Pardon the Interruption

(Epiphany 3, Mark 1:14-20)

 

1-22-06

Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew, and he said to them, “follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1.17-18)

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Life is just full of decisions, isn’t it?

Every day we make decisions like, when to get up, what clothes to wear, what and where to eat.  And even lunch is complicated.  My favorite place to get a quick lunch if I am eating in the office is Subway – just down the street. 

But, every time that I go in there, I think that they have added 2-3 new sandwiches and they ask me a couple of new questions.

At home, we have 40-50 TV channels to choose between.  In today’s world, we are constantly confronted with a vast array of choices to make.  Our life is a smorgasbord of things to be sampled at our pleasure, even without leaving the comfort of our home computer.

So why is it, if I have so many things to choose from, if there is all this new stuff out there.  Why is it that my life feels like the same old, same old, for years at a time?

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Well, I think that the answer to that question is that so few of those many daily decisions have any real impact on our lives.  The types of decisions that I listed, don’t have long term implications on our lives, so we just decide and go on.

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Of course, there are other more significant decisions that we also face from time to time.  Decisions about major things in our lives.  Getting married.  Finding a job.  Buying a house.  Decisions that definitely do have long term (or permanent) impact on our lives.

And we tend to go slower with those don’t we?  In fact, sometimes we go so slow with the big decisions in our lives that we are almost afraid to act.  The magnitude of the decision is such that it paralyzes us, because we don’t want to do the wrong thing.  Status quo is always less scary than the unknown.  No wonder, life seems like the same old, same old, thing

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But evidently Jesus does not really care about our tendency to stick to the status quo does he? 

Because in our lesson this morning from the Book of Mark, we read how Jesus called four of his disciples.  And time to decide, was not something that he made available in any abundance.

Jesus encountered two sets of brothers:  The first was Simon, who we know as Peter and his brother Andrew.  And Jesus sees them while they are actually engaged in their jobs as fishermen.  They are in the middle of casting their nets for fish, and Jesus yells to them to put down their nets and come with him.  Nothing about taking time to think about his proposal.  Nothing about stopping by their house to get some extra clothes or say goodbye to friends.  Just a blunt statement.  Come with me and I will make you fish for people. 

And I imagine from the text, that they look at each other, and look at Jesus.  And look at each other again.  Shrug, and get up to do as Jesus asks.  That simple and that quick.

It is virtually the same with the other set of brothers.  The Zebedee boys – John and James.  They are also hard at work in the family fishing business.  Mending nets with their father.  And Jesus called to them to join his group of disciples.  And they also just get up and come.

Amazing, isn’t it.  That these four men would be willing to give up their lives so readily?  And it is important to understand, it is not because they have nothing to lose.  They are fairly well off by the standards of the day.  Independent fishermen, living in a nice part of the country, and the Zebedees with enough business to have hired hands.  So they were not acting out of desperation or any great previous sense of already wanting to change their lives.  By all accounts, they were just fine where they were and would have gladly continued on course, had not Jesus entered the picture.  Entered the picture with a promise to make them fishers of men. 

And so they all picked up and went with him.

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Of course when we read the story, we know who Jesus is – but the four men havee yet to learn that.  Interesting isn’t it, that they were still so able and willing to be called by God?  Wonder why I always seem to be so hard of hearing when God calls?

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Anyway, as I thought about the disciples response to Jesus’ call on their lives, I reflected some on my own.  Thought about the time that I put down the net of my comfortable world and allowed God to begin to change my life. 

But it wasn’t when you might guess.  It wasn’t when I left the business world for Seminary.  I was already very much pointed in that direction by the time the decision to go to Seminary came around.

No, it was 8-10 years earlier.  Back in the late 80’s.  When I had some really stupid years.  Back when I was only interested in working hard and playing hard.  Or maybe it would be more honest to say that I worked hard in order to play hard.  The years when my identity was completely wrapped up in my job as an oil trader.

I was not the only one – nor was it unique to the trading business.  As often accompanies professions that are high stress and hard work – there is also a lot of hard playing.  There’s constant business entertainment – a lot of wining and dining – and a lot of temptation to forget some of the promises you might have made.  I saw a more broken marriages than I could count – and heard a lot of rationalizations about why it was just the way things are.  And the thing is, that I almost bought into it, too.  My marriage was also teetering on a cliff – very close to crashing.

