Roger Bullard

Epiphany 3 – Guest Preacher Roger Bullard, M.Div. – January 24, 2021

Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…amen

Today, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. The Baptist has been arrested by Antipas.  Jesus, seen as John’s successor, is no longer safe in Nazareth and withdraws towards a new home in Galilee. From Galilee, Mark’s Jesus will go forward to reveal God’s message of salvation to all people. Yet the fullness of that message shall not be revealed until Jesus arrives on the cross in Jerusalem.

In our collect this morning you and I ask that we may be open to receive God’s call: “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.”

God’s children have responded to God’s call down the long path of time.  God calls Abram in Genesis: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Immediately Abram accepts God’s call.  A thousand years later the prophet Elijah calls Elisha.  Elisha pauses. But only to say farewell to his parents, to burn his plow and slaughter his oxen. Like Cortes who burns his ships, there is no return.

Call of the ApostlesToday as he walks by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon, who is called Peter. Jesus also sees Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea.  Jesus commands, “Follow me.” As with Abram,  immediately they leave their nets and follow him.  Just a few steps further, Jesus sees the two brothers James and John, in the boat with their father Zebedee.  Jesus commands: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people!”  Immediately they leave their boat and their father and follow him.

What’s going on here?  Jesus sees the brothers, they don’t see Jesus.  Jesus calls them, they don’t call Jesus.  Jesus could be just a guy walking along the beach. Wouldn’t a rational person ask a question at this point? How about: “sure, but where are you going?”

Jesus’ First Miracle

Business school offers tools for making decisions under uncertainty. The brothers could have applied a “T-analysis” to test the pros and cons of Jesus’ offer to close their going business.  They might have worked through a ‘decision tree’ to evaluate, then cost out alternatives…perhaps transfer the business to a family limited liability corporation or a blind trust, until they return.

The Four Brothers are faced with a life-altering decision. They are called to follow someone they do not know, along an unknown path, to a destination they know not where. They are called to forsake their entire livelihood, their tools of production, their lifelong relationships with customers and friends. They will abandon father and family. This unknown Jesus calls them to an undisclosed mission, towards a destination unknown.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”

You and I know the outcome.  We have read ahead.  The four disciples will travel the road that leads to Jerusalem, and the cross.  James will become the first apostolic martyr, beheaded by Herod. (Acts 12:2) Simon Peter and Andrew will follow soon after, to their own crucifixion. Of the twelve, only John is thought to have lived to a natural death.

Today you and I witness Jesus’ first miracle.  We witness the power of God’s words of creation in Genesis, now spoken through Jesus.  Through the power of Jesus’s words, ‘follow me,’ God calls the messianic community into being.  These four fishermen are at work, casting nets, supporting their families. They are not seeking a new life.  Yet at two words of Jesus, ‘follow me,’ they immediately respond. They abandon all they have known. They leave family, friends, and livelihood.

Of the four, it is possible the disciple John might have known of Jesus through his connection with John the Baptist.  But there is more to this than that.  God’s call is beyond human knowing.   Augustine tells us of God: “I could not seek you if you had not already found me.”[1]  Willingly, without hesitation, the four fishermen respond to the power of God’s call.

A word about the Gospel of Mark, as we enter his pages during our new Lectionary year. Mark’s is an urgent message: ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is near,’ the Baptist cries.  Mark’s God calls for radical obedience.  In Mark’s gospel, the word ‘immediate’ appears forty times, beginning with the instant response to Jesus’ call to discipleship.  They are called to be fishers of people. That promise finds fulfillment in Mark’s gospel as the twelve are reunited in Galilee to meet the risen Christ.[2]

The Power of God’s Call

9-11 Firefighters

(Photo by Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

We see the power of God’s call in our own time. Travel back with me to September 11, 2001. By 9:00 am the first responders approach the burning and collapsing World Trade Center. Among these are professional firefighters. They recognize the peril ahead. Yet in response to God’s love, they immediately respond to this higher calling.  431 of them will die as they labor within the inferno to save others in mortal danger.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us: “Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”[3] As the patristic scholar Robert Wilken tells us, “Love is the one human endowment that moves us to seek the face of God. [4] We are surrounded by this today, every day, as our health care workers put themselves at risk caring for us.

God calls us when we least expect.  Perhaps you have felt it as a gentle tug and only years later realize…’yes, yes, that was the special moment.’  God’s call may be dramatic, as St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus.  As the Benedictine Monk Jean Leclercq describes it: “the love of the world lulls us; but, as if by a thunderclap, the attention of the soul is recalled to God.”[5]

The Last Leaf

The Last LeafPerhaps God’s call came in a whisper, an awareness we were powerless to resist. Consider O. Henry’s short story: The Last Leaf.  Joanna is in bed, near death with pneumonia. She is convinced that when the last leaf falls from the vine she sees outside her window, she will die. In the apartment below lives the elderly artist Behrman. Behrman intends to paint his masterpiece, perhaps, one day. He is protective of Joanna and her twenty-something roommate upstairs. He is gravely concerned for Joanna’s state of mind. It is a stormy November night. Only one leaf remains on the vine. Behrman receives the call to paint his masterpiece.  In the alley outside, with aid of a torch he paints the remaining leaf…the last leaf that will never fall…on the wall outside Joanna’s window.  She awakes in the morning. Joanna’s leaf survives.  She begins her road to recovery.  Behrman has completed his masterpiece. The elderly artist is discovered that morning, in the alleyway, lying near his fallen ladder, dead from pneumonia.

Behrman did not see Jesus.  Yet he, like the disciples, was laboring along his personal lake of Galilee when the call came.  In his heart lived the call to paint his masterpiece.  He could not have found God, had God not already found him.

Amen

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Works Referenced:

 

This is a homily delivered to a congregation at Emmanuel Church, Newport RI on Sunday, January 24, 2021. I am indebted to William L. Lane for insights into the lectionary for the day, in his: The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans (1974)

 

 

Roger C. Bullard, January 24, 2021

[1] Confessions

[2] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans (1974), p. 67, 69, 589

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. SCM Press

[4] Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Seeking the Face of God, Kindle edition (Location 3069) Yale University Press (2003)

[5] Jean Leclercq, OSB, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, (Fordham University Press (1961), p. 30