January 22, 2012
Some of you may well have heard me say that this is probably my favorite story in the Bible. It’s got, at least, two things going for it that are real important to me. The first is that it reminds us that Jesus’ primary concern, what his whole life and ministry hung on was this thing that most Bible translators call the Kingdom of God. It was the most important thing to Jesus, even though in many church circles it remains unheard of. And where it does get mentioned it often seems to be reduced to or confused with heaven. But that’s not what the Kingdom of God is about at all.
Part of the problem is that word kingdom. Not only are there the inclusive language issues, but there’s the fact that kingdoms meant something to people, lets say in England in the 1600’s, but not hardly anything to us now. We need a better word. That’s why I like what the folk who appreciate the work of Renee Girard have come up with, The Culture of God, or even my own much simpler take, The Stuff of God, the way God wants this world to be.
So Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus began proclaiming; not just talking about, not just mentioning, not just saying, but proclaiming the Culture of God, the Stuff of God. And he walked right up to two pairs of fishermen and said “Come follow me.” And they did. That’s the second part of this story that I like.
Jesus didn’t preach to them. He didn’t go over a religious tract with them. He didn’t make them sign a statement of faith or say anything about getting themselves saved and into heaven. He didn’t tell them anything. All he said was “Follow me.”
Simon and Andrew dropped their nets, and James and John looked at their Dad, the hired hands, and the boat, and went with Jesus. It’s an amazing story. And it’s not hard to kind of wonder how you would do if Jesus came along while you were at work or school or sitting on the front porch with family and friends and said, “Hey, come with me.” Or maybe it’s not hard to figure out at all. Probably stay just where you were. How the disciples were able to do that, I just don’t know.
Rev. Kate Huey, who writes for the United Church of Christ’s Sermon Seeds blog says that comparing and contrasting ourselves with those first disciples may not be the best way to look at this story. She points us to a sermon “Home Another Way” where Barbara Brown Taylor for an alternative viewpoint.
“Taylor,” Huey writes, “says that this is not a story about the disciples, but a story about God.” And Huey writes,“to focus on what the disciples gave up (and whether we could do the same), is for Taylor ‘to put the accent on the wrong syllable’. This ‘miracle story,’ as Taylor calls it, is really about ‘the power of God – to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.”
Taylor also writes “What we may have lost along the way is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hapless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.”
I agree this is a better way of looking at this story. The focus is not what would we do in such a situation, but what God might do with us if we just up and followed Jesus.
Jesus never told those first disciples where they were going. But we know it’s going to have something to do with the Culture of God, or the Stuff of God. And we also know if the disciples, as inept as they were, can go on that journey with Jesus, we can too.
When I think about the Culture of God I go right back to the creation story in Genesis. When God was creating the world we read that by the sixth day, God was really getting into it. God looks at everything and says, “It’s good.” And then after creating humankind in God’s own image, and finishing up with the details of creating the world, the narrator says God was right, “it was very good.”
Jesus knew that the world that God created was very good. Obviously, we have managed to bring some things into this world that are not so good. But I think Jesus’ invitation to follow him is to discover the world that God made, to discover that Culture of God. That’s not an easy thing to do. Jesus, and almost all of those first 12 disciples, plus many other folk along the way, were killed for seeking the Culture of God. But Jesus knew that as chancy as the whole enterprise was, they could trust God to be with them on that journey to wherever they were going, because Jesus trusted that God is a God of life.
If we are going to discover that world that God sees as good, even very good, there are some words we need to keep in mind. These really are, I think, words to live by as we follow Jesus and seek the Culture of God. They come up in the Gospel and all through the Bible; words like kindness, gentleness, mercy, forgiveness, love, peace, compassion, hope, faith, trust, goodness.
Have you all heard about the Kansas legislator who is telling people he is praying for Barack Obama’s death and wants others to join him? I may not know everything the Culture of God is, but I know some of what it is not, no matter how well such rants are received in some churches. That is not the proclamation, the good words of the Culture of God. It’s the ugliness that Jesus wants his followers to counter.
When those guys went fishing, they didn’t take their fishing rods and pluck a fish here and there out of the water. They threw their nets in and went for a lot of fish. Much of what is seen as evangelism is the fishing rod method, plucking people here and there out of the muck of the world and landing them in heaven. But Jesus was calling those first disciples to cast the nets and start a movement, the God Movement, which isn’t simply about saving a person here and there, but discovering the goodness of this world that God made. That movement is the path to salvation.
This is an amazing story, those guys dropping their nets and following Jesus, especially when you read the rest of the story and see how clueless they were so much of the time. Jesus, obviously, didn’t invite them to follow him because they got it, because they were so spiritual.
Like us, like our own stories, they were, though, the raw material that Jesus knew God could work with. This actual first miracle Jesus performed by the lake that day still continues in us, even if Jesus has to smack us upside the head.
Who knows where this journey with Jesus is going to take us? But it will be the pathway of life. And even if things get hard there is going to be kindness, gentleness, mercy, forgiveness, love, peace, compassion, hope, faith, trust, and goodness; the things of the Culture of God along the way. And God is going to look at what we who have been smacked upside the head are creating with Jesus and say, “Yes, that’s very, very good.”