Sunday, January 21, 2024
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Will you come and follow me?

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

The calling of James, John, Andrew and Peter

Our gospel today is one of those passages that are easy to sit back and say, “Wow, I could never do that. Just jump up and leave everything behind. That’s wonderful, but I’m not Andrew, Peter, James or John. Besides to respond like that you have to be someone special.” Then we pass on to the next part of the story secure in knowing that this really is not something the God would expect of us.

Well, maybe that’s true or maybe we just have a simple story with a lot of detail left out. Stop and consider what is not written here in Mark, but is in some of the other gospels. It is important to remember a fundamental piece of information about the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s gospel is the earliest and shortest. I liken the four gospels to four different television news stations. Mark is your local news. He assumes you know a lot about the subject. For example here in Houston our local news might do a story about an accident on one of the freeways. There is an assumption that we as locals we know what they mean when they use a name rather than a route number.  Why, because we all know what it is. However if it were a story that made national news, then a lot more explanation would need to be included. So we know that much is left out of Mark not because it did not happen, but because the readers knew the information.

Now our reading today starts after a clear break. The previous passage is about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. We open today’s passage with the news that John the Baptist was arrested. Then Jesus declares the Kingdom is near, to repent and believe the good news. Now that statement by itself is worth a sermon and I will come back to it. Does it say how long a period of time had elapsed between his temptation and this move to Capernaum?  There is no sense of time between the temptation and John’s arrest.

Then there is another gap of undetermined time before Mark states that Jesus was walking on the shore and encountered Peter and Andrew. Is there anything in this account that tells us this is the first meeting between Peter and Andrew? No there is not.

According to the Gospel of John, Peter and Andrew were followers of John the Baptist and he is now in prison. They may have been at Jesus’ baptism. According to last week’s gospel they were certainly in the area. It is possible that these two followers of John went with Jesus to Capernaum and along with others adopted Jesus as their teacher. While there, others in the town come and heard the charismatic preacher, maybe even the two sons of Zebedee. So would it be that surprising that they would pick up and follow Jesus? What if this story is Jesus saying in effect, “OK my friends enough sitting around here it is time to take this show on the road”?

Now to me this makes a great deal more sense. However, this interpretation also is far more challenging because this interpretation is one that places this response to the call of Jesus into something we could see ourselves participating in. We cannot accept this version and then skip on saying, oh well this does not apply to me. I could never suddenly drop everything and follow Jesus.

Sudden or not they responded.  What is important is that they came to a moment of decision and they said yes to Jesus.

It is very easy to focus on the call and miss the opening declaration. The two are equally important and belong together. That is because the reason for discipleship is the proclamation of the Good News. Without the Good news there would be no need for disciples. So what Jesus is looking for are people who will share the Good News.

I changed the hymn that we sang before and after the gospel reading. I did this because in a video I was showing to the Wednesday theology lunch I learned that the Summons was written within the last 25 years and came out of the monastery on the Isle of Iona in Scotland. It was written to send out a group of 30 members of the community who were going to do service in poor communities all over Scotland for 2 years. Did they leave suddenly, probably not but the important thing is that they went. This is a group who responded to a gospel call and chose to follow Jesus.

We have a wonderful parish, but almost many of our recent visitors have come from somebody searching for a parish online. Now a good online presence is essential, but the vast majority of people who join a church do so because someone invited and welcomed them! Our Facebook page does help with getting people in the door, but you all need to be the ones who welcome them, talk to them, make them know that they are important to God and to us.

What’s more we are called to offset the bad press the church has been getting over the past several years. I hear people crying where are the moderate Moslems to put a moderate face on the faith and control the radicals. Well I had an Imam once say in response to that question, “where are the moderate Christians to put a moderate face on Christianity. All we see is radical angry Christians” Think about that for a moment. The media consistently paints all Christians as ultra conservative fundamentalists. Some because they think that’s the way we should be and others because they see this as a weakness.

We all know that we at St. Paul’s are anything but fundamentalists in the derogatory use of the word. We are fundamentalists in that we believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and does in fact bring good news to all people.

A blog on Patheos said this so well.

“That’s why we desperately need more Christians who are willing to make room within Christianity for people who just aren’t sure, for people with nagging doubts, and for people who just can’t believe the way tradition says they are supposed to. We need Christians who will be companions along the Way with the doubters and disbelievers not guardians of orthodoxy erecting walls of exclusion to keep them away until they come around to orthodoxy.[1]

St. Paul’s is just such a place. So what holds us back from living as disciples? You do not have to hit the road and give up everything to be a disciple. In fact we use the word disciples in our core values several times, because that is what we expect all of us to be, disciples. Being a disciple doesn’t mean putting on a clerical shirt and running a church! My job is to empower you all as disciples.

Fr. Tim Schenk an Episcopal Priest in Hingham Massachusetts, whom I got to know a little while in that diocese wrote this magnificent description of living as a disciple:

  1. Know Jesus. It all starts with relationship, which only happens through an active and engaged prayer life. “Pray without ceasing” is the ultimate goal which doesn’t mean you have to walk around on your knees all day but rather that your entire life becomes an act of prayer. To truly know Jesus is to be spiritually plugged-in, something that happens through spiritual discipline (the root of the word coming from disciple, not pertaining to punishment). Read the Bible regularly, pray daily, worship weekly and you will come to know Jesus.Follow Jesus. It always comes back to discipleship. Model your faith in the way you live your life. Be mindful of your relationship in your interactions with others; in the way you treat those in any need or trouble; in the way you treat strangers and loved ones alike. Use your hands and heart to make a difference in the world in ways both great and small. Participate in your community of worship as an active participant not a passive observer.

    3. Share Jesus. You have likely experienced moments of grace and transcendence in your own life. Have you hoarded them in your heart or have you shared them with others? We need to get over our ecclesial reticence in order to be part of the conversation. Otherwise, the harmful Christianity of the headlines wins. If we keep our faith locked up within the decorative confines of a heart-shaped box, we’re not being truly faithful Christians. If you can’t “Go tell it on the mountain,” at least go tell it on social media.

    We know and proclaim a God of love and justice and inclusion; a God who is accessible and inviting and compassionate. A God who is full of joyful surprises and absolutely nothing like the God of the headlines.

    Know Jesus, Share Jesus, Follow Jesus. It’s time to take our faith back.[2]

And to that I say AMEN!