The Wonder of the Call
RUMC January 21, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil
Just before the Revolutionary War, John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, felt he needed to make a clear and strong statement to the King of England: that he was a true follower of the newly formed United States of America. The first to sign the Declaration of Independence, he signed large enough to make sure King George III could read his name without the aid of glasses. Hancock’s signature was a bold declaration that he was a true follower of this new nation.
When we follow Christ and answer his call, may it be similar to Hancock’s declaration of saying yes. My scripture text is Mark 1:14-20.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee; he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Today’s gospel story took place on the very beautiful Sea of Galilee, which is 14 miles long and six miles wide. Among those who fished in this lake were two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John.
Jesus said to the four fishermen, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” When you think of it, that was a strange way to start a following. Normally, if a rabbi wanted to gather a new group of students, he would sit in the synagogue and wait for new disciples to show up. But Jesus did not follow this method; instead he went straight to the lake and called Peter & Andrew; James & John from their boats.
What I find amazing is that none of the four fishermen questioned the call. They didn’t consult with their families. They didn’t wait to see if anything better were to come along. Nor did they ask what was in it for them. They knew there was something different about Jesus and decided to follow.
I believe most of us here at RUMC have answered our Lord’s call to believe and follow. Perhaps our call wasn’t as dramatic as what the four fishermen heard, but our call to discipleship was real enough to commit our lives to Christ.
I suppose the call to discipleship could be compared to the time when Baptist minister Jim Denison served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. During one of the worship services, a Malaysian teenage girl shared her faith in the small warehouse that was used for a church. Following her testimony, she was baptized in an old bathtub. While this took place, Rev. Denison noticed some worn out luggage that leaned against the wall. He was told that the girl’s father had threatened that “If she were baptized as a Christian, she could never go home again.” In response, the young teen brought her luggage to church. She understood the cost and commitment of discipleship. We have to give her credit because she made a difficult decision with the eternal consequences in mind.
Many of us became part of Christ’s family when we were baptized as infants. Later we made a profession of faith, this was the part when we became committed disciples. Others have taken different paths, but we are all here as disciple. Just like Peter, Andrew, James and John, hopefully our relationship with the Lord is personal and real.
When Jesus calls us to follow, we often receive that invitation in a church setting, but it can happen anywhere. The call to believe is the beginning point. Faith is linear; it starts with the presence of God in our lives and follows us until we reach our eternal home in heaven.
Christian author, Philip Yancey wrote an interesting book called, “The Jesus I Never Knew”. Yancey noticed a dilemma that many Christians have when it comes to belief and came up with an odd description called the Prozac Jesus. Let me explain.
- This is the mild manner Jesus who doesn’t really care what we do and will forgive us anyway as long as we are sincere.
- If we don’t like where our Lord leads or what he does in our lives, we can veto his plan.
- Essentially, we can do anything we want with his blessings as long as we don’t hurt anyone.
That is the Prozac Jesus and it is how a lot of people approach their Christian faith.
In true discipleship, it doesn’t work that way. What Jesus offers is a present experience and a future expectation. The kingdom is something that can be grasped and experienced in our hearts, but it is also futuristic in a sense that we will live for eternity.
When our Lord calls, our response is voluntary and we have free will. However our Lord expects something in return: a sense of immediacy, a sense of conviction, a sense of commitment; a sense that we will turn our entire lives over to him.
Along these lines, there is the story of one who responded to the call; but not in the same usual way. A surgeon in Erin, Tennessee, Dr. Doren Edwards shared this story of one of his former patients, a woman named Blanche Bennett. It seemed that Blanche had more than her share of troubles: her alcoholic husband had died, there was tension in the family, finances were tight and she didn’t feel well. She saw Dr. Edwards about some physical problems, and through extensive testing she was diagnosed with stage iv cancer. Unfortunately the cancer had progressed to the point where there was no realistic treatment left to halt the spread.
As you could understand, Blanche was devastated when she received the news. Dr. Edwards, who was a devout Christian, wanted to talk to her about her faith, but she didn’t want to hear it. However, she reluctantly accepted a pocket New Testament from the doctor. Several weeks later, Dr. Edwards read in the obituary page of a local newspaper that Blanche had died. In Blanche’s memory, the doctor donated some Bibles to an organization called the Gideon’s who distribute them to the military, hotel rooms and college campuses. Shortly after that, Blanche’s daughter called on the telephone. She asked Dr. Edwards, “Could you please send us a Bible like the ones you donated in the memory of our mother. We don’t have one at home”. Then she told this story. The last six days mom was alive, her whole life had changed. She was no longer bitter, and she wasn’t afraid to die. Her mother said something about knowing Jesus, and wanted to be buried with her Bible in her hand. So she asked the doctor if he could give them a Bible so they could find what their mother had found in that book. Dr. Edwards sent them a Bible, and shortly after that three members of the family heard the call to believe and asked Christ into their lives.
When our Lord called the first disciples, it was to follow him. To follow is a verb of motion. It is not static or motionless.
Let me tell you what eventually happened to the four Apostles.
- When the Apostle Peter was older, he was crucified upside down in Rome.
- The Apostle Andrew went to Greece where he too was crucified on an X shaped cross.
- The Apostle James was arrested and was put to death by the sword in Jerusalem.
- The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos where he was released and was the only one who died an old man.
But I don’t think any of them had any regrets.
Let me close. Just as those early disciples were called:
- We too are called to follow the Lord in the midst of our busyness.
- We too are called to follow the Lord in the depths of our pain.
- We too are called because our Lord needs us to complete the building of his kingdom on earth.
Have you heard his call?
- He speaks to us in our worship services.
- He speaks through other people.
- He speaks through the still small voice.
- He speaks through our conscience.
If you have never answered the call, don’t wait for a more convenient time, because it may never come.