A Miracle for Non-Heroes

One of the things I always do upon hearing a Gospel story, is try to put myself in it. That can be spiritually productive. But sometimes, it is just another opportunity to become anxious. So this morning, when I hear that the disciples just dropped everything as soon as Jesus wandered down the beach and said hello, I start to twist myself in knots about whether I could, would do that. Whether I have what it takes to be a disciple. I mean if Jesus wandered up to me in the checkout line at Whole Foods, would I leave my cart full of organic veggies and just wander down South Street after him? Or would I ask him to hang on a few minutes while I checked out, got the veggies home, and cleaned them and put them in the fridge? Because what happens in the story this morning is pretty much the leave-your-cart-in-the-line sort of call. He said, follow me–and they did. Leaving home, family, job- everything, to go with him.

What they each left, what we would leave, behind differs. Simon and Andrew didn’t seem to have a lot to leave behind–they were throwing their nets in from the shoreline so didn’t have boats. James and John, though, had a business complete with boats, and employees–not to mention their Dad, Zebedee–whom they left standing beside the boats while they scurried off down the beach following this decidedly odd Rabbi–disappearing into the distance as Zebedee stood dumbfounded. Rich or poor, though, both sets of brothers left everything that was familiar behind in order to go after a stranger who called them to follow.
And not only was that odd, but the whole order of the call of the disciples was unusual. Rabbis did not go around looking for students, students sought out Rabbis. Teachers would wait for a significant number of potential pupils to come to them so they could carefully pick and choose who was worthy to be their disciple. Only the brightest, most theologically sophisticated, most promising students got to stick around and become disciples, the rest were sent packing. No Rabbi worth his salt would have been out beating the bushes for disciples; and if he was, he certainly would not choose the first 4 people he laid eyes on. But that is exactly what happened. Jesus wandered out not among the elite, the sophisticated, the prosperous, but among ordinary, everyday working people and chose them, without an exam–without so much as a single question–to be his students and his friends.

And then things get really strange–because it works. They just say yes. Each and every one of them. He called, they followed. Whoa–we say. What courage! What faith! These were 4 extraordinary people who deserve all sorts of credit for responding the way they did!
Funny thing is, the way Mark tells the story, that isn’t the case. Because, at least the way Mark tells it, there was nothing hard about it at all. Jesus wandered up, called them, they dropped everything and followed. They didn’t know him, probably weren’t even super-religious folks, but they took one look at him and trotted off. No wrestling, no prolonged goodbyes with loved ones, no weighing out options, no speeches. Nothing except dropping whatever was in their hands and following.

As Barbara Brown Taylor, whose words and thoughts influence this sermon, sees it, this is not a hero story about 4 outstanding human beings, it is a miracle story. As much of a miracle as the feeding of the 5000 or the raising of the dead. Listen to the language of Mark’s other miracle stories: “Be made clean,” Jesus says to the leper, and immediately he was made clean. “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home,” he said to the paralyzed man, and the man stood up and immediately took his mat and went home. “Go, your faith has made you well,” he said to the blind man, and immediately he regained his sight,” “Follow me,” Jesus said, and immediately they left their nets and followed him. It is all over the story–this is not a story about the power of human beings to change their lives–it is a story about the power of God–to walk right up to 4 fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where a split second before there were none.

As much as we want to make stories about us, this one is not. It is about God–and about God’s ability not only to call us but to create us as people who are able to follow-able to because we cannot take our eyes off the one who seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be the food we seej.
This is indeed a miracle story–a miracle that happened to 4 ordinary people who simply allowed themselves to fall in love. Jesus wandered down the beach, they looked at each other, and that was that. God acted, and the disciples dropped their nets and took off.

Of course, that moment did cost them a lot–and they would lose an awful lot more before they were finished. But the accent in this story is on God and not on the courage of the 4 fishermen. Their minds were not on what they were losing, what they were leaving behind–their minds were firmly fixed on God’s next- on what they were joining and who they were walking with. Their hearts were set on what they were reaching out to find and in that moment, in that God filled moment, their lives flowed in the same direction as God’s own life. Their wills were not 2, 3, or 4, but one. The kingdom came–and it continues to come each and every blessed time our lives are brought into that same flow, so that we can allow ourselves to fall in love, and follow God, and can’t do anything but.

Despite the fact that I am standing in this pulpit, I am no expert, but I have a hunch that following Jesus is more about getting into that flow than it is about dropping our nets and leaving everything behind. It is possible that is exactly what God wants from us, but it is also possible that following means staying home. Means looking at life in a new way. Means staying where we are and doing a new thing right in place. Maybe even building something new right in place. It may mean doing something different with the fish you catch, or spending the money you get for them in a whole new way. It may mean revamping the whole business so everyone gets a living wage and so those without work start fishing too. It may mean doing less, not more–allowing time to watch how the light changes on the water in the late afternoon.
There are, in fact, endless possibilities for following. Some will be big and splashy. Some so small they seem insignificant. Whatever it is, the focus needs to be less on us and more on the miracle of discipleship. The God who called us can be counted on to create us as people who are able to follow. Whenever and however our wills spill into the will of God, time is fulfilled–immediately!–and the kingdom is at hand.

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