(A sermon for Epiphany 3B — January 22, 2012 — Mark 1:14-20)
Five years ago, my son Peter was unhappy at his high school, and he spent most of a February vacation day on the Internet searching for a different future. Perhaps worried that his mother would cling to him, he told his father about his hopes first, deputizing him to break the news to me. Over coffee, in the middle of a snowstorm, I learned that Peter wanted to go away for his junior and senior years of high school. Not only did he want to go away, he wanted to go to a school I had barely heard of in a state I had never visited.
Mostly, he wanted to go away, that’s what I heard. He wanted to go away.
Now, in my sane mind, I understood that he wanted to study the clarinet in a more devoted fashion, and I also understood that if he had a calling to be a musician, two years in this specialized school would give him the best possible start—or even the chance to know for sure that he didn’t want to do it after all.
The fishing was bad where we were. The friends in his life made fun of his commitment to music. He wanted more. Equipped with clarinet and laptop and cell phone, he left home that fall to seek other seas.
I knew it was the right thing, but I don’t want to underplay the way it felt, packing him up and saying goodbye to him. It happens whenever a child leaves home. We express the loss in rhythmic groans and slow shakes of the head and sharp intakes of breath and nearly imperceptible mourning mumbles.
|He Qi, “Calling Disciples”|
Zebedee stood in the boat, and he heard a man calling out to him and to his sons and to his workers, as they repaired their nets:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15, NRSV)
Zebedee stood in the boat, and perhaps he recognized Peter and Andrew already following the man Jesus. Maybe he knew about Jesus already. If he did, it may be that he felt a quick turn to cold in the air, a sharp turn toward nausea in his stomach.
The gospel uses the word “immediately.” Zebedee’s sons jumped out of the boat immediately and left their nets and their father and all of their work and followed Jesus.
We expect young people to go away, don’t we? We expect them to go away; it’s the nature of our society. We’re more worried that they will bounce back, or never leave! Staying home is not the norm.
But in Zebedee’s day, everyone stayed home. Every man felt responsible not just for himself but for his immediate and extended families. Clan meant everything. In that culture, when a man died, his brother married the widow, to keep her safe and respectable and in the family. Obligations we cannot begin to understand formed the foundation of society.
Into the middle of all this well-established order, Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God come near, inviting the sons of Zebedee to seek other seas.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Zebedee stood in the boat and watched his sons fade into the distance with Jesus. He may have felt a
patriarch’s righteous anger, infuriated that the sons of his right and left hand had abandoned him. He may have crumpled into grief, afraid he could not keep things going without them.
By the time I took Peter to Interlochen School of the Arts in a faraway mitten-shaped state, I felt good about his leaving–not his absence, but his leaving. When a young person feels something so passionately, how can a parent not do everything to help him follow his dream? I surely did it for his brother. The only difference seemed to be distance; instead of driving to innumerable play rehearsals, I took him to the bus station to get the Logan Express. I had to learn a way to parent from a distance, understanding that he was learning to use the gifts God gave him and pursuing his calling.
And I have to stop and remind myself that I did the same thing, have done the same thing over and over again in my life. I left my home in Virginia and moved to Maine. I said I wanted to go to seminary even though I had two children. These things worried my mother, who stood solidly in the boat of her way of life and used the language she taught me, the rhythmic groans and slow shakes of the head and sharp intakes of breath and nearly imperceptible mourning mumbles.
You would think people would be happy for us when we get an invitation from God, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For me it was a mix, some people mystified and others supportive. It bothered me that my mother was not, and sadly she died before the ultimate decision was made. But thankfully, when the day really came, and even though I eventually did it with three children, my father wished me well and told me he was proud of me. I was sent off with a blessing.
We don’t always get that when we’re on the cusp of following Jesus. We don’t always get the blessing or the encouragement, especially if we’re upsetting the plans and expectations and opinions of others.
You have to really want to follow Jesus.
You gotta want it.
And the decision to answer his call is not something that happens just once but rather a process that takes us deeper and deeper into a life of discipleship.
Discipleship is not just something for our bucket list, a thing we can check off like going to visit the Holy Land or the Empire State Building or Disney World.
Discipleship is a way of life.
It’s a commitment to follow even if it means laying down the work we thought we were meant to do and walking away from the identity we always thought we had.
We always have a choice, just as the sons of Zebedee did. They could have stayed behind in their boats, making Jesus a small footnote in their lives: “Remember the day that crazy preacher came by? I hear they crucified him in Jerusalem.” They might have earned well and retired contentedly by the lakeshore, watching their grandchildren toddle about at their feet, safe and comfortable.
What happened that day was so powerful, they could not resist. The encounter with Jesus lit them up inside. The consequences didn’t matter to them. They took off.
And don’t think that Jesus could only use a certain kind of disciple – fisherman – in a certain way – fishing for people. No. He has ways of using all of us.
|Food pantry in the sanctuary at St. Gregory of Nyssa|
The beauty of following Jesus is the mysterious way he has of calling us into a deeper sense of being who we already were, and the effectiveness with which he draws on our gifts to do his work. We can be knitters for people or cooks for people or nurses for people or musicians for people. And we’ll find that our knitting joins together more than yarn and needles, or that our cooking feeds more than the body, or that our nursing heals the wounds of the spirit, or that our music brings joy where it’s most needed.
What is your gift? What is your strongest characteristic? Whatever characterizes us, whatever our gifts may be, God can use us to touch other people and open them to the story of the one we follow, a story of power used humbly and forgiveness of sins and love for neighbor and victory over death.
But the sons of Zebedee didn’t know all that on the lakeshore. They didn’t have a chance to think it through. They only knew they had to follow. We don’t know if they received his blessing. We only know they went. They left their boats and their nets, and their father, and they followed Jesus, to seek other seas.
In the name of the One who calls each of us. Amen.