Readings; Psalm 62:5-12, Jonah 3:1-5, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 25, 2015
There was something fishy going on in Galilee. Following the imprisonment of His cousin John the Baptist, Jesus had arrived in town. He is telling people that the day had arrived, the time had come and they should stop fooling around and start sorting their lives out. He had great and good news for them. These were the days of God's favor. The Kingdom of God was near. So near you could almost taste it!
There was often something fishy going on in Galilee. It was a sea port whose economy rested heavily upon the fact that most of its inhabitants made their livelihood from the fishing industry. It was situated on a trading route that exposed it to foreign influence. It was an occupied territory, considered spoils of war, by some of its Gentile inhabitants. Indeed the Romans preferred to call the Galilean lake 'The Sea of Tiberius', after one of their own renown emperors.
The historian Josephus tells us that there were around 230 boats regularly working on the water. In 1986 archaeologists discovered one such boat. It has since been nicknamed 'The Jesus Boat'. They also tell us that the only way you could operate a boat in that area was through having a state authorized fishing license. Taxation would have made life hard for the locals and the area did not have a reputation for prosperity.
Poverty, alienation and exposure to foreign ideas may account for the Galileans reputation of having a rebellious streak. In the year 6-BC, the governor Quirinius tried to do a census in the area. There sprung up a resistance army, led by a 'Robin Hood' like character known as 'Judas the Galilean'. Though he was spectacularly unsuccessful, later zealot movements that opposed Roman taxation and occupation looked upon 'Judas the Galilean' with great fondness.
It doesn't seem like the kind of place where a future world religion would attract it's earliest followers. But there was something fishy going on in Galilee. Jesus was in town. And what He has to say is causing quite a buzz. His message is uncompromising and startling.
The promised 'Day of the Lord' had dawned and it was all being fulfilled through Him. He was the One who was going to change everything, so people had better get with the program, repent and believe.
By 'repent' He did not mean throw a personal pity party and shed a few tears because they had messed up their life. He meant that, in the light of God's unfolding revelation, there needed to be a radical break from the past and a total turn around.
When He said 'believe', He didn't mean that there had to be a slight shift in their theological understanding. He was talking about making a radical reassessment of everything they were building their lives upon. He was using 'believe' as an action verb, rather than inviting any merely intellectual and passive response.
If, as a whole, this message went over their heads, they were about to be given an unprecedented example of the impact the Kingdom could have upon people. Four of their own brightest and best, four local lads from among their own kith and kin, decide that when Jesus said 'Follow me', it actually meant leaving everything else behind and doing whatever it was Jesus would ask of them.
It is a story many of us are over familiar with because we have heard it since our Sunday School days. Jesus strolls along the lake shore, sees Simon and Andrew fishing, and says 'Come with me and I will make you fishers of people'. 'And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.' (Verse 18). He goes a little further along and sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and 'immediately' offers them the same invitation. It receives the same response; 'They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed Him.' (verse 20).
Imagine for a moment that this wasn't the the Sea of Galilee, but Mount Hebron High School. A preacher had come to town and wandered along to the High School. He had entered a classroom where two of the teachers were teaching, and said to them, 'Come with me, I'm going to get you to teach people about the Kingdom instead of teaching Maths and English' and 'immediately' they went with him to the principal, handed in their notice and became his followers.
The preacher went a little further and wandered down to where soccer practice was taking place and said to two of the senior high school students, (who happen to be two brothers who are rising stars on the team). 'Follow me', he said, and immediately they had quit practice, quit school, and gone with him.
Wait a minute, are you talking about two of our Ellicott City born and bred local students? They 'immediately' had some kind of eureka-epiphany moment? How do we explain that to their parents? And two of our local teachers? And who is this preacher guy anyway? All sounds a bit fishy to me!
Put it into context and it really was startling and shocking. It didn't make a lot of sense. A preacher comes to town and four completely rational, young, everyday people with their whole lives ahead of them, decide they are going to turn their backs on all that they so far had held dear and go with Him?
It certainly underlines the things that the message Jesus offered was asking of those who listened. 'Repent' meant that they needed to totally turn their lives around and go in a different direction. 'Believe' meant 'Do something', not just 'Y'know, maybe, think about doing things a little differently, if that's O.K. with you!'
The transition that the disciples make is to do with the way they see their whole world. Notice, they are not called to a new career, they are still asked by God to be fishermen. That doesn't change. But the reasons for their activity, and the arena in which they will work, take a cosmic shift.
Up to this point in their lives they believed that participating in the system that provided for their families and put food on the table was what life was all about. Life was defined by working, providing and staying within the guidelines that family and culture dictated. Jesus walks by and they are invited to leave all of that behind.
The Greek word 'aphentes' carries the thought that they are 'released' from one way of living and liberated to seeing their lives as being about something more. No longer will they be defined by 'what they do' or by 'who their family might be', but they are given a new identity as followers of the 'Way' of the Kingdom of God, as it was being redefined by the teaching of Jesus.
That is a goal for all of us to pursue. To live for the Kingdom rather than live like everybody else. To question the values and aspirations of this world, in the light of what Scripture teaches. Of course, when we act that way, people may suspect something fishy is going on! It takes a lot of trust in God to do that!
Rev. Neil Kirkham, current moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales (who also happens to be married to my wife's sister) tells how he felt God calling him to leave behind his career as a civil engineer, building bridges for the British road system and embraced a call to ministry and to build bridges between people and God.
When his son Daniel was little, Neil was trying to explain to him, that there were some big changes coming now that he decided to be a minister. 'So, dad, what are you going to wear? ' “I guess I'll wear much the same things as I do now!” 'And what about eating, do you have to eat locusts and honey, like John the Baptist?' “No, I can still eat normal food!” 'And what about, mum, will she have to wear hats like other ministers wives do?' “No, she'll be able to still just be mum”.
And so the questions went on and on. Eventually Daniel asked him, 'But, dad, where are we all going to live when you finally become a minister?' Neil, said, “I don't know yet. I guess we are just going to have to trust God” 'There you are, dad,' smiled little Daniel, 'You're getting the hang of it already!'
Responding to God's call certainly requires a whole lot of trust on our part. Not many of us are called to full time ministry within the church, but all of us are called to change the way we do the work we are already doing, in the light of the call Jesus places upon our lives. He calls our name and we follow. That is discipleship.
It touches upon every single area of our lives. Our relationship to our families. The places we work. The way we do our work. The way we invest our time and our spiritual gifts, financial gifts, and our personality gifts. It touches upon how we use the influence our lives have, to influence others to live God's way.
When we truly repent, turn around and begin living for Christ over and above all other things, when we believe, not just intellectually, but with actions that are a response to Christ's love, then people might start thinking we are acting a little fishy.
And if that happens, rejoice! Because Jesus calls us all to be fishy followers. By the grace of God, may our lives cause others to also hear His call and so discover the peace that passes all understanding and the deep joy, that following Him can bring. Amen.