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Following Jesus Today

Following Jesus Today Mark 1:14-20, January 25, 2015 Lynne Prechel, AiM

This is the season of the church known as “Epiphany,” and there are two more Sundays in this season in which we are, through the gospel readings, called to recognize the epiphanies in our own lives and ponder them in the presence of Jesus. Epiphany is defined as a sudden and profound understanding of something. Last week and this week, we observe the epiphany of six men as they are invited to follow Jesus. Life-changing situations are often an epiphany, but so are the smaller occurrences of daily life. For example, when someone has been looking for their lost keys and suddenly has an idea of where they are. It’s an “ah-HAH” moment.

My sermon title is “Following Jesus Today,” and we’ll explore what this means for us. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Do I have to quit my current job and become a minister in order to truly follow Jesus Christ? Can I be a disciple of Christ without changing my church affiliation or my group of friends? More importantly, HOW do I follow him? Where’s the roadmap, the handbook, the instruction set? Is there a “Following Jesus” cell phone app? Actually, there is. If you’re interested in following Jesus electronically, there are lots of resources on the web to assist you.

This morning we have the gospel of Mark to help us follow Jesus. Since last Sunday’s gospel was from the book of John, we don’t know the exact sequence of that text with this one from Mark, but the theme is the same. Today’s text continues the story from last Sunday, that is, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he calls his first disciples. Last Sunday we saw Jesus say “Follow me,” to Philip, and the invitation of “come and see” by Philip to Nathanael. In today’s story Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee -- Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Each of these six men experienced an epiphany: they suddenly and immediately, to use Mark’s favorite expression in his gospel, realized what they needed to be doing - following Jesus. So they did. Just like that. Dropped their fishing nets, left their families and boats, and followed Jesus.

I’ve always found this passage from Mark both inspiring and vexing. I find it inspiring because of the decisiveness and immediacy of the response of the four disciples. But I also find it a bit vexing because it seems to set the bar so high. Leave everything...to follow an itinerant preacher into an unknown future... and do it immediately. To be honest, I find it hard to imagine doing as these four did. Do you feel the same? Can you imagine leaving everything to follow Jesus?

We have our homes and our families; some of us have young children we are raising. What about our employment, our jobs? Maybe your mom is elderly, like mine. She needs me near her these days. Perhaps you and your spouse are retired and happy to stay at home. When I place myself in the shoes of the disciples, I find it a difficult decision to make. Most of us, truth be told, would find it very hard to leave work and family and friends and all the rest to venture into such an uncertain future. Does that mean we’re more or less failures as Christians? Or at least that we are less faithful than Philip and Nathanael, Andrew and Peter, James and John?

No. I don’t think so. And - it’s not what we’re meant to focus on anyway. Mark offers this story to set an example for us, not to point out our lack of faith if we don’t drop everything and run after Jesus. We are meant to find this story of disciples willing to follow Jesus inspiring. And I think we do.1

Remember that the gospel of Mark was written about 50 to 60 years after the crucifixion of Christ with the Gentiles as the target audience. It was meant to bring them to faith and belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Mark’s message to Gentiles reading back in the first century – as well as to those of us following along in the twenty-first – was more about following Jesus in general than it was about anyone following him literally and physically.

In the years following Christ’s death and resurrection, followers of Jesus were called to follow a set of principles known as “the Way;” the word “Way” from the Greek word hodos, which literally means a journey or highway. Metaphorically, the word

“I am the way and the truth and the life.

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denotes a course of conduct, a manner of

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thinking, feeling, and deciding. By Jesus saying in John 14,


No one comes to the Father except through me," he was claiming that he is the true road or highway that leads to his Father's house.

I guess this means that we who follow Jesus walk in that 2000+ years tradition known as “the Way.” So how do we journey on this “Way?” How do we follow Jesus in our time and culture? We follow him in particular and distinct ways that may or may not be like the first disciples. Perhaps
we follow by becoming a teacher or volunteering at the senior center. Perhaps we follow Jesus by looking for those on the margins - imprisoned, homeless, in poverty - and welcoming them into our church and lives. Perhaps we follow by doing a job we hate but that contributes to supporting our family or relatives. Perhaps we follow by being generous with our wealth and with our time. Perhaps we follow by listening to those around us and responding with Christ’s love and compassion.

