Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Our annual Congregational Meeting is today. We’ll be electing leaders for the next year or two or three. Let me tell you what the process is like. A group of people gathers around a dining room table. We have a list of the positions we need to fill, and job descriptions for each of those positions. Some of the people at that table have been around here a long time, some just a couple of years. But we all know what the work of the church is. We all know how important it is to find people who care about the church, and about each other, and about caring for God’s people. We want to get as many people as possible involved, but we also know that we have to be careful in our selections, so that the people we name will find a blessing in the work they are called to. So we start with prayer. We start with carefully, prayerfully considering each job, and each member of the congregation. Is this a person who will suit this job? Is this a job that will bring joy to this person? And then - each of the people around that table takes some of the names on our lists and asks those people, “Are you willing to serve Christ by doing this work for the church? Are you willing to accept this calling?”
And if they didn’t ask you that way, I’m sorry.
Because don’t be mistaken - this is a calling. Serving a congregation in any way at all is a calling. There is not one single position on this list that is unimportant. There is not one single person who was asked to serve who is just a body to fill a slot. The fact that you have accepted this calling is a big deal. It is important to the congregation, and it is important to God. And if you were asked but declined - that’s important too. It’s important to be true to your own needs, and if you need not to do this work right now, it’s good that you declined. Another time, perhaps, when you are ready. And if you have accepted a call, and now are feeling a little nervous, a little as if you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, don’t worry. There are others here who have done this job before you, and they will be happy to help you as you move into this new thing.
Jesus called these fishermen to do things they had no idea about. He said - come with me, and I will make you fishers of men. Come, follow me. And they did. They followed him. They didn’t even get a job description. They hadn’t been sitting here watching other people do the same thing. There wasn’t anyone around who had done this thing before. They just up and left everything they knew how to do and followed this stranger, this preacher man - and they followed him. They went where they were called.
Now, because I have been dealing with humans for my whole life, I suspect there was a bit more conversation between Jesus and the people he called to go with him than the gospel writers reported. I somehow can’t imagine anyone saying, “Oh yeah. I’ll just walk away from my home and family, leave my father here to do all this work by himself, desert my wife and mother-in-law, and go who knows where with this dude I never saw before.” I mean, Jesus needed people who cared about other people, and who were responsible adults. Just dropping everything to follow a random stranger isn’t really responsible or caring. I mean, Jesus probably knew them, knew their hearts, but they didn’t know anything about him. I think, probably, there was just a bit more contact before Simon and Andrew dropped their nets and the sons of Zebedee left their father there mending nets alone. I mean, Jesus wasn’t just going to the marketplace to pick up some olives and bread for dinner. He was going to wander around the countryside, preaching and teaching and healing the sick. Don’t get me wrong - I am a firm believer in miracles and things happening that we really can’t explain. But I also know that the gospel writers could only tell so much of any story. They could only report what they knew about the events in Jesus’ life. So maybe Andrew said to someone, “Yeah. When Jesus asked me and Simon Peter to join him on the road, we dropped everything and went.” And later that story became part of the narrative. It was true. But maybe not the whole entire story.
You may or may not be aware that I select a theme and scripture readings for each month well in advance, so that DeeAnne has the information for the Caller and the music staff has it for their own planning, for help in selecting choir music among other things. This month is about Discipleship and membership, and the title “Follow the Leader” just made sense for this particular story, especially as it fell on the day of our congregational meeting. And when I looked for images for “Follow the Leader” I fell in love with this group of sculptures by Stanley Proctor showing children playing Follow the Leader. In the children’s game, everyone does whatever the leader does. Anyone who can’t do whatever has to drop out. The game continues until only one person is left, and that person becomes the next leader. Sometimes the leader will do things no one has any trouble with. Sometimes the leader would do something that very few others could do as well, and anyone who failed had to drop out of line. Sometimes, the leader might do something dangerous or potentially harmful, and people will copy her so they don’t have to drop out. This may be where that famous parent line, “If you friends all jumped off a cliff, would you?” came from.
And because I am who I am, and I have all sorts of strange things wandering around my head, I spend most of this week humming Eric VonZipper’s theme song, “Follow your leader.” Who was Eric Von Zipper, you ask? Eric Von Zipper was the leader of the comical biker gang in the 1960s Beach Party movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. In all seven Beach Party movies, Von Zipper led his hapless followers from one hysterically disastrous plan after another to defeat the surfers! He was pretty much dumb as a box of rocks, but convinced of his own superior intellect and leadership ability. As the song says, “He is his ideal.” His followers may have been smarter than they looked, because they usually managed to pick up the pieces when his plans inevitably blew up in his face. But they kept following him in all seven movies, so I don’t know. Anyway . . .
It is critical to be careful about who you are following. Because this is neither a children’s game, where the last one standing becomes the next leader, nor a 1960s comedy where everything turns out perfectly in the end no matter what. This is real life. I promise you that the nominating committee has done their best to select responsible, caring leaders for the church, who will always listen to your suggestions and concerns.
If you are a person in a position of leadership, it is important to make sure your desires and plans line up with what is best for the people you lead. If they don’t match, choose to go with what is best for the most people instead of doing what you please. That’s not easy for anyone to do. We all have our own ideas of what we think would be best, for our family, for our friends, for our place of employment, and for our congregation. And that is why here we work in teams. No group or individual - not even the pastor (or maybe especially not the pastor) - gets to run over everyone else and have their own way. We work together to serve the church, to build up our faith, to build God’s kingdom on earth. We may not always agree with each other about how those things should happen, but we work together, in unity, for the good of all of God’s children, especially as they are represented here, in this church, in this city, in this time.
Jesus was going to lead his followers into danger, because he was going to lead them in opposing the ways of the world. He was going to preach against the status quo, and remind people what it is that God requires of God’s people. This is not conducive to an easy life. In today’s passage he chose people to follow him who had proven their willingness to face difficulties and to make hard choices. Fishermen, accustomed to facing violent weather, changing tides, seasons of plenty and seasons of want, times when prices were good and times when prices were terrible. He chose followers who were good people, responsible people, courageous people - and he led them to places they couldn’t imagine.
May we also follow Jesus as closely as his first called disciples did, going out into the world to do only good, to do God’s will and work, to change the world through an outpouring of the love that God has showered upon us.