Trust and Obey

by Pat Lee

(Based on Mark 1:14-20)

We’ve all heard the verses of today’s gospel reading before, so the challenge for me was to find something that was different, but at the same time relevant to both the time for which it was written and for us today. I chose a paraphrase of verse twenty as the ‘sentence’, because it was the one that leapt out at me when I read it. This verse refers to James and John and it says he called them “and they followed.” It is similar to verse 18 which says, after Jesus had called Simon and Andrew to follow him and he would make them fish for people, ”And immediately they left their nets and followed him”. They are words of obedience and trust.

One of the writers I read while researching this suggested that these four men may have already met Jesus before this encounter beside the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had probably been in this area many times as Nazareth was within walking distance, but he had not aroused interest before, because his time ‘had not yet come’ for him to start his ministry. They would have seen him as an insignificant carpenter. A few verses in the middle of the first chapter of John’s gospel support this idea, at least for Andrew and Simon:
Andrew and another person had been listening to John the Baptist speaking when Jesus walked by  and John exclaimed, ”Look – the Lamb of God!” They started to follow Jesus who asked them why they were following him. They answered, ”Where are you staying?” “Come and see,” Jesus said. “They saw where he was staying and stayed with him until about the tenth hour (or four o’clock).” Andrew then went off to find his brother Simon to tell him that they had found the Messiah. He took Simon to Jesus who looked at him and said, ”You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas, translated as Peter.”

But this does not detract in any way from the significance of today’s gospel reading. As I said before, the verses in Mark speak of obedience and trust. As far as we know, they did not ask any questions, not a single one like, ”Hang on a minute. Where are we going? What are we going to do? How long will we be gone? What should we take with us?” They don’t ask any of these questions. They just get up and go. Notice that they don’t even bring in their nets. They leave everything, including James’s and John’s father, Zebedee. I wonder what he thought about it? They simply obeyed and trusted.

We all know the story of Jonah and how he ended up in the belly of a whale when he disobeyed God. But God gave him a second chance. Doesn’t God often give us a second chance too? He told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message that God gave him. Jonah walked through the city of Nineveh for three days proclaiming that in forty days the city would be thrown over. But the people and the king heard his message and turned from their evil ways. Jonah had obeyed God and saved the city of Nineveh.

I was living in Masterton back in 1977 when Jesus called me. At that time I was a member of the Masterton Amateur Theatrical Society (MATS) and was their Wardrobe Mistress as well as a member of the cast. We had a huge wardrobe which was full of all sorts of costumes and period clothes. I hired out clothes for centenaries, fancy dress balls and other functions all over the country. It kept me pretty busy. I also had a husband and three young children, did relief teaching, as well as doing two papers at Massey extramurally, plus I  belonged to various committees including the social committee for our society. But apart from my husband and family, Theatre was my main interest. I lived and breathed it you could say.  

A few days after making my commitment to follow Jesus, I had an overpowering conviction to leave MATS. I had been totally devoted to it but I wrote my letter of resignation and gave it to my husband to give to the committee at the next meeting. He could not understand my action then, although he did later, but gave it to them. They were totally surprised as well, but what a relief it was for me. I was filled with that wonderful peace, the kind you feel when you obediently do what God asks you to, even though you may not want to. We don’t know, but I have often wondered if Simon, Andrew, James and John felt a similar peace when they obediently left their boats and followed Jesus. And, for those of you who know that I’m back in amateur theatre now, it is with a very different attitude and with the knowledge that I am, because it is not ruling my life any more and it only happened after praying about it first.

The call to follow Jesus and commit to him requires our obedience. Jesus calls us because we have a quality that he sees in us that helps to further his kingdom here on Earth. We are not called because we have some special gift or talent, although that may also be so, but because he sees what we are really like and can do. He calls ordinary people like you and me. Just look at the bunch of men he called first. They were nothing out of the ordinary either, just a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors and so on. But he saw the qualities that were needed for successful discipleship.

