SERMON Epiphany 3B 1/24/21 St. Michael’s, Norman OK
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
The Risks of Following Jesus
In 2005, right after a vestry meeting at my home church, where I served on vestry and as the treasurer, I was invited into the clergy’s office for a chat. This kind of meeting with the clergy leadership was not unusual, but the tone of the request was a bit different and a little troubling. I thought maybe I had done something wrong. It was a bit foreboding. One of the clergy, with a very serious and solemn look on her face smiled at me and said, “Walter and I have been talking about you, and we have something very important to ask you.” “Yes,” I said. Becky asked, “Eric, have you ever felt called to ordained ministry?”
My response was immediate and unfiltered, “are you crazy?” The words flew out of my mouth faster than my hand could cover my lips. It was too late, as my honest answer blurted out. “Me a priest, maybe they were crazy,” I thought to myself. As I look back to that day, I wondered if those two really know what they were asking me to do. Well, of course they did, they both had traversed this path themselves. As a result of this brief meeting and the subsequent faithful responses, mine and my spouse’s lives would be changed forever.
The life journey of a clergy person is one taken in faith, resulting in obedience to one’s bishop, a commitment to life of service, and a path that is often difficult and heartbreaking. It can also be filled with great joy and satisfaction as well. Nonetheless, it is a risky adventure, but not one set aside for clergy alone. The call to discipleship is offered to all Christians and if heeded and followed, it can be equally foreboding, fear-provoking, and yes, the call to “Come follow Jesus,” does come with certain risks.
Wikipedia defines risk as “ the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). Almost any human endeavor carries with its some risk, but some are more risky than others.”(1) Todays gospel reading tells the story about two sets of brothers, (Simon and Andrew, James and John) who took a huge risk to follow Jesus. Both brothers worked in the family business, and in a culture where hard work did not always equal a well-paid lifestyle.
The trade was health, the fishing abundant and it was an honorable living. Everything was fine for these two pairs of siblings, that is until a young upstart Rabbi came strolling along the shore one day. Jesus then stopped and said to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Come follow me.” With three words, Jesus changed their lives and the lives of their families forever.
Please know though that the four men had a choice in the matter. They could have said, “No, things are good the way they are now. We are comfortable and we like what we’re doing now, see ya.” However, they chose the risky path and not the easy path. All disciples of Jesus, make a similar choice to answer God’s call on our lives and to follow Jesus, or to stay in the place of, or pursuit of comfort and the good ole days. The question we all need to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing in this life, to drop our nets, or abandon those things and pursuits that could stand between us and Jesus?” Those four fishermen did not give it much thought, and just dropped their nets, left behind who they were, and followed Jesus. Have you ever considered why they would just do that? Why would anyone leave everything to follow Jesus? The only answer I can give, the only answer I gave when the invitation came to me was that to follow the one who loves us despite our brokenness and our failures, requires us to be willing to change. We must want to follow the one who loves us, when love is not deserved or warranted. We must want to learn to love, just as Jesus loves.
Because of the life of Jesus Christ and through his death, resurrection, and ascension, we have the clearest image of God’s great love for us; a love so great that he gave himself up to death for us. Scripture reminds us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT) Giving your life for someone is risky by the world’s standards, and it could be considered downright foolish. However, our path of discipleship (by the world’s standards) also is considered by some to be foolishness.
Being a Jesus follower is both foolish and risky. It is risky to let go of who we have been, to live in faith each and every day, and to trust in Jesus’ grace in all things. We are often risk avoidant, even when the outcome can be more than we imagine. I was watching a seasoned business analyst report on MSNBC the other day that the fluidity of the stock market, as a result of the ongoing pandemic, may not be the best place to make risky investments. He recommended viewers put their money in low-risk securities, but continue to invest and be patient and wait it out.
This is not foolish investment advice, especially for some of us who are watching our portfolios go through many ups and downs these days. Patience, waiting it out, and taking a breath in investing seems smart, but maybe it is equally advisable for disciples. Jesus calls us to follow him, and sometimes that kind of riskiness means we must trust. We need to trust in the abundance of God, to step out in faith and walk the path of discipleship, even when we think maybe our path is the better way. Jesus says, “Come, follow me; Come, be foolish; Come, take a risk.”
So, right now we are divided in our nation, we face the plague of a global pandemic, and the uncertainty of tomorrow. In these times, many of us staying home, and taking few risks with our health and our livelihoods. Now is the time to be patient, take a breath, and wait for God’s timing. Along with these challenges that we all face, St. Michael’s has experienced two unexpected and surprising changes in clergy leadership, and in less than a year. For any church, that is the kind of upset which requires some waiting, listening, and preparation for what is next.
Maybe now is the time to consider another form of risky and foolish discipleship. Maybe it is time to step out in faith and pursue a different kind of bold path. Maybe it is time to stop and take a breath. Maybe it is time to let the anxious desire to move forward too quickly, to be put on hold for a time. Maybe it is time to spend some time being faithful in our prayer lives, to remain faithful to one another, and to use this time of interim ministry to heal, to listen, and to prepare yourselves for what God has in store next. If we trust in God’s faithfulness, God will faithfully provide the help we need, and the help you all need at this time.
So, Jesus calls each of us to, “Come, follow me.” The Kingdom of God is near us right here and right now and that is risky stuff, but the return on investment for holy patience, faithfulness, and prayer is God’s abundant grace. In this life of faith, we do need to take a little risk, to be a little foolish, and to step out a little, and that might require us to take a breath and be patient. Jesus is calling all of us to leave our nets, or whatever binds us (anxiety, impatience, a return to what was), to leave it all behind and trust him. Jesus calls us to leave behind our old selves and to live fully into becoming the risk-tolerant, Spirit-filled people. So come, take the risk together in Jesus Christ, and spend some time allowing God to prepare you for the amazing grace that is before you. Jesus beckons us all to set aside our anxiety and fears, to trust him even in these ominous times. Jesus beckons us to peace and to “Come follow me.”