Friday, November 12, 2010

They left their nets and followed Jesus (Mark 1:14-20) (sermon text)

Mark 1:14-20 (New International Version)

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him

In the obscure 1999 sci-fi film ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ the main character Douglas Hall is part of a team of three that create a virtual computer world. He can download his brain waves into a computer-generated character in that world and live there for a period. The created world is Los Angeles in the 1920’s, a movie exploring the frontier of digital technology and virtual reality goes back to a time and place where film the first virtual reality was being pioneered. The characters in this virtual world have no comprehension of anything beyond themselves, they don’t realise they are created they don’t recognise their creator as he steps in amongst them. One of the computer generated characters in the virtual world finds out that he is in a computer programme living in a computer simulation and tests this crazy idea by trying to drive out of the city. He finds as he drives past the city limits and out into what he thinks will be the Californian desert that the whole landscape begins to disappear that at its edges the computer does not have enough power to generate a full programme anymore that his reality becomes made up of a series of intersecting green lines: the net that computers use as the basis for their graphics and his reality. His world made up of these nets is challenged when the creator steps into it and as a result he is changed. He is aware of a bigger reality beyond the everyday.

The fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee also live in a world and reality made of up nets and into that world of nets Jesus walks and because of this close encounter of the Jesus kind it totally changes. “Jesus words come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ not only calls them to leave the physical nets that feature in their lives, but also like in the film ‘the thirteenth floor’ it calls them to leave the very nets that are the basic structure and fabric of their existence and follow Jesus. It’s what close encounters of the Jesus kind do.

Let’s put the passage in context., Mark had introduced us to Jesus through the ministry of John the Baptist and in Jesus baptism and temptation we see the identity of Jesus revealed to us. In his baptism, the other two persons of the trinity have testified to Jesus as the anointed one and the Son of God. In his temptation we see that Jesus is here to lead the struggle against evil in the world. Once John has been arrested Jesus starts his own ministry. He comes to the province of Galilee where the prophecy in Isaiah 9 said the good news of God’s salvation would first be preached.

His central message is that the time has come. The long awaited time of the coming of God’s kingdom had arrived. It had arrived because God’s anointed one was here. God’s king was here. We tend to think of Kingdoms in terms of territory and borders but in the ancient near east kingdoms were rather fluid, empires grew and shrunk. A kingdom was where people swore loyalty to a particular king and obeyed them. For example in Israel someone became king when the tribes came and swore loyalty to them. Now with Jesus coming God’s reign had broken into the realm of man and Jesus call was for a new people to repent and believe this Good news; to swear loyalty to God’s anointed one. To set up a new people who lived in way that reflected God’s reign.

Then Mark uses a series of encounters between Jesus and various people to show his authority as the anointed one. He calls people to follow him, heals the sick, forgives sins, frees people from demonic possession and demonstrates that he is lord of the Sabbath.

In Jesus calling his first disciples we see what it means to repent and believe. As these are paralleled in the two sets of brothers leaving their livelihoods, their identities, family and support structures to follow Jesus. We often think that repent and believe means to give up some horrific sin in our lives and turn to God and some of us don’t readily relate to this.

But they also mean to leave what may be good and acceptable and seek something better :to follow Jesus. For many of us it may be like what humorist Garrison Keillor says “give up your good Christian life and follow Christ”.

Tim Keel who lecturers in “Missional church leadership” at Laidlaw college out in West Auckland says an alternative translation for the word repent would be ‘wake up’. People are invited to wake up from their sleep and see a greater reality beyond the nets of their lives. If you want references from science fiction movies you could say it’s a matrix moment where the main character Neo is called to wake up and see a greater reality beyond the one that has kept him captive. To repent is to wake up to the reality of Jesus.

In typical Mark fashion we are short on details. Luke and Matthew show us that there was more to these encounters. They had heard Jesus preaching. He demonstrated who he was in sending them out into the deeper water to let down their nets after they had been fishing all night and not caught anything. But again Mark tells us everything he wants us to know.

Simon and Andrew are out fishing. It’s how they make their living. They are casting their net into the Sea. Jesus comes past and calls out to them ‘come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. They leave their net and they go and follow. Jesus comes to another set of brothers James and John mending nets with their father and hired hands and Jesus says come and follow me and they get up and follow. You know this is quite a big move for them and us.

Firstly, It affected their net worth. These are not just some poor fishermen eking out an existence, we know that the Sea of Galilee was known throughout the roman world for its abundant fish stocks and there was a thriving export market in salted fish. In Mark 10 Peter’s words ‘Lord we have given up everything to follow you’ is not an idle boast they had given up a lot. James and John were in the prosperous family business, they hired other fishermen to work for them. To follow Jesus meant to leave this behind. It meant that their priority was no longer going to be hauling in the fish and the money but following Jesus and hauling people into God’s kingdom. Now the way that there was always a boat around when Jesus needed to cross the lake shows that they didn’t totally abandon what they had and we have the example of Paul who was able to support his missionary endeavours by being a tent maker. But to follow Jesus means leaving the priorities we have in our materialistic world and put Jesus and his kingdom first. In Luke’s gospel the measure of the depth of our discipleship is reflected in the depth it reaches into our wallets.