These first four men were fishermen. These are some of the qualities that those fishermen had:

  • diligence. Fishermen are always busy doing something. God needs people who are not afraid to work.
  • patience. It takes time to find a good school of fish, and it takes time and patience to win others to Christ.
  • experience. Fishermen have an instinct for going to the right place and dropping their nets at the right time. Catching souls demands similar skills.
  • perseverance. Fishermen have to go from place to place until fish are found. God wants people who won’t give up when things get tough. Fishermen have to work together, and God’s work demands co-operation.
  • courage. Fishermen often face danger from storms and other mishaps. It takes courage to reach out of our comfort zone and touch lives in the name of Jesus.
  • humility. A good fisherman keeps himself out of sight as much as possible. A good soul fisher keeps himself out of the picture as much as possible as well.
  • faith. Fishermen cannot see the fish and are not sure their nets will enclose them. They have to have faith and trust in their fishing gear. Soul-fishing requires faith and alertness too, or we will fail.

Jesus’s call to the fishermen had two parts. The first part was, ”Come, follow me.” It is interesting to note here that Jesus asked them to follow him. The custom in Jesus’s day was that you went to ask a Rabbi if you could be his disciple, and then he either let you or he didn’t. If he let you become his disciple, then you didn’t follow him, but rather studied under him. However, Jesus was not asking them to study under him, but to actually follow him wherever he went and to learn from him. This was not a call to follow a religion or a set of teachings or a way of life, but a call to follow a person. It is still true today. Christianity is primarily about a person – the person of Jesus Christ. If you take Jesus away, you do not have Christianity.

The second part of the call has to do with the reason why Jesus calls us to follow him. He says, ”… and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus not only wants your loyalty and trust, but he wants to change you. He wants to make you into something you were not before. The call to follow Jesus includes the call to bring other people to God. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and so if you are following him, you will join him in this important task.

If that’s the call, then what is our response to it? It is the same as the fishermen’s, immediate obedience and trust. This is how we should respond to Jesus. But we don’t always do this. More often than not we take a long time to make the decision, and wonder why we hadn’t done it sooner when we finally get there.

Simon and Andrew left their nets behind. James and John left their nets, they left their boat, they left their family business, and they even left their father in order to follow Jesus. Does Jesus always call us away from our possessions, our occupation or our family? No, but he does call us to follow him without reservation or hesitation, which means we must be willing to leave all those things behind should Jesus so require.

This passage of Jesus calling his disciples is a challenging passage to us this morning. It is meant to be. It is meant to challenge us with the message of God’s kingdom, with the call to discipleship, and your appropriate response. That’s the call. If you are not following Jesus, then who are you following?

Jesus said, ”Come, follow me. And I will make you fish for people.” Jesus calls you to follow him, and in following him you are to bring others along. God’s kingdom is meant to be shared. We need to be wise and looking for opportunities to lead people to him. Is Jesus making you a fisher of people; are you being obedient to his call?

Let us pray: Jesus, you call each of us to follow you. Give us the courage to be obedient to your call, and to trust you for all our needs as we travel on this journey. Help us to persevere and to be patient in the tough times, and not to be afraid to speak to others about you and your love for them. Amen

How many ‘friends’ have you got?

I pulled into the carpark of a country café and, getting out, noticed a man who looked like an old friend.  I hadn’t seen him for ages, but features, mannerisms – they were all there.  Approaching him cautiously, I said, “Excuse me, are you … [Jim]?” No, was his reply.  I apologised, explaining that he looked just like an old friend.  To my surprise, the guy threw his arms around me and said, “No, but you look like a pretty good friend to have!”  We laughed, and that was it, but I came away thinking, what a neat experience.  I was touched by his response, and his words.

They set me to wondering how many friends an average person has, and Professor Google gave me some interesting morsels:

The average American claims to have about sixteen friends (in a 2019 survey – see https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/new-study-claims-that-the-average-american-has-this-many-friends).

