Sunday Night Worship – 1/25/09

Everyday Callings

Mark 1: 14-20

Here’s what I want to know: Were their nets full? Simon and Andrew were out there on the Sea of Galilee, like everyday, casting nets, waiting a minute or two while they floated to the bottom, then hauling in their catch. Then Jesus comes upon them as they are casting a net in the sea and offers to make them a different sort of fishermen. “And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1: 18). That’s all it says, but I wonder about the nets.

It’s true that I don’t really know anything about fishing. My grandfather took me, my brother, and my cousins once and all I remember is opting out of baiting the hook and, later when someone caught one, that splintery feel of fish scales on my hands. So I don’t know how long Simon and Andrew would have waited between casting a net and hauling it back in – and we don’t really know how much time passes between Jesus seeing them and coming up to invite them on the journey. It could have been moments or more.

I don’t get stumped by fishing questions often but when I do my source is Ernie. So the other night at dinner I asked Ernie about fishing with nets like the disciples used – nets that we observed our boat captain using as we crossed the Sea of Galilee on our trip earlier this month. I asked Ernie if there would be any waiting time after casting the net and he helpfully informed me that you pretty much get what’s there, wherever the net lands. Once it floats to the bottom you have either caught something or not and you haul it up right then.

So not much time passes between casting and hauling in but we still don’t know about Simon’s and Andrew’s net in this passage from Mark. They could have been looking at an empty net sinking into the water or they could have already felt the full and lively tug of a net filled with fish where it landed.

We don’t know, but it makes me wonder. Do you think it would have been harder to leave a net just cast and still sinking or one ready with a catch?

And what about poor Zebedee?! Here I am wondering about the fish potentially waiting in an untended net, but after Jesus takes Simon and Andrew away from their net, he sees James and John. They were also fishermen and Jesus finds them in their boat mending nets. Ernie was helpful here, too, informing me that mending nets – or at least tending to them, checking them over – would have been a regular, everyday chore, a frequent occurrence. That’s just one of the things you do when you are expecting to throw your nets out again. You take care of them and look ahead to the next day’s catch.

So Jesus finds James and John at this task and he calls to them. This time we don’t get to hear what he says but “[i]mmediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him” (Mark 1: 20). Here I was wondering about the fish awaiting Simon and Andrew in their net and poor Zebedee gets left in the boat with the hired help. Both his sons just take off and leave him there to mend nets with the hired men. They just walk away from their livelihood and their father, all in one moment.

I picture Zebedee as an old man with white hair and a long beard. I don’t have any particular reason for this, it’s just how I see him. Still active and fishing with his sons but a man nearing the end of his life. Because I picture him like this I wonder if he was worried when his sons left him. I wonder if he relied on them for his daily needs. I wonder if he’ll be able to keep fishing with only the hired help. Would James and John leaving so suddenly seem any different if I pictured them as teenagers and Zebedee as a man in his 40s?

Were the nets full? Was Zebedee ok on his own?

When I was going through the ordination process I noticed something about people who were what we call “second career.” These are folks who are coming to ordained ministry later in life, sometimes in retirement from another career and sometimes as a big shift from one career to another. When you are going through the ordination process there are a lot of retreats and clergy meetings and other events where you have to introduce yourself and give folks a sense of who you are, where you’ve been, and how your call brought you to that point.

One thing I noticed in these groups was a discernable difference in the way second career folks spoke of their call compared with how “first career” folks spoke. Almost without exception the second career folks spoke in terms of what they gave up. Big salaries, prestigious positions, dream house that was inconveniently located too far from a seminary… I used to find this tendency distracting and distasteful. To me, it came off as a needy way to let other people know how important they’d been “before.” It seemed like maybe they were still measuring themselves by the standards of those previous careers and lives. At the time, it seemed to me that they were being asked to describe their calls, not what they left in order to answer those calls.

But then here I found myself with this scripture from Mark wondering about those nets. Were they full? And does it matter? Does it matter what you leave or when? Does it matter how you’ve seen yourself “before” Jesus calls?

Perhaps so.

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After all, Jesus approaches people where and how they lived, doesn’t he? To Simon and Andrew, who are known as fishermen, Jesus comes to them in the midst of the ordinary everyday details of their lives and speaks to them in that language: You like fishing? You say you know a few things about fishing? Come with me and I’ll show you what fishing is really like – fishing for people.

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There is a way in which the disciples’ identities are allowed to remain constant. Fishermen are still fishing. Brothers are still brothers and still working side by side. But there are some stark differences and mighty changes, too, aren’t there? Fishermen have to change what they are hoping to catch – and learn some new skills to do it. Brothers remain in business together but have to walk away from their father.

I can hear Simon and Andrew, like those second career folks, saying to people they meet now, “We left our boat right there in the lake and followed Jesus. We didn’t even pull the nets up first. Just walked away. We used to be fishermen, you know. Good ones with our own boat.”

Or maybe they sound like this: “We used to know what we were doing and where to anchor the boat. There was a rhythm to our days and seasons and we were good at what we did, fishing. We think about all that sometimes and it was a definite choice we made to walk away from that life. But you know what? We weren’t just walking away. We were walking towards an abundance of life we never had before we followed Jesus. Before, on our best day, with fantastic weather and a haul so big the net broke, we did not know joy like this life we live now. The kingdom of God has come near and we are part of its unfolding!”

Maybe looking back and talking about the “before” reminds people of both the cost and the promise of their new lives in Christ. Maybe it’s not about jockeying for position but about reminding themselves of that moment, that choice.  Maybe it’s about recognizing the cost and honoring the promise.

There is something else I find interesting in the metaphor Jesus chooses when he calls Simon and Andrew. “I will make you fish for people,” he says (v. 17). Well here’s a question: “Do fish like to be caught?” (Hearing Mark, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, p. 17). They flail around desperately trying to regain their freedom, gasping for water. They don’t think to themselves, I know this is going to burn me in the end, but I just have to have that bait. It’s worth it. Nope, they struggle against the hook and the net and the hands taking them from the water.

And what about people? Are we all that interested in being caught? Or do we prefer our own identities and self-definitions and well-preserved lifestyles? Do we want to be followers of Jesus or do we want to make our own ways in the world? Do we want to lose our lives to save them or do we still think we might just be able to save ourselves?

What a strange and difficult metaphor for Jesus to use! Of course it connects the fishermen to what they have known, speaking to them from the very details of their lives. But also, imbedded in that call, is the warning that this path is not an easy one. Jesus is calling them and sending them out to try to catch people who have no interest in being caught. Welcome to kingdom work!

One more observation. We certainly have stories in the Bible witnessing to the truth that God makes big, lightening-strike sorts of interventions into people’s lives. There was nothing subtle about Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). But at least as often we see God entering into very ordinary moments and everyday details.

Regular folks, minding their own business, mending nets and working alongside family. Regular folks, minding our own business, studying in Alderman, cooking Thursday night dinner, listening to a roommate in trouble, walking across the Lawn to class. Christ is in the everyday details. God is coming to you in the ordinary stuff of life – friends, family, rainy days, lab…bread, wine, water. And we have the everyday opportunity to remember, claim, answer, and leave in the middle of what no longer gives life, what no longer defines us.

The net has been cast and it’s sinking. Maybe you’ll have fish and maybe you won’t. Does it matter now? Don’t you want to go with Jesus no matter what?

Look around. The net has been cast and, like those fish who don’t want to be caught, here we are struggling in the net, struggling to give our answer when Jesus calls out, “Follow me,” struggling to give our very lives to do just that.

Thanks be to God!

© 2009 Deborah E. Lewis

Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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