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Sermon Sunday January 24, 2021

FOLLOWING JESUS

Mark 1:14-20

Fishing was no past-time or hobby for Andrew and Peter, James, and John – it was a way of life, an occupation, and terribly hard work.  Their identity as fishermen meant involvement in the imperial economic and political monopoly of the oppressive Roman Empire.  Fish were claimed as revenue for the empire.  As one historian from this period recorded: “Every rare and beautiful thing in the wide ocean belongs to the imperial treasury.”  

It is possible that Peter and Andrew, along with James and John, were members of a cooperative in which they had purchased a lease or contract with Rome’s agents that allowed them to fish and obligated them to supply a certain quantity of fish.  They paid taxes on the catch and transportation.  The elite – tax administrators and collectors, Herod Antipas, and the Emperor – profited.  These fishermen had a socially inferior and economically precarious existence under Roman control.  Yet, it was among such vulnerable and exploited people as them that God’s Empire was first manifested.

After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus returned to Galilee.  And he began preaching the same message as his cousin John, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”  This empire of the heavens is God’s saving presence – and it calls for repentance.  Repentance here does not mean feeling sorry for sins, self-loathing, or self- flagellation.  Rather, repentance means something like a change of direction; embracing a new set of values; and demonstrating an eagerness to live under the reign of God.

My favorite OT scholar, Walter Brueggemann, states prophetically: “I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.”  If Brueggemann is correct, and I think he is, then there is much for which American Christians should repent.  A change of direction is called for – to embrace the values and to embody the lifestyle as citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

The call of the first disciples is the beginning of the messianic community – the church – which becomes the visible expression that “the kingdom of heaven has arrived.”  Jesus’ call is a command and a promise.  “Follow me” is the command for them to become disciples.  “I will make you fish for people,” is the promise.  Jesus gives them no explanation.  He does not tell them why they should follow him, what following him will mean, or where the path will lead them.

But “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  The first disciples turn from one way of life to another.  Their call to “follow” is authoritative and requires their commitment of entrusting themselves to Jesus, even at considerable social and economic cost.  Their calling is not a calling to worship Jesus or to form a “cult of Jesus.”  It’s not even a calling to “accept him as their personal Lord and Savior.”  They are simply called to follow him; to walk in the way that he is walking as he proclaims and manifests the kingdom of God.  Jesus is creating an alternative community in the midst of the imperial Roman world.

Our own community, state, and nation desperately need the influence of genuine followers of Jesus. Not merely those who “profess the faith,” but those who “embody the faith,” and “live the faith.” Authentic followers of Jesus live lives characterized by love, compassion, and humility, rather than by hate, indifference, and arrogance. More than ever in my lifetime, we are now being called to become “followers of Jesus.” Are you following him? Amen.