If that is a surprisingly high number, the report also said ideas of friendship seemed to vary through different degrees of companionship, and some respondents “seem to adopt a generous definition of the term”.  But, by and large, the 16 friends reported were made up of three friends for life, five friends that the respondents “really liked and would hang out with”, and the remaining eight were people that the respondents liked but would not bother hanging out with.

In contrast, a similar (2019) poll in the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/jun/25/why-do-britons-have-fewer-close-friends-than-people-in-any-other-country) found Brits average 2.6 “close” friends.

According to an MIT Review, humans can only cope with a maximum of five friends in their closest circle.  Having too many friends can result in stress because the demands on a person to fulfil the friendship role can be greater than their ability to enact the role.

It’s not weird to have no friends: some less gregarious people prefer smaller groups, and have simply not found that friend they would enjoy having.

Friends often drift apart because their lives change (new job, marriage, baby …) or when they no longer share the same things in common.

Friend-making ability tends to peak at around 23, and declines as the years go on.

The average number of Facebook ‘friends’ is said to be 338 for adults!  (And you can ‘unfriend’ them if they annoy.)

How many friends do you have?  Do you care?  Some kiwis, social bunnies, have plenty.  Others prefer their own company and have few.  Do we even need close friends?  People have a whole range of contacts, acquaintances, workmates, drinking buddies, partners, old school mates … 



I warmed to that guy in the carpark.  I wonder if we could have become friends?

Ken F

Mainly because it’s topical

Three year old Jason was chasing five year old Robert.  R slammed door on J.  When J’s fingers were in the hinge jamb.  And jammed were J’s fingers, taking on a decidedly flat look.  Squeals of shock and pain.  Robert’s even greater shock, when he saw the damage he’d done.  The consequence he’d never anticipated when he’d slammed the door.

A child’s ability to foresee consequences is limited.  Most adults are better at it.  Actions have consequences, right?  It hardly needs saying, but who knows who is reading this.  Donald Trump might well get to our website, because Twitter and Facebook are now no-go zones for him.

I remember my third form geography teacher leading us through anthropological development from hunter-gathering to farming to urbanisation to the need for laws and regulations because, he taught, actions have consequences and one man’s (well, this was a boys’ school) rights must not be pressed at the expense of another man’s rights.  He lost us at the use of “anthropological”, but for some reason the memory of the lesson remains, because the need for law and order suddenly made sense.  Laws arose to limit bad consequences.

“A man,” said Mr Sinclair, “can do whatever he likes, as long as his actions don’t hurt others.  To ensure that, we have laws.”

Some, though of adult appearance, have not learnt nor, at least, embraced, Mr Sinclair’s truth.  Whatever we think of Donald Trump, and, amazingly, based on the same presenting evidence, some people love him and some hate him, he is a man who either doesn’t realise that his actions/words have consequences, or he doesn’t care.  Did he know what he was doing when he told a crowd of stirrers and ‘patriots’, “… we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. … we’re going to walk down to the Capitol …” and “… you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong”?  (You can read the whole inflammatory speech at https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-told-supporters-stormed-capitol-hill/story?id=75110558.)

Did it occur to him that such words would have consequences; or did he know it but not care, or even intend it?  That’s what the impeachment process will need to decide, and he may face other further consequences. 

But, unlike Robert, I can’t see young Donald learning from his imprudence.

Ken F

The Plunge

by Sharon Marr

(Based on Mark 1:1-11 )

Dearly beloved, you will be forgiven for thinking you have heard this just recently, and indeed you would be correct.  In fact it was the reading for the second Sunday in Advent, just a month ago, verses 1 – 8, which our sister Joan preached on so well saying that Mark’s story really is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and that we here today are part of this on-going story, called to participate in the continuing spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time.

