times - reminding us that “the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It’s in these acts that we find the kingdom coming near.
“And believe in the good news.” Obviously, to Mark, that good news is personified in the life and being, mission and teachings of Jesus, who, if you follow him, can transform your life. It certainly did for those four fishermen.
That may sound like pie in the sky, but I’ve seen lives changed, and I would imagine you have too - maybe even your own. Dick Donovan tells the story of “an alcoholic who became a Christian and was able, by the grace of God, to quit drinking. His old drinking buddies made fun of him. One of them asked, ‘Do you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine?”' The new Christian thought for a moment and then replied, ‘I don't know whether Jesus turned water into wine--but I do know that, in my house, he turned beer into furniture.’”
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” “Excuse me sir, we fish for sardines and tilapia, not for people. That’s all we know how to do. What are you talking about?” They had no idea when they left their nets and families where they were going or what they were getting themselves into. They followed by faith alone. They didn’t know until they were well on their journey what fishing for people was all about. Those who invited you into the life of Christianity, those who welcomed you when you walked through these doors, were following Jesus and fishing for people.
Today we don’t ask you to leave your families and work and life behind, although some of us do. I left my former careers to go to seminary. I left the close proximity of many of my friends and family to come to Eliot. Thank God for phones and computers and skype. But there are so many ways to follow Jesus today. Just look at our signs out front, our website, the photos of our activities in the hallway and you will see how we are following in the footsteps of Jesus.
This story begins with a call to those fishermen to follow, and later in the gospels, with Jesus sending them, and us, to invite others: women and men and children of every race, age, nationality, ethnicity, faith background, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, economic circumstance, marital status and physical or developmental ability, to follow Jesus too. As we say at the beginning of each service, no matter who you are, you are invited into the body of Christ.
It’s a call to share with others how our lives as Christians have transformed us in some way - have brought us closer to God and Jesus and each other, and made us better persons. There was a day when I cringed at the thought of inviting someone, especially a stranger, to church. Today I want to spread the good news. This broken and fractured world needs some good news, some hope that the Kingdom of God is near - that it’s all around us if only we open our eyes to see it - that we can help to create it day by day.
I was reading some recent polling that showed that 3/4’s of those who attend a church for the first time do so because someone invited them - a friend or acquaintance. The thing that will most encourage people to return a second time is a short welcoming visit by a member of the congregation - someone other than the pastor. If not a visit, how about a phone call or a hand written note? I do that, but what would it mean to that visitor if someone from the congregation reached out?
I was raised Catholic and left the church part way through college. About eight years later, friends started inviting me to their UCC church on occasion. We always went out for brunch afterwards. It was those invitations that introduced me to a way of being church that I had never experience before. All three of us are now UCC pastors. My life, and my faith, was transformed as a result of those invitations.
Here at Eliot we’ve hung signs, Reebee feeds our twitter and Facebook and social media accounts. Natasha helps us keep our website updated, and we advertised on occasion. I ask visitors how they found us. It’s usually the website or the signs. Rarely does anyone say someone here invited them. We’re looking for new ideas, and we welcome yours, but when it comes down to it, we all need to learn how to fish for people. That’s an important part of responding to Jesus’ call if we want the church to grow and be a beacon of light for future generations. How are you responding to his call?