You get the idea. There are any number of distinct ways that we can follow Jesus. And, as Mark’s gospel encourages us - follow him immediately, here and now, starting right now, in the world and time in which we find ourselves. Remember last Sunday and “What would Jesus do?” The focus is to follow Jesus in all of these different situations and circumstances precisely by trying to do what he would do. By trying, for example, to treat others with the same regard, love and patience that
he did, including all manner of people but especially those who were overlooked by society. This, I think, is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: to try to live and treat others as Jesus did, embracing the values of inclusiveness, love, forgiveness, and healing that he radiated in word and deed.

During my research for today’s sermon, I came across an interesting website titled “Ten Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus.”3 While some of the supporting text at the site was humorous, it was also breathtakingly honest. Here are a few of the “don’ts:”

1. Exclude people because they practice another religion, for what they look like, how they were born or things beyond their control. 2. Let people go hungry. 3. Make money more important than God. 4. Judge others. 5. Be physically or verbally aggressive or violent. 6. Use the church to hurt people. 7. Hate.

That’s a stiff list. And when you look at our world, you see lots of it happening everywhere. How much more important then is it for us, followers of Jesus Christ, to live into the fullness of the Kingdom of God here and now? For you and me and the person next to you to be Luther’s “little Christs in the world,” to demonstrate the love of God in Jesus with our actions, our words, even our thoughts. Yes, especially our innermost thoughts. For God sees into the heart of each one of us.

We’ve been talking about outward demonstrations of following Jesus. What about the inner journey to transformation? I stayed away from it on purpose last Sunday, just touching on it gently with the Thomas Merton quotes. But now it’s time to look at it. The interior struggle to purify one’s thoughts is the harder task here. Anyone can put on good works and look good on the outside.
But what’s going on within? In our thoughts? Jesus called out the Pharisees for being “white-
washed tombs:” looking pure and holy with their actions and words, but rotten and dark within with resentment, anger, hate, and prejudice. You can get a glimpse of your inner condition by becoming aware of your private thoughts; for example, do you curse the guy who cuts you off on the freeway? Do you think about others resentfully? Do you take offense easily at an imagined or real slight? Doing these things doesn’t make you a bad person. You aren’t - you’re just human - and this isn’t about whether you’re bad or good. It’s more about taking your own spiritual pulse and noticing if you are truly aligned with Jesus. A good benchmark is to observe yourself when you are alone. How we are on the inside is really who we are before God. We don’t fool God with attractive outward behavior. God sees within. Jesus was perfectly aligned within and without. His actions sprang from the purity
of his thoughts; not the other way around. This is what Jesus desires for each one of us; that we
start with the inside work, then the outward manifestation of following Christ will flower for all to see. Scripture calls it “fruit;” by their fruit, you will know them.

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After reading the replies that so many of you passed in last Sunday (thank you), I discovered that for half of those who responded, handing out “WWJD” bracelets today would be unnecessary. But you’ll find that there are bracelets on the narthex table awaiting those of you who would like one. True, they are not glamorous bracelets, but then - Jesus wasn’t either. Take one if you want one. By the way, it was a moving experience to read all the replies and to witness to what you find compelling about Jesus, and what propels you to come to Our Redeemer each Sunday. I know Pastor Brian will find them inspirational, as well. Thank you for participating in my method of taking the spiritual pulse of this community.

I invite you to look ahead to the coming week and anticipate the times and places and occasions where you might try to follow Jesus by treating others as we see Jesus treating people in the gospels. And - as Mark encourages us repeatedly in his gospel, to follow Jesus immediately, in your actual lives this very week. Jesus promises that as you try to do so, you will live into and benefit more fully from the identity into which He has already called you. The point isn’t about being “better disciples” but rather it is about knowing and experiencing Jesus more deeply by following him. May you be given an epiphany about your discipleship and richly rewarded in your journey with Jesus this week and beyond.


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