Sermon for January 21, 2018

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine January 21, 2018 at 9:30 am.

Mark 1:14-20
1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

1:16 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.

1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark’s gospel is believed to be the first Gospel written. It is only 16 chapters long and can easily be read in its entirety in one sitting. Pre-work for one of my seminary courses was to read Mark through three times before the first class meeting. I encourage you to do this as well – find a contemporary English version of the Bible and read it through at least once. This gospel lends itself to such reading – it is brief and to the point – Mark does not add eloquent poetry but moves quickly through Jesus’ ministry years. Immediately preceding today’s scripture is the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Mark gives this story two verses compared to 11 in Matthew and 12 in Luke. It’s as if , in Mark, the story of Jesus is vital and important, needs to be heard right now and should be told in as few words as possible.
In today’s reading, we hear of Jesus calling the first of his 12 disciples. Mark gets right to the point – Jesus sees two sets of brothers fishing on the Sea of Galilee, says to them, ‘follow me’ and they drop everything and go with him. Simon Peter and Andrew are casting their nets for fish and they leave their nets and follow him. James and John are mending nets with their father Zebedee and they leave their father and go with him. Fishermen were doing pretty well in that day – note that they left their father with the hired men. This was a trade that allowed them to care for their families and probably live in some comfort. These were not teenagers; these were grown men and for at least Simon Peter we know from later in the Gospel that he was married with a family.

What was it about Jesus’ words ‘follow me’ that compelled these grown men with family businesses and obligations to change their lives and join Jesus’ in his ministry? These men had no doubt been fishing since they could barely walk – this was their family business. Were they tired of it? Did they long for something more? Did they just feel ordinary? These fishermen were doing alright but they certainly witnessed the effects of Roman occupation on the people of Israel – things could surely be better. Jews were a conquered people to Rome. They witnessed their own religious leaders cooperating, even colluding with the Roman occupiers.

Jesus called them to follow him and told them he could make a difference. In our NRSV translation, Jesus told them he would make them ‘fish for people’. A better translation is that Jesus told them he would make them ‘fishers of people’. To fish for people is a task. To be fishers of people is more than that – it changes who they are – it transforms them. It elevates who they are and what they do to a new level. It tells them they are important and they can make a difference in their world. They can be instrumental in bringing about God’s kingdom on the earth.

A while ago on facebook, there was a video shared of a social experiment. Someone videotaped an ordinary man on crutches who fell and was immediately helped to stand by passersby on the street. This happened repeatedly – each time he fell, people walking by stopped to help him up. Then they repeated the same situation except this time the man on crutches was clearly a homeless person carrying a blanket in a makeshift suitcase made out of a box. Each time this man on crutches fell, people just walked on by until he fell right in front of another homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. That person immediately helped the fallen man. Afterwards in speaking about the experience, the person who had fallen said in the second scenario, as a homeless person, he felt invisible, like nothing until he was helped by another homeless person – it was as if this person was saying you are not nothing – you are someone, you do have value.

Is that what Jesus was saying to the fishermen? You are more than fishermen to me. I see qualities in you that you don’t even know exist. With me you can make a difference in the lives of others. I have come to bring good news to the poor and you can help me do that! Become fishers of people and experience a whole new way of living!

For the ordinary person this might be a bit scary. Why should I change my whole way of life? I know what to expect right now – some of it good, some of it not so good but no huge surprises so I can handle it. It can be scary. Jesus is asking each of us to leave behind the ways of this world in order to experience God’s world. God’s world is pretty awesome from what I understand so why do we fear this? Jesus is asking us to live our lives for the sake of God’s kingdom. Share God’s love, help every person to know that they are loved and valuable in God’s sight. People in America are afraid this means they might be called to be a missionary in Africa and people in Africa are afraid they might be expected to go to NY city. It might mean that but probably not – there are enough people right here in our communities who feel worthless, who feel like nothing, who feel like if they fell down, no one would stop to help them.

One of the ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life as a minister was the first time I told someone God loved them only to have them tear-up with emotion. I shared that in God’s eyes they are loved, that they have value, that they are someone and it brought them to tears. I am no longer surprised by this. For many people feel deep down inside that they are not worthy of God’s love. But that is the Good News, my friends – no one is ‘worthy’ of God’s love – it is not something we earn or deserve. God loves us no matter what. Each of us is loved; each of us has value; each of us is someone in the heart of God. But do you believe that? Do you understand and accept that?

This is what Jesus is calling us to accept and believe and Jesus calls us to follow him so that we can help every person we meet understand that God wants them to know how much God values them. It does not matter who they are, what they have done, what life circumstances they find themselves in – God loves them – it is that simple. They might be homeless, heterosexual, gay, young, old, black, white, Christian, Muslim. We are called to be that love of God in our world and to also speak that love of God so that all may know. We are not called to judge. We are called to love in the name of Jesus the Christ. We are called to help those who have not known God’s love before understand it for themselves and their world. It is as simple as that and as scary as that.
I am here to tell you that God loves you. You have value. Take that knowledge and change your life – live in God’s love and go, be fishers of people in this world and share that love with everyone. Amen.

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