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I Will Make You

St. John’s Lutheran Church
21 January 2024 + Epiphany 3b
Mark 1:14-20
Rev. Josh Evans

What was he thinking? Inviting fishermen to follow him? Not exactly the upper echelon of society – but smelly, day-laboring fishermen without any formal education or social standing. People the world would just as easily cast aside.

It’s almost as absurd as God’s persistence in calling Jonah who actively runs away in the exact opposite direction and as far away as possible to avoid what God is calling him to do.

Surely the God of the universe and the Savior of humankind could have figured out a better plan and chosen better and more qualified, respectable, and eager people to do their work.

And yet, here we are: in the boat with fishermen who haven’t the first clue about what they’re getting themselves into – and alongside the newly regurgitated Jonah who didn’t even want to be there in the first place.

But that’s the remarkable thing: These stories remind us that God calls those who think they have nothing to offer – and on purpose – and even those who actively run away. These stories remind us God can and does accomplish God’s purposes, even through the failures and shortcomings and hesitancy of those whom God calls.

All told, these stories remind us that it’s not about us. It’s about God.

Maybe you hear this call story from Mark’s gospel and immediately gravitate toward those enigmatic words, “fish for people.” Or in the dated, but ever-popular, words of the 1927 song by Harry Clarke, “fishers of men.” Maybe you even sang it in Sunday School once upon a time. (Maybe it’s stuck in your head again right now.)

What does that mean? “Fish for people”? If we continue to follow Jesus’s metaphor to its logical end and consider what happens to fish after they’ve been caught … that doesn’t exactly sound like an activity I want to be a part of.

The Sunday School song doesn’t go that far, but it does quickly turn a story about discipleship into a directive about evangelism. Suddenly it’s not about who we’re called to be, but what we’re expected to do.

Catching fish. “’Hooking’ them for Jesus,” as Debie Thomas puts it, reflecting on her evangelical upbringing. Getting them to church, to “accept” Jesus, to make sure they’re “saved.” Truth be told, that sounds like more of a trap and less of an invitation – even a little arrogant, that “we” have to pull “them” in.

It’s a good thing that’s not our Lutheran theology though. It’s a good thing we don’t trap people like those Christians. It’s a good thing we’re not nearly as pushy – with our “Get Connected” cards in every pew, our flashy banner touting “progressive thinking,” our often over-the-top invitations to the eucharist, reminding as much ourselves as anyone else that we welcome all.

To what end? Because we sincerely want people to be embraced by the radically and extravagantly inclusive love of God for them?

Or: Is it just our version of “fishing for people” – “catching” them with our clever taglines touting how refreshingly “progressive” we are, in order to fill our pews and inflate our membership rolls and bottom-line?

Regardless of religious ideology, we’ve taken Jesus’s directive to “fish for people” and run with it to advance our own agendas of preserving the institution of the church as it always has been – when it very clearly is no longer working “the way it used to be.”

We take Jesus’s directive to “fish for people” and run with it so quickly that we miss the first part of that sentence: “Follow me, and I will make you…”

The action is not primarily ours, but God’s.

When the question is “What are we inviting people to?” … we put ourselves in the place of the host – the ones in control – and from that point of view, there is little, if any, room for surprise – or for grace.

Except – Jesus is the one inviting us.

“Follow me,” he says. An imperative so simple, it’s disarming.

Not “believe this doctrine” or “sign on to this cause” … but “follow me.” Walk alongside me, “come and see” what I’m about, and I will make you – I will transform you.

Therein lies the miracle of this call story: that Jesus invited fishermen to follow him … “and immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

What was he thinking? Inviting fishermen to follow him? Jesus saw in them – these ordinary, run-of-the-mill people – gospel potential. Jesus needed them – these fishermen – not the powerful elite, not the religious professionals – but these fishermen – to help him proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.

We often think of being “called” exclusively in the particular sense of a religious vocation, but it’s stories like this that remind us that is simply not the case.

Each of us is called to follow Jesus – to be “representatives of God in the flesh in our spheres of influence.” (Joy J. Moore)

St. Óscar Romero, the former activist and archbishop of San Salvador, puts it this way:

“How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work, that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench, and each metalworker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, is performing a priestly office! How many cab drivers, I know, listen to this message there in their cabs; you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.”

Each of us – each of you – a representative of God in the flesh in your own way, from your own life experiences, in your own spheres of influence – showing up and walking alongside Jesus and one another, in accompaniment, in relationship, and in compassion, bearing God’s message of peace and love to everyone you encounter, in the particular way that only you can do.

It’s not about numbers. It’s never been about numbers. It’s about people. People who are hurting. People who are desperate for a word of good news.

“We are all tempted to think we are not the type for such a life,” one biblical scholar (Erin Dufault-Hunter, Connections, Year B, Vol. 1) says, “yet the calling of these fishermen reminds us that Christ first invites ordinary, hard-working people to join him as friends, companions, and co-laborers.”

None of us is too ill-equipped or unqualified, too old or too young, because at the end of the day, this isn’t about us.

It’s about God – and what God can do with and through us.

“Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you.”

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