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FishingAnd Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they immediately left their nets and followed him.–Mark 1: 17-18 (NRSV).

The verse above comes to us courtesy of today’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark.  In this story, Jesus calls his first, and as it would turn out to be, some of his most important disciples.

We have Simon (later called Peter) and his brother Andrew along with James and John, sons of Zebedee.  But what is it that Jesus is telling these guys, and others, that gets everyone so excited?  We get a hint in verse 15: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of Heaven has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

It is this message that Jesus is delivering as he enters the area around the Sea of Galilee, and this is a message that would have been welcome to the local folks of the day, people who were living under the oppression of another kingdom: namely the Roman Empire. Certainly Jesus wasn’t the only one wandering around the area preaching against Roman systems of violence and oppression.  So there must have been something else….

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

While speaking to these Galilean fishermen, he comes to their level, and uses language that they will understand.  It must have struck a chord with them, because they IMMEDIATELY dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  The Greek word that is used here in Mark, “euthys” literally means “right then” or “forthwith.” In his translation “The Message,” Eugene Peterson says “They didn’t ask questions, they dropped their nets and followed.

That must seem so strange to us today, at least I know it seems that way to me.  For so many of us, our identity is wrapped up in our jobs, in the daily routines and rhythms of our lives.  In our day and age can we imagine people hearing a message like this and immediately leaving their jobs, families, and livelihoods behind to follow someone they had never met before?  Imagine a Wall Street Broker, a congressman, a CEO, or even a paycheck to paycheck worker doing this.

And it does seem foolish, doesn’t it? I mean to give everything up, to put it all on the line for something that you can’t get an earthly guarantee of success for, to willingly suffer…for what?

In fact, it does happen sometimes.  We look at people like that and find them plunging headlong into cults and things like Jonestown.  The perception is that they’ve got a screw loose somewhere.  It’s likely that some people that knew Simon, Andrew, James, and John thought the same things about them.

And it does seem foolish, doesn’t it?  I mean to give everything up, to put it all on the line for something that you can’t get an earthly guarantee of success for, to willingly suffer…for what?

To “fish for people?”  What does that even mean?  I think too often we as Christians think that it means we try to go out and make everyone else a Christian.  We need to go out and try to make everyone else believe all the same things we do.  “We don’t smoke, drink, or date girls who do!  You shouldn’t either!”  This “saving souls” thing, you go out, you get somebody baptized or get somebody to “accept Jesus” then whiz bang! You’re done!

Just the other day I read that Christians are often perceived as the used car salesmen of religion. Man, I identify with that. I see people clobbering other people over the head with the Bible, I see people passing off a message of “if you don’t join us, you’re going to hell.”  I see people saying “if you just accept Jesus, things will be better.”  I see this stuff, and I cringe.

The truth is, Jesus makes no such promises.  Jesus doesn’t say “Hey, Believe in me and your problems will go away.”  In fact, he promises the opposite.  He was killed, and most of his disciples were killed for what they believed.

Jesus’ idea of “fishing for people” isn’t to get them on the hook, give them the message, and toss them back.  Jesus is looking for people who will help him build what he calls the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  He’s not talking about some great big gold mansion in the sky either.  He’s talking about that Kingdom being here and now, and he wants to people to help him set that Kingdom up.

That Kingdom isn’t about domination and oppression.  It isn’t about making everybody be a Christian or else.  It’s not about who has the biggest, most luxurious church, cathedral, or temple to honor God.  It isn’t about going down the list of things you do and don’t do in order to pump yourself up into a righteous persona.

It’s about Peace and Justice, for everyone.  Peace and justice for men and women, black and white, gay or straight, rich or poor, Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, or whatever. You certainly don’t have to be a Christian or even religious to seek these goals of peace and justice.

For Christians however, this work stems from what I like to call “The Marks of the Cross,” as written in a Christian song from my youth:

“Praying, caring, loving, sharing
These are the marks of the cross.
Giving, bearing, feeling, daring
To lay down your life on the line
Forgetting what you leave behind
And willing to suffer the loss
Of the marks of the cross.”

These are the marks of Christ that we are called to follow, the marks that set him up as example for us.  He doesn’t set himself above us, he sets himself below us as servant. So often we sit in our church pews and forget about other people, unless we have a mind to convert them.

Yet I think the most effective witness to one’s faith is not a passionate talk, blog entry, or testimony.  In fact, I think it has very little to do with words at all.  I think has to do with deeds, with service.  The most powerful oratory has little staying power with people.  It’s gone once a new bit of powerful speech sways someone.  Doing something for others because you care for them, showing these Marks of the Cross, are things that people are more likely to remember.

One of the gentlemen in our Church spoke of just such an occasion this morning. He used to be a bus driver for Greyhound between Salt Lake and Boise.  He said he used to watch and see if there was anyone on his bus that didn’t have anything to eat, and if he found someone, he would buy them a meal at one of the stops.

She thanked him, and as he went to get back off the bus, he heard her crying. He went back to her and said, “Why are you crying? I’ve been broke and hungry before, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

One night he was stopped for a meal and he noticed that a mother with a couple of little kids hadn’t gotten off of the bus and gone into the cafe.  He got on the bus and asked the mom if she had anything to eat for her or her kids.  She told him no, she didn’t.  He told her to go into the cafe and get something to eat for all of them, and to have the waitress bring the check to him.

She thanked him, and as he went to get back off the bus, he heard her crying.  He went back to her and said, “Why are you crying?  I’ve been broke and hungry before, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

She replied, “It’s not that.  It’s just that right before you came back and got on the bus I prayed to God that he would feed my children.”

I’ll leave it at that.

Can we all work together for the Kingdom, for Peace and Justice?

“Marks of the Cross” written by Bob Hartman