But somehow I heard God’s voice.  I remember exactly when it happened.  In church about 1/3 of the way down on the right side.  And I could have sworn the preacher was looking right at me.  Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but what I did know was that God was speaking to me.  And God was calling me to get off that wrong path.  So I said, yes.

And somehow, with God’s help, and Sherry’s support, I managed to turn away from that side of life.

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But the devil doesn’t let you alone just because you decide to listen to God for once in your life.  And I also remember the first test.

Not long after I decided to make some changes in my life, I had to go out of town on business.  The usual trip to Houston – business all day and fun at night.  And I met up with some of my business friends – including the person that I considered my best friend in the business - for dinner and a Rockets game.  After the game I went along to one of our usual haunts.  Except this time I only drank iced tea.  And I probably looked at my watch a lot, because I knew I had to call home and check in with Sherry. 

And I am sure that I did not laugh much at their beer-induced antics. 

Of course, I thought that I was still good company, but the thing that I remember most about that night was how mad my friend was at me for changing – for not fully joining in. 

I was surprised and disappointed.  But when I thought about it, I realized that losing some old friendships was one of the sacrifices that I had to make to be on the right path.  Sure, it was tempting to slip into my old identity – after all what could it hurt for just one night – and I still wanted to be one of the crowd.  But Jesus’ call is to let go of the life we might want, so we can begin to live the life that God has waiting for us. 

The world always wants to bring us back into our worldly identity, because it is uncomfortable when we don’t accept the world’s values and its way of prioritizing.  After all, Jesus was an agent of disruption in the world.  So much so that the world finally had to hang him on a cross. 

So there will always be resistance when we try to follow Christ.  It is always hard to put down those familiar nets in our lives and turn to the new thing that God has for us.

Like me, it could be relationships that hold you back.  Maybe you have expressed a desire to do something more meaningful in your life, or thought you felt an urge from God to step outside the box.  And some so-called, well meaning friend or relative has clucked their tongue and shook their head, and reminded you about the realities of life. 

Jesus took the disciples away from their families and friends when they came with him.  Your relationship with your Lord is the most important thing in your life.  I say it all the time.  God, family, job.  God, family, job.  Put down your net of naysayers in your life and follow Jesus.

Our maybe your net is just the busyness of your schedule.  Maybe you just have so much going on in your life, that you don’t dare think about putting down that net - for fear you might be overwhelmed.  Put it down – one net at a time. 

Or maybe your net is stress about finances.  You plan to get around to what you think that God is calling you to do, but later - after you pay off a few more bills.  Put down your net.  Make the decision to follow, then pray about the things that get in the way.  God will provide.

See, our problem is that our eyes are on the disciples.  And on ourselves.  We are so intent on becoming like the disciples, that we take our eyes off of the most important person in the story.  God.

The very fact that they got up from their boats is nothing less than an act of God.  So our focus is not the disciples.  Nor is it ourselves. 

The focus must be on Jesus Christ.  Once the disciples said YES to Jesus, they became open to God, and change began to happen.  So that three years later, when Jesus died on the cross, the disciples had been prepared by God to build God’s church.  From fishermen to church builders – such is the miraculous power of God.

That is the good news for us also.  Once we say yes to God’s call.  Once we put down our nets and begin to follow, God does not just leave us alone.  No – God provides.    

And God is a very sneaky, sneaky God.  Many years before I ever thought about Seminary, I had to make that decision about the direction of my life. 

And if I had made the wrong choice that time, then none of this priestly stuff would have followed.  I didn’t instantly turn into a priest any more that the disciples suddenly became learned Bible scholars.  But like the disciples, once we are open to hear and follow, God takes over.  And things begin to change and miracles begin to happen.  Right before our eyes.

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You know, when I did ultimately resign from the trading business and head for Seminary, one of the best things that happened is that I heard from several acquaintances in the oil who business who wrote or called me to let me know that they were appreciative of my career change.  And often that note of support would include something of their testimony. 

Although I was acquainted with their business identities, I didn’t know them as Christians.  But once I raised my hand and said, “I declare for Jesus,” then they felt able to share their stories and faith with me. 

The world – particularly the competitive world of big business – is not a place where people are comfortable wearing their faith.  It stays under the surface until you know that it is safe to let others know about it. 

But sometimes it just takes one person to raise his hand – and say this is who I really am.

So I encourage you to put down the nets that are anchoring you to life in the world.  And open your ears and your hearts to God’s call for you.

And raise your hand.  Raise your hand and say this is who I really am: 

“I believe in God and I believe that with God’s help, I can make a difference.”  Amen.