Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Unity Sunday at Valley Grace Brethren

1st Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20

 The older I get, and the more times I read this little story, the more I am convinced that it is one of the most difficult passages in the Gospels.  I guess when I was younger and had less attachments, before I had a wife and children and a career and a home, I took it a little easier.  Now sometimes I read it and I try to put myself in the situation, and I realize how difficult it would be.  I wonder, “How would I have responded if Jesus had said to me, ‘Put down your nets and follow me?’”

 I’d like to think I would say yes, since I am a believer today, and I did say yes when I experienced a calling of God on my life to enter a certain profession.  But God’s calling on my life was not nearly so dramatic.  When I became a Christian, it didn’t happen all at once, it was a journey of about nine months from the time that God started working on my heart to the day I said yes to Jesus.  And it was several years in the making that I experienced a calling into pastoral ministry.  Maybe that’s just my personality coming out.  I don’t make big decisions suddenly.  I have to work them out.  And in the case of God’s calling on my life, I had time to acclimate myself to the idea. 

 Some Bible commentators try to soften the force of this episode.  They remind us that at least three of these men, Peter, Andrew, and John, knew Jesus for some time before he called them.  And I would imagine all four of them knew Jesus before this moment.  John and Andrew were followers of John the Baptist before becoming followers of Jesus.  John the Baptist told them to go after Jesus.  So we know that they were men who were looking for God and God’s will.  And we don’t know how long Jesus was ministering in Galilee before he called these four.  I would imagine all four of them heard Jesus on several occasions before he called them.  

 The Evangelist Mark doesn’t mention any of that because it just wasn’t important to his reason for writing.  Mark’s Gospel has been called the Gospel of Urgency, possibly because he was writing in the midst of a time of persecution.  In his Gospel, everything happens breathlessly, everything happens suddenly.

 And regardless of what happened before this moment, this was the moment of decision.  Regardless of how many times these men had heard Jesus, this was the moment when he called them to follow him.  This was the moment of decision.  

 There’s a big difference between listening to someone and following someone.  Plenty of people listened to Jesus, but only a handful followed.  On one occasion, Jesus

preached to a crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children, perhaps 20,000 people.  But when he sent out his followers, he sent out 70 of them.  And even at the end of his earthly life, after the resurrection, there were still only 120 gathered in the upper room at Pentecost.  And I would say that today, there are a lot more people who “listen” to Jesus than who follow him.

 This was the moment of decision, and Jesus left little room for indecision:  Come, follow me.  Leave your nets behind; and I will make you fishers of men.  Jesus made an urgent calling on their lives.

 His calling came in the midst of their everyday, ordinary business of life.  They were just finishing up their day’s work of fishing.  That tells us that it was morning, because on the Sea of Galilee, fishing was done at night.  In the morning, they would sell their catch, mend the nets on the shore, and then they’d go home to sleep.  

They probably never imagined that this day would be the first day of a whole new life for them.  They weren’t seeking God at the moment, but God was seeking them.  They were very ordinary men, and probably they figured that meant that God had no great use for them.  

 But God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  One of the very few times in my life that I truly believe I heard the voice of God speaking to me was when I was still wrestling to accept God’s calling to go into pastoral ministry.  I felt overwhelmed by the thought of it, and I said to God, “You must have the wrong person.  I’m nobody special.”  And I distinctly heard God say back, “It’s not about who you are, but about what I can do through you.”  

 We do ourselves a great disservice when we say, “I’m just an ordinary person.”  God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Be attentive to the calling of God on your life in the midst of your everyday living and business.  You never know when God may speak to you.

 The second thing I want you to see in this passage is that there is always a cost to discipleship.  There is always a cost to following Jesus.  

 Peter, Andrew, James, and John paid a price to follow Jesus.  They were fishermen, and fishing was a good job.  It was a middle class occupation.  That might not seem extraordinary to us, but in the first century world, very few people were middle

class.  More than 90 percent of people were poor.  And these men were not.  They were in a good profession, and they were doing well at it, well enough to own their own boats and to be able to hire men to work for them.  They left good jobs.

 James and John left their father.  That was a big deal in their society.  In first century Hebrew culture, loyalty to one’s family, and especially one’s father, was second only in importance to loyalty to God.  

 And they left their homes.  They left the village that they’d probably lived in since the day they were born.  They left the comfort and security of being in their own home, surrounded by their neighbors, knowing what each and every day would hold.  They went with Jesus out onto the road.  They went to places they’d never been, with people they’d never met.  And on several occasions, they found themselves in “hot water,” even at risk of their very lives.  Eventually, most of them paid for their discipleship with either death or imprisonment.  

 There is always a cost to discipleship.  And there will be a cost for us as well.  Most often, God does not call us to pick up and leave the life we’re living.  We’re usually not asked to change professions or to leave our home.  But if you were, would you?  

 And even if we’re not called to leave our life as it is, there is still a cost to discipleship.  It may be ostracism or persecution.  It may be the loss of relationships.  Over the years I’ve known a number of Christians who have lost family relationships because of their decision to follow Jesus.  Some were even thrown out by their parents for their decision to follow Jesus.  And at the least, following Jesus will call us to live by a different set of values, and that will cost us some of our own hopes and dreams and aspirations.  

 That leads me to our second passage for the day, 1st Corinthians 7:29-31.  

 It’s obvious to me that the sense of urgency in the lives of the disciples continued into the first generation of the Church.  If the present order, if the world around us as we know it, is passing away, then we should not be bound up in anything that is part of it.  Do not allow personal relationships, even marriage, or the circumstances of our lives, good or bad, or our business affairs, or anything else in all of creation prevent us from serving Jesus Christ.  We must live in the world, but we should not become attached to its values.  We should regard everything in such a way that we do not overvalue it, or confuse it with what is truly most important.  

 This is very difficult stuff.  And I am finding that it doesn’t get any easier.  Instead, I have found that the longer I live as a Christian, the more difficult it is to be one.  The longer I am a Christian, the more the Holy Spirit challenges my values and my aspirations.  

 Fifteen years ago, if the Steelers were on TV, I watched them and never gave it a second thought.  I like football, so I watched them.  But now, I find it more and more difficult.  I find myself questioning, “Is this really how I should be spending my time?  Might there be better uses of my time?”  

 Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to buy something, I bought it.  Now I find myself questioning everything.  “Is this really the best use of the money God has entrusted to me?”  Now I look around at the “stuff” I have and wonder if I’ve become too attached to this world that is passing away.  

 I didn’t use to think much about those things.  Now I do.  Being a follower of Jesus has become more difficult, not easier with practice.  And I expect that trend will continue.  Maybe this is why so many people start following Jesus and then turn back.  

 Let me close with this thought:  Do we still believe that the time is short?  Do we still believe Jesus is Lord and his will is the most important thing?  Where is our sense of urgency?  Where is our sense that today is the day to do what God wants us to do and not to put it off?  

 Following Jesus means placing our loyalty to Jesus above all else.  And that’s very difficult to do.  Will you do it?

Verse of the Day...