January 24, 2021
If someone called or texted you right now and said “I have some good news!” what do you imagine that news would be? Your guess would depend on who the person is, I realize. If it’s a high school senior, you’d be ready to hear about a college acceptance letter or a unique work opportunity following graduation. If it’s a dear friend who’s been dealing with a serious illness, you would hope for news that the treatment seems to be working, the tumor is shrinking, the numbers are improving. If it’s your kid, maybe you will find out about a math test that went far better than expected.
Or maybe it’s something much less momentous but still exciting – a colleague saying a deadline has been extended, a friend letting you know that your favorite pandemic jogging pants are on sale, a sister telling you that your favorite television show has made its way to Netflix.
There’s a pretty broad range of what we put into the category of “good news,” but whatever it might be, good news is fun to share and fun to hear.
We’re back in the gospel of Mark this morning, the gospel that will be our primary focus during this church year. Do you know how the gospel of Mark begins? It says: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It’s like the author of Mark’s gospel is texting us to say, “Guess what! I have some good news!”
We jump ahead a few verses to today’s portion of the gospel, and we hear that Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
The good news of God. It sounds – well, good. But what does it actually mean?
At first the circumstances don’t sound like good news. Jesus begins his preaching life after John was arrested. That’s John the Baptist, the one who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. I won’t go into the entire soap opera of it all, but John has angered one of the many petty kings named Herod, who had John thrown in prison. So Mark rather bluntly reminds us that good news sometimes emerges in circumstances that are both dangerous and unpredictable. But, Mark also reminds us, we tell the good news anyway.
“Good news” is a term that we throw around a lot in church. But what exactly is the good news that Jesus is talking about here? Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Those words “good news” in Mark come from the Greek word euaggelion, from which we get our fancy church word evangelism. Too often we think of evangelism as a marketing campaign to get people to come to our specific church. But evangelism is really about telling a story, a story of what God has done and continues to do in our lives.
Jesus tells us that this good news means that God’s kingdom has come near. God’s reign – the scope of God’s power and promise – is not far away and disconnected from our lives. Jesus himself embodies that nearness of God. God is here in the midst of us. God is with us and among us always.
Repent and believe in the good news, Jesus says. Repent. Turn in a new direction. Leave your old ways behind, the ways that do harm to yourself and to others. Repent, and believe. Believe – not in a head sense, but in a heart sense. Believe as in trust. Trust that God cares what happens to you. Trust that God is there to guide you.
Jesus invites all of us to experience that closeness of God and to follow the pathways that God opens in our lives. In the next part of today’s gospel, he specifically invites four fishermen – Simon, Andrew, James, and John – to leave their nets behind and follow him. They do so with an immediacy that I always find remarkable. They’re willing to share a good news that they don’t yet fully understand.
I don’t know about you, but more often than not, when I feel God nudging me to do something, I take my time. I weigh the options. I worry about the potential consequences. I wonder what others will think.
When it comes to sharing the good news of what God has done and is doing, we let all kinds of things get in the way. We don’t want to offend people. We feel reluctant to bring up matters of faith, knowing how personal those can be. We don’t want to be seen as one of those crazy, over-the-top Christians. We hear Jesus say, “I will make you fish for people,” and we think “No thanks. That sounds weird.”
But here’s the thing. Jesus uses the language of fishing to speak to fishermen. He knows his audience, knows how to put things in terms that people understand.
Jesus probably wouldn’t tell you to fish for people. Jesus would describe ways of connecting with people and sharing the story that fit your particular talents and experiences. Quilting. Video games. Baseball. Baking. And, as one of my colleagues likes to say, it’s never been easier to share the good news. Right now all you have to do is share a link and invite people to click on it! And we have so many ways that we can communicate how our faith matters to us – in pictures and posts and prayers, in music and memories.
One of those ways is not just in what we say, but how we live. How do we embody that inclusive love that God has for all people?
I learned this week about a woman named Georgia Gilmore.[i] Georgia had a crucial role in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and 56, one of the first large-scale protests against segregation. Her own personal boycott had started a couple of months earlier when a white bus driver had taken her fare and then berated her for using the front door. He made her get off the bus and then drove away, leaving her stranded. She decided right then that she was done with riding the bus.
As the plans for the larger boycott emerged following Rosa Parks’ arrest, Georgia Gilmore became a chief fundraiser for the effort. She organized an underground network of black women who sold pound cakes, sweet potato pies, plates of fried fish, and greens door-to-door. Many of these women worked for white families and couldn’t risk being seen as leaders in the movement. But they could cook. And their food brought in incredible amounts of money, enough to help pay for 381 days of cars, trucks, and wagons, along with the necessary gas, insurance, and repairs to carry protestors to and from their destinations without ever having to step on a bus.
This group of home cooks was called the Club from Nowhere. That way if the boycott organizers were ever asked where their money came from, they could truthfully answer: “Nowhere.”
Georgia Gilmore eventually transformed her home into an unofficial restaurant. Leaders of the civil rights movement, including Dr. King and the Rev. Al Dixon, gathered in her kitchen to strategize. She was outspoken and full of sass. No matter who you were, she might call you a whore or a heifer. But no matter who you were, you were welcome at her table.
What I love about Georgia Gilmore’s story is that she shared the good news of God’s love and justice in dangerous circumstances. What I love even more is that she did it in exactly the way that fit who she was. She was a funny, quick-witted, smart, stubborn, outspoken woman who could make fried chicken better than anybody. And she used all of those things to be a part of God’s kingdom coming near.
