Creekside Church
Sermon of January 24, 2021

"Net Gain"
Mark 1:14-20

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! I mentioned two weeks ago that we’ll be spending some time together in the gospel of Mark through the month of January. If you want to do some reading, perhaps as while you’re spending time at home because of pandemic restrictions, you have four great options in the gospels. They each have their own flavor, but Mark is the earliest gospel written, the shortest, and the most direct. We talked about Jesus’ baptism two weeks ago; Jesus has been tempted in the wilderness by Satan; John the Baptist has been arrested; Jesus has started his ministry; called disciples; and we’ll hear about how he healed people. And there are also lot of demons, as we will hear the coming weeks. That is all in Chapter 1. If this were a work of fiction, reviewers would call it a “page-turner.” We’ll be hearing about fisherman today, and we’ll get to the demons later. I’m told there’s a difference, but maybe not in the way in which you’d think.

After the two short verses which follow Jesus’ baptism, which give Mark’s summary of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness, John the Baptist is arrested and Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, the region where he grew up. For the time being, he is alone: proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is near and that folks should repent and believe. Mark doesn’t tell us if anyone actually did repent and believe: we don’t know how people responded to Jesus in the first flush of his ministry. I take some comfort in this, frankly. Not every ministry takes off like a rocket at the beginning -- in fact, in my experience, most ministries need some time to build momentum, and part of that process is building a team. Which is where the fisherman come in.

We assume, because of accounts in other gospels, that Jesus went home to Nazareth and began is ministry there. As you can see, Galilee is a region, not a specific place. Far from the religious and cultural center of Jerusalem, Galilee was peppered with little towns and low expectations, thus, the snide comment from Nathanial which Tim noted last week, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” If you can see this map, you can see that the Sea of Galilee is over on the western edge of the territory, about 15 miles away from Nazareth. In the Old Testament, this body of water was called Yam Kinneret(h), Harp Lake: Kinneret means “harp” -- the musical instrument -- because it’s shaped a bit like a harp. Locals also called it Lake Tiberias or Lake Gennesaret. The Jordan River flows through it, so it’s a fresh water lake -- an especially valuable resource in a desert country. Jesus probably avoided Tiberias: Tiberias was a city built on a burial ground, or cemetery, which made it unclean -- spiritually polluted. We know from the next passage, Mark 1 verse 21, that Jesus was headed to Capernaum; to get there, he walked along the Sea of Galilee and probably saw something like this.

And this is where Jesus started building his champion team for the ministry of saving the world. This is a photo of a couple guys waist-deep in water with a net on a framework, basically scooping fish out of the water. Not necessarily the professionals who seem best-equipped -- not even for fishing, let alone for the kingdom of God and sharing the good news of repentance and salvation. Jesus had never even seen these guys before, hadn’t checked out their profile on Indeed, or vetted their background and qualifications. We have to believe that Jesus was aware of something which is not obvious from Mark’s account, because without preamble Jesus calls out, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And you know what happens, right? Simon Peter and his brother Andrew immediately left their nets and followed him. And a little farther down the shoreline, Jesus sees James and his brother John, and calls to them, and they leave while their father Zebedee staying behind in the boat with the hired men. So here’s an obvious and perplexing question:

They just left? Is that what we’re supposed to do? Just walk away from our jobs and our families and responsibilities and just leave? Those are intended to be rhetorical questions -- I didn’t expect you to shout “Yes!” or “No!” -- but if you are thinking Yes! Everybody should drop everything and follow Jesus, God bless you, but I’m not sure how that is going to work. And if you’re thinking No, that couldn’t possibly work, than what is this story doing in our Bibles?

I believe this story of Jesus calling the first disciples is true. The details -- there aren’t many -- are less important than the message. And what is true about the message is this: if you’re going to follow Jesus, you have to leave something behind. You don’t get to claim a new life and keep holding on to everything about your old one. We cannot say “From now on I’m going to follow Jesus, but nothing about my life will change.” Fishing nets represent a former way of life -- not an evil one, but perhaps not a really fulfilling one either. Peter, Andrew, James and John were willing to leave their nets and boats behind because of the possibility of something better. I’m not sure what they thought “Fishing for people” was all about, and at no point in their interaction does Jesus say, “Welcome. By the way, I’m the Son of God, and if you stick with me I promise that you’ll gain everlasting life.” Nor do the fishermen look at each other and say, “Surely this man is the Son of God! We’d better do whatever he says.” We’ll find out next week who does recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but there’s no evidence that these fishermen did.

We’ve heard a lot in this country over the past weeks about unity. Most politicians seem to think unity is a good thing, but that currently it doesn’t seem like there’s enough to go around. There’s a lot of talk about unity in the church, too. This conversation has become particularly painful and relevant as Church of the Brethren congregations have been leaving to form their own coalition of congregations, or just leaving altogether. I’m not going to tell you that the path to unity is a simple one, any more than I’d tell you that everybody who wants to be a follower of Jesus ought to just walk away from work one day, leave their families, and abandon their responsibilities. But I believe there’s a truth here which applies to personal relationships, the church, and national politics: you have to give up something of lesser value in order to gain something of greater value. If Peter, Andrew, James and John thought their profession and their possessions were the best things they could possibly have: “Five generations of men in my family have been fisherman!” “My grandfather gave me this net!” “Fishing is my way of life!” they would never have followed Jesus. The only reason to give up something you already have is for the opportunity to get something better. Nobody signed any contracts, Jesus didn’t make any guarantees, but something about Jesus made those fishermen decide to take their chances. That is called faith. If you’re not willing to give anything up, you don’t have faith. Not in yourself, not in other people, not in God. Discipleship is not about how much we can accumulate: how much money, how much security, how much comfort. Discipleship is about following that lone figure who stands at the edge of the lake and says, “C’mon, let’s see what we can do.” It’s about net loss and eternal gain.

There’s nothing wrong with fishing -- some people do it all their lives, they can’t imagine anything else, or maybe they’re afraid to try anything else. There’s nothing easy about being a follower of Jesus Christ: it’ll take us places we didn’t expect, with people we don’t know and might not like, we’ll be asked to do more than we’re capable of, and we won’t always get it right. We have to believe that the net gain is worth it. That the struggle to figure out what we’re supposed to do, the repentance that has to happen when we realize we did it wrong, and the confession that has to happen when we injure other people in the process -- that is all worth it. Because Jesus is worth it: only with Jesus Christ do we find the grace to get up and try again, the purpose of bringing forth the kingdom of God, the mission of going to all nations making disciples in the name of Christ: wherever Jesus is calling us, it is worth it.

This account of calling the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee is a great story about discipleship, but it’s more than that: it’s a parable about faith. Most of us don’t have fishing nets which we carry around, but those nets are an object lesson to illustrate that if we are going to be followers of Jesus, we need to leave something behind: it might be something tangible -- stuff -- but it’s more likely to be something we can’t touch or feel, and maybe something other people can’t see: our pride, sense of entitlement, our grievances, our conviction that we’re superior to other people. Those are things which keep us waist-deep in the water, and unable to follow where Jesus is calling.

We’ll get to the demons next week, I promise. But this morning we remember people who were far from perfect, but had the courage to leave their old lives behind when Jesus said, Will you come and follow me? Jesus extends that invitation to each one of us so that we can search our hearts to find out what are we willing to leave behind in order to gain our identity as disciples and to draw near to the kingdom of God. Amen.


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