Our worth and value in life is no longer to be measured by what we have and our status, or our possessions but in Jesus Christ. “that’s my king do you know him. The parable that Jesus tells to illustrate that the kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price that a merchant finds in a field and is willing to give up all he owns to possess it. It becomes his networth

Secondly, It affected their networks. For James and John to answer Jesus call they left their father in the boat with the hired help and followed Jesus. Networks are the way we talk about the relationships we have that give us meaning and purpose in life. To follow Jesus means changing those networks of relationships. In some parts of the western church the Christian faith and family values have become synonymous, but when you look at the gospel its not the central tenant of the faith. We are called to even leave these commitments behind to follow Jesus. Now before you get too upset you’ll see that this wasn’t totally the case, Simon’s following Jesus led to the healing of his mother-in-law, we know that Simon later known as Peter took his wife on his missionary travels with him. But to follow Jesus means to put our relationship with Jesus first.

Leonard Sweet, uses the idea of a network of right relationships to express what it means to follow Jesus. He actually uses the more “in” word Matrix. Being a follower of Jesus is about having a matrix of right relationships: a right relationship with God, God’s word, fellow believers, others outside our faith, with God’s creation, with material things and the spirit world and at the heart of those things is having a right relationship with Jesus.

At the heart of this new network is being caught up in Jesus. To be a fisher of men first you’ve got to be caught. Follow me is an invitation to a relationship with Jesus, its knowing and being known by him. It’s an invitation to intimacy and being loved, but also to a being a follower and a learner (a disciple) letting someone else lead. Letting Jesus be at the heart of your universe.

The picture behind Sweets matrix of right relationships is a great illustration of this its a Hubble telescope picture of the cross that appears at the dead centre of the vast whirlpool galaxy. This vast amazing galaxy of billions of stars M51 has at its heart and very centre and revolves round the cross. ( I must thank Louie Gigglio for this illustration).

Thirdly, Net worth and networks are like the strands that weave together to make our safety net in life. They are the things that make us feel safe and we can fall back on. You see in that after Jesus death Peter says to his fellow disciples “hey lets go fishing”. We see it in that phenomenon of our time ‘the boomerang generation’ adult children returning home to mum and dad when things don’t work out as they planned. But following Jesus calls us out from our safety nets, to follow with only the ever-loving arms beneath us around us.

Fourthly, Come and follow me meant that there network was changed. Their network of catching fish was their core business but following Jesus would change that. Not just their relationship network but what they did as well. They put aside their nets and Jesus said that they would become fishers of men. Jesus used their identity as fishermen to invite them into this new endeavour. They wouldn’t cast their net for fish but to follow Jesus means to do what Jesus does. To follow Jesus is to do network where people are gathered into the kingdom of God.

NT Wright says that following Jesus is making Jesus story our story and when we do that. ‘It will become your vocation’ he says

‘Everybody has their own role in God’s plan. For some it will be active, obvious, working in the public eye, perhaps preaching the gospel or taking the love of God to meet the practical needs of the world. For others, it will be quite, away from the public view praying faithfully for God to act in fulfilment of his promises. For many, it will be a mixture of the two, sometimes one, sometimes the other.”

Fishing for men and women starts with networking as well. The way that the good news spreads best is through friendship networks. If we were looking at John’s account of the calling of the first disciples you would see that it was people telling their friends and relatives about Jesus that meant that the disciples came to follow him. Andrew told his brother and then we have Philip telling Nathaniel. It’s the same process today.

We have come to think of evangelism and doing what Jesus did as something special. Jim Henderson says that we tend to think of sharing our faith as being personality or programme based. If you’ve got the right personality like Billy Graham or Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ you can do it, or if you’ve got the right programme like Alpha or Rob Harley’s Journeys you can do it. But in actual fact it is the ordinary work of ordinary people like us. It is a natural outcome to Jesus call to follow him. It comes in the simple acts of kindness, prayer and ‘gossiping the gospel’ simply telling people about this person Jesus and what he has done for us. “thats my king do you know him.

In the movie poster for the thirteenth floor is the image of a man before a door a way into the light. It’s a way into a new reality beyond the nets that make up his life. Today I really sense to leave you with the familiar words of Jesus. An invitation that does reach down to the very fabric of our reality, A door that Jesus invites us to go through.

Jesus said ‘come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. And they left their nets and followed him. What nets do you need to leave? What nets tangle you up that in the words of Hebrew 12;2 do you need to cast aside. What fresh challenge do these words have for you? What door are they open?

Jesus said ‘come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ and we need to leave our net and follow him.

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