Message: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Do the names Sara Blakely, Reid Hoffman, Arthur Bland, Robert Johnson and Alberto Perlman ring a bell? Perhaps not. But SPANX, Linkedin, Home Depot, BET and Zumba might all sound familiar. There’s a new broadcast on the radio entitled, “How I Built This”. Basically, the commentator interviews entrepreneurs, and innovators about the enterprising ideas they birth into revolutionary advances. These innovators are not without their challenging times in building their movement. Creating hard working, trusting, courageous teams, together they’ve charged forward to change the world.
Jesus, fully embracing the time is NOW, is birthing his revolutionary movement, the kingdom of God. He’s forming his team. Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, why would they want to change their lives? They have sustainable jobs. They come from good families. The work is stable, plentiful and commonplace. They are among the more than three hundred fishing boats navigating the waters of the nearly sixty-five square miles of the Sea of Galilee.
Just to get an idea of its size, the Sea of Galilee, while not really a sea, is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. In square miles, about the size of Washington, D.C. Fish is a staple in the daily diet, rather than meat, making fishing a lucrative business, not just in the Galilean region. Galilee is famous for “salting fish”, preserving fish and shipping it onto the great city of Rome. While fishing involves long hours and hard work, the job is secure, enabling fishermen to provide for their families.
So, when Jesus comes along, with some urgency, inviting Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to come and follow, he knows “come and follow me” are loaded, dangerous words. Jesus knows dangerous. He’s just come from his baptism where the Spirit of God sends him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and eventually befriend wild animals. Jesus knows kingdom living, is dangerous risky business, as he teaches with authority that threatens the legal experts. Jesus knows establishing the business of God’s kingdom is dangerous, risky business as he combats evil, healing the demon possessed, befriending the cast out and the hated, and radically pushes up against legal and religious authorities. Jesus knows living a changed life in the name of God in Christ often means leaving behind what we know well, to follow our God into what may well be dangerous business.
Because, when we choose to put down whatever it is that keeps us from the fullness of God’s love, grace and mercy, and turn, willing to change our thinking, change our hearts, change our soul to faithfully follow God in Christ, it’s not just leaving behind that which is safe and comfortable, it’s that we’re welcomed into the opportunity of a lifetime.
So, why do these first leaders, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John immediately put down their nets and go with Jesus? Jesus seems to be aware that these fine men are ready for a new path. Jesus knows as we go about our day to day responsibilities, underneath is a yearning, a desire to know more, go deeper, make a difference, be part of a team that is intentional about building a kingdom of God that brings all to God’s love, grace and mercy.
With the disciples, it seems they are ready to follow. The Roman government typically owns the fleet of fishing boats. Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John are most likely contract workers with net profits benefitting the imperial coffers and the elite hierarchy. As fishermen, they are not among the aristocracy or the wealthy. They’re just ordinary folks using the gifts God has given them to do an ordinary job to the best of their ability, day in and day out, casting that net over the side of the boat, dragging it across the sea.
Right in the fullness of a usual day’s work, is where Jesus meets them. How often it is that Jesus meets us in the ordinary. Moses and David are about their typical vocation tending sheep when God calls them. Elisha is a farmer, plowing the fields and Amos is keeping watch over his herd. Both are about their regular work when God calls them to prophetic wisdom. As Jesus passes along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, the entire scene seems almost coincidental, convenient. But, no. Jesus knows exactly what he’s here to do: bring in the kingdom of God and “Now is the time!” he cries out. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next week. He’s very intentional about coming to meet us exactly where we are so that he can make of us who we’re supposed to be.
Abraham Lincoln is to have said, “God must love the common people – he made so many of them.” Jesus, fully aware of who his followers are, speaking their language, he invites his disciples to come and follow and he makes them, not just fishers of the sea, but fishers of people, that the kingdom of God will be known.
Following Jesus Christ is not just “come and follow”. Later along in their brief entrepreneurship the disciples will learn from Jesus as he nears his death upon the cross, “if any want to become my followers, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” This kingdom of God business is not without its challenges, as Jesus teaches us that as followers we are to minister to the lost, doubtful, angry and hurt.
Dangerous business that requires we put aside our own apprehensions and believe in the kingdom of God, as made known to us in the life, death and saving grace of Jesus Christ, is our strength as we go out, in the name of Jesus Christ, bringing health to the sick. Touching the untouchables. Raising the dead. Kicking out the demons. This is serious work Jesus commissions us to do in fishing for people. And, on top of it all, he reminds us, do this work of discipleship with generous hearts. Moving from comfortable and safe to the innovating, life changing business of fishing for people is and will be the most fulfilling and challenging work we’ll ever do.
Fishing for people, more often than not is caring for those who are near: our neighbors, our colleagues, our families, our friends, and our brothers and sisters in this very community of Epiphany. Jesus beckons each of us to come near, and believe. The good news is with us, among us.
We continue to show steady growth. As we fish for people, more and more folks are finding a worship home with Epiphany. God forever blesses us with the call to serve the needy in our community, prayerfully caring for literally hundreds of folks month after month through our various outreach ministries. God leads us as we embrace the call to welcome children, family and youth into our common life, as our Sunday School creatively embraces the challenge of growth. Our youth group is blossoming, most recently taking on the leadership of feeding two hundred Fairfax County school children once a month. Family ministries serves as such a witness of the kingdom of God young families gather to support one another in the spirit through an occasional shared meal, and hands on activities to form them as a household in the faith. We fish for people as Adult Ministry reaches out through social media to those searching through the varied discussion groups, teachings and studies that reveal to us the kingdom of God is now!
The good news is the trust we place in one another, in Christ. Over these past six months, our leadership has embraced Christ’s call to serve as Epiphany through some very intentional strategic planning. Knowing full well God calls Epiphany to believe and serve as fishers of people to make God’s kingdom known, our leadership, our vestry and finance team are prayerfully and purposefully examining our strategic plan and the annual budget. This team of fine leaders who represent you, in moving forward, has made some innovative and creative decisions. As Epiphany turning to follow Jesus Christ and trusting in his call for us to be fishers of people may well mean we must leave behind that which we hold dear. We’re making adjustments to our common life with the purpose of fulfilling our mission of building a Christ-centered community, serving, and thriving. You’ll hear more about what we believe God has in store for us as Epiphany at the Annual Meeting February 11th. Come, be a part of this time where, as the body of Christ, we elect a class of leaders to our vestry, receive the approved budget, review the Strategic Plan and share in a meal and fellowship.
The time is now. Jesus is calling. Come. Follow.