"Why Them?"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 1/21/2018



Mark 1:16-20
“Why Them?”
January 21, 2018


            Almost anything I could say about this passage contains a good bit of speculation.

            Mark lays out the bare bones of the events in less words than would show up in a newspaper article, and it’s all facts. 

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  Immediately, he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

There’s no back-and-forth.  There’s no questioning about what this ‘fish for people’ stuff means.  There’s no discussion between the brothers or among the second set of brothers and their father.  Jesus shows up, says, “Come on!” and they go. 

           We get no information about why Jesus chose these four.  We have no idea what he saw in them.  We don’t know if he had been working his way along the shoreline and had called others to follow him who told him, politely or roughly, to get lost; they had better things to do.  (Maybe that’s why he added that tag line about fishing for people.  Get these guys interested and when they’ve taken the bait, reel them in.)  Maybe he already knew them or they already knew him. 

            We get no information on what motivated them.  Were they fed up with their lives and wanted a change?  Maybe Simon had grown sick of smelling like fish all the time.  Maybe James and John were tired of working for their father and only needed some small excuse to set out on their own any way they could.  Maybe Andrew saw this as his chance to travel.  If you let your imagination take over, you can come up with dozens of possible reasons that they would be more than ready to drop their nets and follow.  The gospels don’t seem all that interested in those questions.

           What really is of concern and of interest are the facts.  Jesus saw them.  Jesus called them.  They followed.  As far as that goes, that may be the most that anybody ever understands about how these things work. 

           Some people have elaborate and clear biographies of their faith.  In her book Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of a man named Stephen, who was one of the readers at an Easter Vigil one year.  As she tells the story,

“Stephen, our aging-movie-star-looking Fortune 500 company guy, wanted to do the Valley of the Dry Bones reading from the book of Ezekiel.

We Stephen walked up with a single sheet of paper, the light bouncing off his perfect head of salt-and-pepper hair, he said to us that he felt emotionally dead and that for this condition, nothing makes a difference:

No website;

No relationship;

No Mac computer or iPhone;

No exercise, no diet, no supplement;

No job, office, or title on my business card;

No amount of Diet Coke, good scotch, or bad beer;

No self-help book, therapist, or self-improvement class;

No car, house, or any other status symbol I can think to buy;

No movie or video game, and no matter how truly awesome Doctor Who is.

They have all done nothing more than temporarily anaesthetize the longing in my soul to be complete, to be whole, to be connected, to be okay, to love and be loved as I am now with too much weight, too much debt, too much depression, too much gray, too much geek, and not enough of everything else.

And I despair that my trip on this rock flying around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour is just some sort of sick cosmic joke.

But then I remember.  I remember the Valley.  The Valley of the Dry Bones.

God is talking to the prophet Ezekiel and guides him into something resembling a massive open grave.

It’s a valley covered, from one end to the next, with nothing but humanity at its core – dry bones.  In this valley there is absolutely no hope of life.

God tells Ezekiel to cry out, cry out to those dry bones, cry out to God’s children.  Tell them to rise, tell them to rise, tell them to listen to God and rise.  They listen.

And God lifts them up, puts them back together, and breathes into them.  And they breathe anew.  And God fills them with the Spirit.  And where there once was death, hopelessness, and despair, there is new life.

In hearing that, there is light.  There is hope.  And that is sufficient.[1]

Praise God for the work the Holy Spirit does in this man’s life, and in the lives of so many people.  Praise God for everyone who can say, “This was my problem, and this is how Jesus helped me.”  Praise God for everybody who knows (or can at least make some sort of reasonable guess about) what was going on inside them when they heard the voice of Jesus say, “Follow me.”  Praise God for the openings into human life that Jesus steps through to redeem them from deep trouble and to make the good cross over into the holy.

           But praise God also for the unknown and unexplained and barely understood ways that happens.  Praise God also for the routine and unspectacular, sometimes painfully slow ways that faith comes to be born.

           In the same chapter as she shares Stephen’s story, she tells about someone else who was present when he read his statement of faith.  (And I am going to clean up some of the language she uses, so be warned if you decide to read this book for yourself, which I highly recommend.)

“Religiously speaking, Andie had mostly been either nothing or Unitarian when she joined seven other people in starting House for All [Sinners and Saints Lutheran Church] with me in the fall of 2007. ... About six months after joining, she texted me, ‘Hey Rev, I may need some pastoral care.’

We met the next day for coffee, and when I asked her what was up she said, ‘I think I’m having a crisis of faith.’

To which I thought, What … does that look like for a Unitarian?

‘Yeah,’ she continued, ‘I think I believe in Jesus.’  Oh.  That’s what it looks like.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I replied.  ‘But sometimes Jesus just hunts you[…] down and there’s nothing you can do about it.’” [2]

            Why her?  I don’t know.  Why Simon and Andrew?  Why James and John?  Why you?  I don’t know.  Did Jesus call them because of the disciples he knew they could become?  Did they become the people we hear about because he called them?  I might say it was a little bit of both, but – then again – what do I know?

            I know that Jesus sees people and loves them.  I know that he speaks to their hearts.  I know that they hear, that they respond, that they follow, and that on the deepest of levels they are never the same again.  They stay themselves, but become more like the selves that God wants them to be.  We call that “redemption” and “salvation”, and it comes about through answering the loud or quiet call.

            And for Jesus’ constant invitation to all people, I praise God.


[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints (New York: Convergent Books, 2015) 147-149.

[2] Ibid., 145-146.

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