Sermon: Epiphany III — Bada Bing Bada Boom?
• Mark 1:14-20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
• • •
The Lord be with you.
I have an idea that this morning’s Gospel text is one that pastors enjoy preaching. It comes across as simple and clear cut. Jesus brings the Good News and calls us to follow him. And here we have clear examples of people who heard that message, left everything, and followed him.
- A message.
- Decisions of faith.
- Changed lives.
The scenario we see here portrays why most pastors go into ministry. This is the pattern they try to replicate week after week, sermon after sermon, in ministry program after ministry program.
- Proclaim the message.
- See people respond in faith.
- Watch as God changes lives in an instant.
Bada bing. Bada boom.
This text can sound like an especially good model to fit our American can-do, consumeristic way of looking at things.
- You’ve got a problem.
- I’ve got a solution.
- Buy my solution and, voila, your problem is fixed.
It’s infomercial Christianity.
Entire churches and church traditions are built on this pattern. This Midwest region where we live became famous in the 1800s for revivalistic forms of Christianity that were all about the change. They were all about the moment of decision. The dramatic conversion. The instantaneous transformation of a person’s life from darkness to light. Make a decision for Christ. Pray the sinner’s prayer. Walk the aisle or the sawdust trail and come to the altar.
Bada bing. Bada boom. The Spirit falls from heaven and you’re born again, a new creation, the old has vanished and the new has come.
I lived and ministered in that revivalistic world for many years. My particular brand was more focused on teaching than on evangelism, but in some of our fellow churches and denominations it was not uncommon for pastors to be fired for not having enough conversions, not enough believer’s baptisms, and not growing their churches sufficiently through having people make decisions for Christ. Not enough action. Not enough people making dramatic decisions to leave everything and follow Jesus. Not enough fire falling from heaven. Not enough bada bing bada boom.
It was expected that what we see here in Mark 1 would happen regularly and consistently. This was the pattern of ministry. Proclaim the message. Call for decision. Watch as God changes lives in an instant.
Bada bing. Bada boom.
I think differently about all this now.
First of all, I think what we see here in Mark 1 is the beginning of a long process of conversion in these disciples’ lives.
Please notice what Jesus says to them. Follow me. That signifies the beginning of a journey. They are not transformed here at this moment. They are being redirected onto a new path of ongoing transformation. I will agree that it was an important first step for them to get on that path. But that was just the start. We’re still in chapter one, and there is a long and winding road before these disciples.
Also notice that Jesus says, “I will make you” into something. The point of their following was to initiate a process of change as they interacted with Jesus. He would change them and the change would come along the way. It was in the following itself, in the long journey, in the involved process of living and walking with Christ that they would become new.
A second thing I want to note is that Jesus was calling these particular people to a particular vocation.
These were fishermen who were about to become disciples who would eventually become apostles. When Jesus says that he would be making them become fishers of people, he was saying that they would become his apprentices. He was going to show them how to do the same job he was called to do in the world. They were being called to vocational ministry here, to ordained service — to be ministers, evangelists, pastors, religious leaders. They were called out of the ordinary realms of life to special service. They were being asked to leave behind good and necessary vocations such as being fishermen to pursue religious vocations.
Now most of us are not called to that. And this story can mislead us if we don’t read it carefully. Most of us here this morning are not going to have an experience like this, where we’re called to abandon the world of everyday work to follow Jesus into a religious vocation. We are not going to leave behind our families, our jobs, and the places where we live and take up extraordinary assignments.
And we are not to envy people like Peter and Andrew and James and John and think they have something better than we do. God values each vocation and calls each of us by his grace to our own work, and by that work we each make our own unique contributions to his kingdom.
So when one of you hears Jesus say, “Follow me,” it may be to let him make you a more faithful farmer or electrician or schoolteacher or insurance salesperson or engineer. You may do your work in the home, raising children, providing for the needs of a household. You may work in a restaurant or in the construction trades. You may be a student. You may be retired from working for a living and now have the freedom to spend extra time with your family and with friends, helping them.
Whatever it may be, following Jesus is not a matter of leaving these ordinary ventures behind, but rather of moving more deeply into them with him, learning how to infuse those duties with faith, hope, and love by the grace and strength God gives you. God is calling most of us to stay on the boat and follow Jesus there.
This text is not bada bing bada boom anything.
This text opens the door to a long process of conversion, a journey with Jesus that enables us to become what he has created us to be, in whatever vocation he calls us to pursue.
May God guide us on this journey each and every day. Amen.