Immediately. Instantaneously. Without delay. One of Dave’s most memorable middle of the night calls came many years ago from a woman whose husband had chest pain. “He’s clutching his chest,” she told Dave. And Dave’s reply: “Hang up the phone and dial 911 immediately.” But instead, she began to wonder out loud if she should do that, because her husband didn’t really want to go to the hospital. Dave repeated, “Well it’s crucial that he get to a hospital. Hang up the phone and call 911 NOW.” “Oh, doctor,” she continued, “now he’s sitting on the floor. He’s sweating and is really pale. I don’t know what I should do.” By this time, Dave is practically shouting, “Hang up and call 911 NOW or you’ll be calling the undertaker.” When a person has chest pain, it’s not a great idea to stop and think about how the person might feel about being in the hospital or weigh the pros and cons of calling an ambulance. Sometimes things have to be decided NOW and acted on NOW.
In Mark’s gospel we hear the very brief story of four fishermen who made a quick decision that changed the future direction of their lives. Jesus had just been baptized and preached his first sermon in which he proclaimed that God’s kingdom had arrived. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” According to Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Jesus proclaims the good news and invites his listeners to believe that “God is at work in the world for the well-being of others” (Wilhelm 18). Jesus tells us to believe that he is the presence of God among us and that God’s kingdom is very near. For Jesus believing requires us to act in a way that reflects our beliefs. So Jesus calls people not only to believe, but to repent, to live differently. Jesus calls them and us to live as if God is present in the world.
Very soon after his first preaching assignment, Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee which is really a lake. There he notices Simon and his brother Andrew fishing with nets. Jesus calls out to them, “Follow after me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of trout and bass” (Mark 1:17 MSG). Mark tells us that immediately—a favorite word of Mark’s–Simon and Andrew drop their nets and follow Jesus. Now three of them are walking by the shore. Jesus notices James and John, the sons of Zebedee sitting in their fishing boat mending torn nets. Immediately, Jesus extends the same invitation to them. And immediately James and John leave their father in the boat holding the net and follow Jesus. These fishing four do exactly what Jesus wants folks to do. They believe the good news that God’s kingdom is present in the person of Jesus Christ and change their lives because of it.
It is clear in Mark’s account of the calling of the first disciples that they responded immediately. Jesus called and BAM, Simon, Andrew, James and John followed. They did not mull things over and weigh the advantages and disadvantages. They were not wishy-washy or timid. They did not question their ability or their worthiness.
The disciples’ immediate response to Jesus’ call sets a really high standard for discipleship. The story of the disciples’ quick and life-changing decision sends the message that walking away from home responsibilities, jobs, families, and aging parents is what Jesus expects of us. So when we hold up the response of these four fishermen as our standard, we can feel like second rate disciples who are only half-committed. We’re still here, working and going about our lives as normal. We haven’t left anything or anyone behind to follow Jesus.
Jesus knows that the world we live in is not the same world in which the first disciples lived. So Jesus is not necessarily calling us to quit our jobs, abandon our families and go on the road, relying solely on the generosity and kindness of strangers. The point Mark is trying to make to his first century readers and to us 21st century Christians is that regardless of what our responsibilities might be or what our life might be like, Jesus calls us to dramatically change our lives and follow him. Jesus asks us to believe the good news that God is present in the world in the person of Jesus and is working for our good. Jesus calls us to be concrete evidence that God’s kingdom has come near. And Jesus calls us to be that evidence right NOW!
The world in which Mark lived was full of violence, conflict, oppression, and poverty. There was no time to waste. No time to think about the pros and cons of helping God work for the healing of the world. And today, we can’t waste time thinking about whether to follow Jesus either. We have to do it-BAM-today! Our society and our world are having serious chest pain and we must call 911 immediately. Messages of hate are becoming more and more common and as a result we run the risk of becoming desensitized to them. Poverty is increasing, not decreasing. Immigrants, some of whom are brothers and sisters in the Church of the Brethren, although it really shouldn’t matter, live in terror that their families will be split up and they’ll be forced to leave this country and begin again in a country that has never been their home. Racism is rampant in our schools, our justice system, our economic system.