So today we continue in the story, and in the next three verses, find Jesus now at the Jordan. Mark doesn’t beat about the bush with any preamble he simply states that Jesus was baptized by John.  But as in all good stories it is what happens next that is life changing.  In that moment Jesus is situated in the past, present and future of God’s movement. It is not what Jesus does that is of primary significance, but what God does to him.  When Jesus comes up from the water he experiences three things, that in Jewish tradition signifies the launching of God’s kingdom.  The heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the heavenly voice speaks to him.

God’s dramatic acknowledgement of Jesus makes it clear that through the words and deeds of Jesus, we humans are encountering the enacted intentions of God.  The word became flesh, and this baptism marks the defining and indispensable start of Jesus ministry.

Jesus’s ministry thus begins with the voice of God ringing in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

What a wonderful thing for a son to hear from his father!  I suspect that there are many adult children today who are walking around with a big empty space inside, because they just aren’t sure whether or not their parents are pleased with them.  In some cases those parents have been dead for years, but it doesn’t matter; that big, empty space is still there.  But here we have God the Father, right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before he had healed anyone, or told any parables, or done anything out of the ordinary at all, saying, “You are my beloved son, and I’m very pleased with you.”

So the first thing we notice about the baptism of Jesus is that it was God’s assurance to him that he was indeed God’s beloved son.  The second thing is that it was the beginning of a new life for him.  Up until that time, he’d lived quietly in Nazareth with his family. But now, at the age of thirty, he came to the Jordan and was baptized by John.   From that point on, he left his old way of life and plunged into three years of public ministry, in which he announced that God’s kingdom was coming, and showed by his actions what God’s kingdom was all about.  

Baptism speaks to us today of becoming God’s children, welcomed into the family of God, His beloved sons and daughters .

A young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize … you guessed it … his three cats in the bathtub. The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tom cat rebelled. The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the ‘ceremony’. But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face. Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be a Methodist if you want to!” 

Quite cute isn’t it, but shonky understanding!  We are followers of the way, and worshippers in a tradition. The point of this little aside is to remind us that Jesus did not go under the waters of baptism a Jew and come up a Christian but, rather, Jesus went under the waters of baptism and came up empowered by the Spirit and filled with the love of the Father, to live out the will of God for us on earth.  ‘The word became flesh’, and the flesh brought the Word.

Our Anglican service of Baptism begins, “Dear friends in Christ, God is love, God gives us life.  We love because God first loves us.  In baptism God declares that love; in Christ, God calls us to respond.”  And just as Jesus received the affirmation of his sonship before he had done anything spectacular to earn it, so too God declares that we are his children as a free gift, an act of pure grace – which we don’t have to earn.

So when we were baptized, we too were set down at the beginning of a new way of life.  And the way will be, according to Debbie Thomas, “wild water”, because if indeed our baptism involves a participation in Jesus’s baptism, and if Jesus’s baptism launches his ministry of suffering and obedience, then our baptism must include a similar expectation and acceptance of self denial.  From baptism onwards we and all those others who follow Jesus inherit the mission of declaring and embodying God’s reign.  And how should we do that?  By loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The best way I know to love God is to love what God loves—which is everything! Surely this is the way that Jesus loves. You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and one purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! Love begets love.

In Mark, we see the new order is coming in:  Jesus says, “See, I am making all things new” … you and me.  Are you ready for the wild water?  Well I hope I will be able to follow my dear grandson’s example in this.  Remember the story I told you about Steffan, when he jumped off the Tairua bridge for the first time, aged about 7, and nearly drowned?  When I asked why he had jumped when he couldn’t swim, his answer was, “I didn’t know I couldn’t.”  Let us, beloved family, have that same trust to plunge forward in the wild water of discipleship, following the way of Christ, bearing his message of love.  Let us trust that we too can participate fully in the continuing, Spirit-led, transforming movement of God-with-us in our own time … we are, after all, God’s beloved.  Amen.