Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Faithful Followers" Sermon for for SUNDAY, January 21, 2018 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
~ Mark 1:14-20

"Faithful Followers"

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week we read in the Gospel of John how Jesus had begun to call his disciples. We learned of his call to Andrew and Simeon, and to Philip and Nathaniel, the one under the fig tree. Today we read in Mark, how he called these men, who believed in Him, into a new and different life. We will see how in faith, they followed Jesus, and how we, church, in and by faith follow Him also.

Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan, and there received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who descended on Him as a dove. At His baptism, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” And so Jesus enters into His ministry on this earth, proclaiming the Gospel.

And that is where our reading today in Mark picks up. John who had baptized Jesus had been arrested by Herod. This Herod was the nephew of the King Herod at Jesus’s birth, who had killed all the baby boys of Bethlehem. Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (verse 14). Here we see two things. First, that Jesus is proclaiming. This is the beginning of His work, as the Father had said, “Listen to Him.” Second, His message is a message of repentance and of the kingdom of God, very similar to the message of John. John had just been arrested by King Herod. It would seem foolish to follow one who was proclaiming the same message that got John arrested. To keep proclaiming that message, the one that got John thrown in prison, one would either have to be fool or on a mission from God. There was little reason to follow such a proclaimer. To be a follower was dangerous. Following might get you arrested, too.

Now Jesus is walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee. This was a busy place for fisherman and merchants and the like. And He sees Simon and Andrew, and says “Come Here, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And right away, they do. They put down their nets, and follow him.

Just down the shore there was a boat. In it was a man, Zebedee, with his two sons, James and John. They had finished fishing and were mending their nets. Jesus called out to James and John, and they too, stopped what they were doing, and came and followed Jesus.

We see that Simon, Andrew, James, and John followed Jesus. What does it mean to be a follower? First, the follower is not the leader. And in fact, it takes a leader to have a follower. Two leaders are not leaders. They will tangle and rub against each other. And two followers are not followers. They are just lost together. The follower follows behind the leader. The leader decides to stop or go, turn left or turn right. The follower, as long as he is following, does not get to decide. He cannot just do it my way. The follower is not independent, not his own boss. It is the leader who leads, who decides, and who is responsible. The follower must be willing to surrender the right to make his own decisions over to the leader.

Second, because the follower is behind the leader, the follower does not get to see what lies ahead. Only the leader knows that. The follower simply walks in the path and footsteps of the leader. The follower cannot see ahead, he can only see the leader.

What does this tell us about following? Following is an act of trust. Following is faith in action. To be a follower, one must trust the decision-making to the leader. And to be a follower, one must trust the decision the leader has made. The follower follows because he trusts the leader. And when he stops trusting the leader, he will soon stop following. Following and trust are tied together. The follower has faith in the leader, and a faithful follower will follow his leader. Why? Because he has faith in the leader.

Well, now, what about those disciples? Jesus called the disciples to a life of faith, a life of faith in Him. Notice how when He called, they came right away? Now, how is that? Remember, Jesus was proclaiming repentance and the kingdom of God, just as John had done. You can see where that had gotten John. And the danger was the same for those who followed such a proclaimer.

A follow would have to decide: This Jesus was either a fool, or He was true, and on a mission from God. Yet these disciples came right away. How did these disciples come so quickly? They came because of the call of Christ. Christ called them. His Word, His call gave them faith, faith in Him. By that faith, they knew that He was true. They knew He was not a fool, but on a mission from God. And by that faith – that trust – they followed Him. They could not see what all lie ahead, but they trusted Jesus. In the past, they made the decisions about fishing. But now Jesus would make the decisions. They had faith and trusted Jesus. Their following was a result of their faith. It was their faith in action.

What about us? What about you and me? Jesus has called us, Church. He has called us to a life of faith in Him. Do we ever feel that life is out of control? Yes. And it is. Life is out of our control and in the control of Jesus. He is leading. He has called us to trust Him and to follow Him. What happens when we are not content to be the follower, and try to be in control of our own lives? We get all tangled up. How, then, do we follow Jesus? By trusting Him. To follow Him we need not work harder at following, we need only trust Him. How do we trust Him? By faith. Faith which He gives us through His Word.

What about our lives? What will this year bring? Or what will tomorrow bring? We do not know. We cannot see ahead. But we have One who can and who does. Jesus sees what is to come. We need only follow. And to follow we don’t have to see the future, we only need to see our leader, Jesus. And we do see Him. We see Him by faith. We see Jesus by faith when we hear His word. We see Him by faith in His body and blood. We see Him by faith when He receives our prayers.

Just as the disciples, it can be dangerous to follow Jesus. And just like them, we must decide whether this Jesus, who calls us to repentance and into the Kingdom of God, whether this Jesus is a fool, or on a mission from God. And how do we know? By faith. The faith we have received from the Apostles, the faith we have received from God by His Word. He has called us by His Word. And by faith we believe. We know that He was and is on a mission from His Father. We know that Jesus is true.

Like the first disciples, we follow Jesus by faith. We cannot see the future. But we see our Savior. We can and do trust Him, with our lives now, and in His forever kingdom. We follow Him by believing. We have been called to be His people, His followers. We need not work harder at following Him, doing it in our strength. Rather we follow by believing and trusting Him. We have believed His word and repented. And faithfully we follow, day by day, step by step, trusting Him to lead us. For His kingdom, the kingdom of God, is at hand.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, our hope and strength, without you we falter. Help us to follow Christ and to live according to your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Sermon contributed by Rev. David Roth, Zion Lutheran Church, Owensville, Missouri on Jan 24, 2015.

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