In one of his speeches that is included in the book, A Call to Conscience, Martin
Luther King Jr. said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” King recognized that the time for centuries of inequality and oppression had to come to an end immediately. The work of Civil rights had been delayed for too long. So King acted quickly, even though he had lots of other responsibilities and lots of reasons why he shouldn’t answer the call to lead what would become the Civil Rights Movement.
Our time in history still calls for urgency, for immediate response to the call of Jesus to follow him (Mark E.). The artist Leonardo da Vinci once said: “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” The issues of hatred, anger, injustice, poverty and racism facing our society confront us with the fierce urgency of now.
So how can we do both? How can we fulfill our responsibilities of work and family AND respond immediately to Jesus’ call to follow him? In the daily living of our lives, there are many opportunities to make a decision to either follow Jesus or do it our way. In the lunchroom at school when a choice comes to include an outsider or not, we can follow Jesus by responding like he would respond. And we’re called to do it immediately. BAM! In the streets of our cities, the aisles of the grocery stores where we shop, when a choice comes to stand up in support of someone who is being discriminated against or walk away silently, Jesus calls us to follow him immediately. When we read of government decisions that favor the rich and make life harder for the poor, we have a choice. We can choose to happily and silently take the extra benefits we might receive or BAM, immediately follow Jesus now and speak out loudly for those whom Jesus favors, the poor, the immigrant, the sick. When a neighbor is going through a rough time, we can either ignore it, because we’re too busy, or we can follow Jesus and reach out with love and compassion sooner rather than later. Just like those first disciples, we’re called to change who we’ve always been and the way we may have responded in the past and immediately follow Jesus. We’re called to let our actions deliver the message that God is in the house and that God cares about the well-being of every person.
Last Sunday, I went with some of our junior high youth to see the movie Wonder. In the movie the main character, Auggie Pullman, has a genetic syndrome called Treacher-Collins syndrome that causes, among other things, serious facial deformities. The movie tells the story of Auggie’s transition from being home-schooled to attending public school. As you can imagine, the kids at school stare at him, bully him, and ostracize him. Eventually, Auggie develops a small group of sincere, loyal friends. But there is still a group of relentless bullies who do everything they can to make Auggie’s life lonely and miserable. Near the end of the movie, the entire school takes a field trip to a nature preserve in Pennsylvania. Auggie and his good friend Jack decide to go off on their own for a hike to enjoy the beauty of nature. You can see Auggie’s delight as he takes in the view of lake and trees and sky. Suddenly the two boys hear leaves rustling behind them. They turn and see several older, larger boys who had followed them into the woods. These older, stronger boys spell trouble. They begin to push and punch Auggie and Jack. Unexpectedly,some of those bullies who were making Auggie’s life miserable appear. We expect that Auggie and Jack might be in for even more trouble. But those bullies see what’s going on and immediately, step up and defend Auggie and Jack against the older, stronger guys. Without thinking, without weighing the pros and cons, without assessing the danger to themselves, the bullies change who they have always been and dive into the fray helping to chase the older boys away. That’s the kind of response Jesus asks of us. When we encounter those situations in which we can ignore a need or follow Jesus in the way of love, justice, and compassion, Jesus calls us to follow him without hesitation.
On this third Sunday of the Epiphany season we hear again the good news that God is with us and is revealed through the words and presence of Jesus. And we are called to hear the gospel message, to believe that God is in the house, to change our lives, and to follow Jesus. We are called to be like the four fishermen who realized the urgency of now and followed Jesus immediately and wholeheartedly. We are invited to be the signs that God is present in the world, working for the well-being of all God’s people. And BAM! the time is now.
Barrett, Lee A. “Mark 1: 14-20, Theological Perspective .” Feasting on the Word.
David Bartlett and Barbara B. Taylor, Eds. Year B, Vol. 1.Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 2008. 284-289.
Ledewitz, Bruce. American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of
Secular Politics. Praeger, 2007. 172.
Mark E. “Sermon Illustrations for Epiphany 3 (2018).” SermonSuite.com.
Wilhelm, Dawn Ottoni. Preaching the Gospel of Mark. Louisville:Westminster John