There’s someone in your life right now who needs to hear some good news, someone who is longing for a word of hope. You can provide that hope in a way that no one else can. So share some good news this week, and be ready to be surprised at what God will do. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
“And Jesus 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
I am not an impulsive decision maker. I tend to agonize over decisions. Sometimes it feels like I need a multi-level algorithm just to buy a pair of socks. Black or blue? Solid or stripes? Wool or Cotton? Ankle-length or knee-high? It’s silly, really.
For decisions that are far more important than a pair of socks, like making a career change or moving to New Jersey, I’ll deliberate in several ways. I pray about it. I consult with people I trust. I make a list of pros and cons for the different options. I pray some more. I try to figure out what my gut is telling me. And it seems to work. All of the big leaps of faith in my life have opened the way to new adventures and relationships that have profoundly shaped my life – not without some struggle along the way, but I have no regrets about the big decisions.
Every time I hear this story of how Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, it absolutely knocks me over. They follow him immediately. Immediately. They drop their fishing nets and hit the road. We don’t hear anything about packing up their belongings or saying goodbye to loved ones or staring wistfully over their shoulders as they walk off with Jesus into the sunset. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and off they go.
It’s true that most things happen quickly in the gospel of Mark. By my count the word “immediately” appears 28 times throughout Mark, two of them in today’s passage. It seems to underscore the haste with which these four men change their majors from fishing to discipleship.
But come on. Deciding to leave your home, your family, your livelihood in a split second? I can’t imagine it.
That’s the thing about this story. It’s tempting to look at the rapid response to Jesus’ call as a kind of spiritual heroics – to think, “These guys were so faithful, so brave, so committed that they immediately set off on this new path without hesitation.” Maybe they deserve some credit, but we miss something when we make it solely about what those four guys did.
The first thing we miss is the role of Jesus. His voice is powerful. As we keep reading, we learn that Jesus rebukes an unclean spirit and brings it out of a man with just a sentence. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law, cures many other sick people, and chases off more demons. He cleanses a leper. He tells a paralytic to stand up and walk. He does it all with very few words.
When Jesus speaks with a command – “Follow me” – it doesn’t sound optional. So rather than make the disciples into superheroes, we should give credit to the power of the One who summons them. Jesus is where the call originates. He gives them the ability to listen and obey.[i]
Besides, as we know, the disciples were not perfect. There will be times throughout Mark’s gospel when they will be confused, stubborn, and downright difficult. In the end, as Jesus is being led to his death, these guys who seemed so eager to put down their fishing nets and follow him will run into the darkest shadows and hide out. In a crucial moment they will not defend their friend and teacher. They will not even admit that they know him. It’s right there in Chapter 14: “All of them deserted him and fled” (14:50).
To be called to follow Jesus does not mean that we will do so perfectly. That’s important to remember as we consider what Jesus is calling each of us to do and to be in the world. Too often in the church we speak of “being called” too narrowly, limiting it to discussions of those who are called to public ministry in official roles like pastors or deacons.
The language we sometimes use is vocation, from the Latin vocatio, which means “calling” – a special role to which we are summoned and by which we contribute to the world.[ii]
Every person is called. Each and every one of you. And furthermore, each and every one of you is called to multiple vocations – as you work, as you volunteer, as you go to school, as you play on a team. You are called as a family member, a friend, a leader, a colleague. We have so many callings that balancing our vocations can often feel overwhelming. We worry that work is keeping us from being the best parent. Or that being engaged with our families keeps us from volunteering more. Or that working hard on algebra keeps us from improving our hockey game. I find that when I’m feeling the most guilty about juggling vocations, it’s usually because I’m trying to rely on my own energy and motivation rather than leaning on the One who gave me these vocations in the first place – the One who says “Follow me” every day.
The person in today’s gospel who usually gets overlooked is Zebedee. This week I’ve thought a lot about the ways Zebedee was called. He was called to be a fisherman. Maybe he learned how to fish from his own father. Maybe his parents wanted him to be something else entirely, but he felt the call of the sea and loved the idea of hauling in the daily catch and working until his hands were calloused.
Zebedee was also called to be a business owner. We hear that he has hired men, so part of faithfully living out his vocation as an employer would be to treat those workers with dignity, pay them a fair wage, and mentor them in the trade he knew so well.
And Zebedee was called to be a parent. We don’t have any idea what kind of father he was, but I like to imagine that his guidance as he raised his sons prepared them to be people who could set out into the world with Jesus. It would have been much better for Zebedee if his sons had stayed home and continued the family business, but Jesus has other ideas. Zebedee, like every parent, had to let his kids follow their own path.
You may find it strange to think of your daily roles and responsibilities as vocations, but they are. They are holy work, blessed by the one whose voice is calling you to follow him. So follow him. Follow his commitment to doing all things in love. Follow his way of finding the people who need the most help. Follow his path of forgiveness – which includes forgiving yourself when you feel lousy at your vocations.
Writer Debie Thomas observes:
We don’t follow Jesus in the abstract. We don’t heed his call “in general,” as if Christianity comes down to nothing more than attending church or being a nice person. If we’re going to follow him at all, we’ll have to do it in the highly specific particulars of the lives, communities, cultures, families, and vocations we find ourselves in. We’ll have to trust that God prizes our intellects, our muscle memories, our backgrounds, our educations, our skills, and that [God] will multiply, shape, and bring to fruition everything we offer up…in faith from the daily stuff of our lives.[iii]
The daily stuff of our lives, however messy or imperfect it might be. That’s where faith matters most.
Listen. Do you hear it? It’s the voice of our Savior saying “Follow me.” Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] I found this essay by Debie Thomas helpful: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1623
[iii] From Debie Thomas’ essay cited above.