Thinking Through Discipleship

by | Jan 24, 2021 | Sermons

Thinking Through Discipleship

On the surface our passage from Mark once again looks like a straightforward call of discipleship. However, as we have learned we should never assume that things are straightforward. This morning we look at the call of four disciples, two sets of brothers Simon and Andrew and James and John. 

Questions to ponder:

  • What do these calls of discipleship have to say to us about following Jesus today?
  • How does the profession of those being called inform the story?
  • Would you leave your job and immediately start following Jesus, with no prospect of earning an income?

We are thankful for the musical leadership of Carolyn Hyma our Choir Director. In today’s hymns you will hear Janet Leadbeater and Diana Carr. 

Scripture: Mark 1: 14-20

How does one start following Jesus?

If I were to ask you how you became a Christian, what would the story look like?

Did you have a moment of epiphany, where all was clear, you saw the light and knew to trust in Jesus? That may be the case. Or, was your journey to becoming and identifying as a Christian a more gradual journey. Your family always attended Church, you went to Sunday School and learned about God. At some point you came to realization of what this meant in your life and decided with your head and your heart to follow in the way of Jesus. To become a Christian.

I identify with the second of these. In fact there was a period in my life where I wasn’t sure and part of my growing closer to God occurred while not attending church very often in my late teens. I had been baptized and had affirmed my faith, all things we ask people to do, but there was something I felt I still needed to explore. Perhaps I needed to know what my life was like without the church in order to appreciate all that it offered and all that I could offer.

If you read Mark’s gospel, it appears like a call to follow Jesus is an instant thing. Jesus calls, you answer. That’s just how it works. That’s what happens with the brothers Simon and Andrew and a few sentences later it happens with the brothers James and John. Jesus calls, they answer. These four men were actively engaged in their livelihood when Jesus called. They left the fishing nets on the boat and started following Jesus. Jesus tells them they will now be fishers of people.

Why follow Jesus? What was he offering? At this point Jesus is a nobody travelling preacher. Scott Hoezee puts it this way, “Fishing had been the source of their livelihood up to that time.  Was Jesus promising them a more lucrative way to make money? That seems unlikely. Jesus did not look like someone who offered riches. But maybe he did look like someone who offered these men a chance to bring people into that kingdom whose nearness Jesus had been talking about ever since arriving in Galilee. And maybe the thought of reeling folks in to that better place was just intriguing enough as to have been part of what motivated these men to start modeling their lives on the life of the man whom they did not previously know but who seemed to believe in a future greater than could be imagined in that present moment.” (Scott Hoezee)

Perhaps Jesus knew this about these men and had sought them out because of it. Perhaps the conversation was longer than is recorded in Mark. Ultimately, we don’t know and can only work with what we have. We do know that Jesus had been proclaiming the Good News, perhaps they had heard him preach and now when he shows up in front of them asking them to follow them, they decide to do just that.

What is evident is that Jesus is proclaiming something new and the seeds of that message took root in the hearts of these men sufficiently enough that they decided to follow. I hope that is also true with you when you consider your reasons for following Jesus, for being a Christian. That the proclaiming of the kingdom is something new within society. Even 2,000 years later, it is not fully realized within society. In fact, we may be no further ahead as a people than when Jesus walked the Earth.

A large part of following Christ is discerning how that call plays out in tangible ways in our lives. Though we confess that we are saved by grace, the knowledge of this motivates us to do God’s work in the world for the benefit of the kingdom.

Prof. Matt Skinner writes, “One of our greatest challenges as we navigate our calling to public ministry is telling time.

“Is my service to this community winding down, or just in need of some fresh initiatives? Is this the occasion for leading from the front or from behind? Is it time to shepherd this congregation into a period of challenge and discomfort? Do I tell them that the clock has run out on an old, tired program? What does the current hour demand?” (Matt Skinner)

Skinner writes these words for Minister’s, but I believe they apply for all followers of Christ. As we move through the different seasons of our lives, our ability to serve changes. The needs which require addressing also change. We may find that something new takes root that provides aid in a better way than we can provide and so rather than compete we alter our focus. To be sure there are individuals who for their lives or careers have a singular focus, but I would argue that for most of us the way we serve the kingdom changes, just as the seasons change. This is healthy and good.

If we view this story as an it’s time story, I wonder what the present time of Covid-19 might be telling us about the way we do things and if it isn’t ‘time’ to give up certain things or change certain things. If we might reimagine our own calls to discipleship and service. Often when monumental change occurs in our lives we have to reflect on the activities we take part and make modifications. A new relationship, the birth of a child, a new job, retirement, an illness. All of these and more cause for a change of season within our lives, which may prompt us to ask, ‘is it time for a change?’

What is clear is that Jesus isn’t inviting Simon, Andrew, James and John to leave what they know for something easier or more lucrative. Jesus is inviting them into a relationship and on a journey which will change not only their lives, but other lives as well. This is the effect that the call of discipleship has on our lives.

Prof. Osvaldo Vena writes, “I would like to suggest then that the purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth. Doing this will require that we make a preferential option for the poor, the dispossessed, the excluded, and those who because of gender, sexual orientation, race, or class have been rendered invisible in our society.” (Osvaldo Vena)

Vena implies that our task as followers of Christ is to make a difference. The difference we make is by establishing the kingdom of God. A society based on equity and fairness, which seeks to address the socio-economic and political inequities that face us. This is not a romantic notion of discipleship, it isn’t all hymns, laughter and smiles. It’s not that these things aren’t present, they are, but much of the hard work we are called to do isn’t appreciated by everyone. Some profit from the inequality that exists within society and will oppose change.  

We have been fortunate over the past few months to be part of a new initiative here in Cobourg. Since the late summer I’ve been in discussion with community partners about creating a warm space for people to use during the winter months. In late December, partnering with Northumberland County and Greenwood Coalition we opened an overnight Warming Room. This past Wednesday we opened a daytime location. These are temporary respites for those who are homeless, who have no home to remain at during this lockdown period, to take advantage of and get warm. It is one way that we here at St. Andrew’s can say that we are making a preferential option for the poor. We are allocating our resources to make this happen. We are doing this because we believe how people are cared for matters to God and that this initiative can be viewed as part of the work of the kingdom.

As we travel through this year I am sure we will encounter other ways to do this work. To call others to come and follow, to help in the work. Perhaps we will find ourselves called to work alongside another, all for the blessings of the kingdom. We don’t do the work because it makes us materially wealthy, we do it because it enriches our spirits and the lives of those around us. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website. 

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