Nola Adams
January 21, 2018
Nola Adams
JBUC Webmaster
Miracle on the Beach.

Texts: Mark 1:14-20  Ephesians 3:16-21

Good morning. I am Nola Adams.

From Barbara Brown Taylor's book “Home by Another Way” we have her sermon called [1] “Miracle on the Beach”.

She begins.....Sometimes I think we make too much of human volition.  

The choices we make -- about what we will believe....and how we will act.....about where we will live..... and whom we will love......and what we will do for a living....... they are all very important, and we would be crazy to take them lightly, as if they did not really matter.  

Belonging to God is not a matter of going limp in God’s arms, after all.  

We are called to love, to serve, to heal, to forgive.  

We are called to imitate Christ, and to make choices that resemble his.
 
When we agonize too much over them, however, we fall into the ancient trap of works-righteousness -- that comfortable old delusion that we can, by our good decisions and good deeds, save ourselves.  

If we will just work hard enough, we may tell ourselves, if we pray enough.....and help enough...... and give enough......then God will claim us in the end.  

Christ will recognize us as his own true disciples because of all the good things we have accomplished.  

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

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.
 
Take this morning’s story. Most people hear it and right away start worrying about whether they have what it takes to be a disciple.  

Could you do it?  If a clear call were to come to you tomorrow afternoon, could you get up from your chair and walk out the door, without taking your keys or turning off the lights?

Could you abandon your grocery cart in front of the frozen food case at the Red Barn Market  and set off for parts unknown without stopping to call home?  

That is more or less what they did, those first four disciples.  Someone they had never seen before in their lives said, “Follow me,” and they did, leaving their families, their jobs & their homes behind in order to go with him.  
 
Simon and Andrew had less to lose, apparently.  It is a fair guess that they were poor fishermen, since Mark makes no mention of a boat.  They cast their nets from the shallows of the sea, and sorted their catch on the beach by themselves.

James and John had much more to walk away from:  a boat, hired men, their father Zebedee.  But rich or poor..... both sets of brothers turned away from all the familiars of their lives in order to go after a stranger who called them to follow.
 
It was not the way such things were done in those days.  
Rabbis did not seek students; students sought them.

Teachers waited for people to come to them and they interviewed them carefully before deciding whether or not to take them on as disciples.  Only the most promising students were allowed to stay on, the ones who showed real aptitude for theology.  No self-respecting rabbi would ever have gone out to recruit his own followers, and if he had, he would not have picked the first four people he laid eyes on.  

By doing just that, Jesus set himself apart from the other teachers of his time.  He alone walked out among ordinary working people and chose them, without a single question, to be his friends.
 
But that is not the strangest thing...... The strangest thing is that they went along with him.  Not one of them, or two of them, but all of them.  

He called and they followed, for which we tend to give them all the credit.  What strength......what courage......what faith those four must have had to do what they did, sacrificing everything to go after him!  What heroes they were!  

Well, nonsense.  According to Mark, there was nothing hard about it at all.  Jesus called and they followed.  Period.  

They did not know him.  They were not waiting for him.  Chances are they would not have described themselves as religious types, but they took one look at him and that was that.  No angst, no torn hearts, no backward glances.  They just dropped what was in their hands and went after him, without saying a single word.  It was not as if they decided something.  It was more like something happened to them, something almost supernaturally beyond their control.
 
If you ask me, says Barbara Brown Taylor, this is not a hero story but a miracle story, as full of God’s power as the feeding of the five thousand.......or the raising of the dead.  

Listen to the language of miracle stories in Mark:  “Be made clean,” Jesus said to the leper, and immediately he was made clean.  “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home,” he said to the paralyzed man, and the man stood up and immediately took his mat and went home.  “Go, your faith has made you well,” he said to the blind man, and immediately he regained his sight.  

“Follow me,” Jesus said, and immediately they left their nets and followed him.
 
Can you hear it?  

This is not story about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow.  This is a story 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.
 
This is not a story about us.  

This is a story about God, and God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as people who are able to follow -- able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us, because he interests us more than anything else in our lives, because he seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be food.
 
It is a miracle, and to look at it any other way is to deform the story, twisting it into a tall tale about four courageous fishermen who sacrificed all to serve their Lord.  

They did no such thing.  If they did anything under their own power at all, it was simply that they allowed themselves to fall in love.  Jesus showed up, they took one look at each other, and the rest was history.  

God acted, and the disciples let their nets wash out to sea.
 
And sure, on one level, that moment cost them plenty.  They gave up a lot in that moment, and would lose a lot more before they were through, but to stress that aspect of the story is to put the accent on the wrong syllable.  

Their minds were not on what they were leaving but on whom they were joining.  

Their hearts did not cleave to what was falling from their hands but to what they were reaching out to find, and in that God-drenched moment of their turning to follow, the miracle occurred:  their lives flowed in the same direction as God’s life.  

Their wills were not two, three or four, but one will.  

Time was fulfilled.  The kingdom came -- and comes--  every time our own lives are brought into the same flow, so that we too allow ourselves to fall in love, and follow God, and can do no other.
 
I am no expert--as Saint Paul says, I have no word form the Lord on this--but if you ask me, says the authour, then I think sometimes we read this story too narrowly.  

I am not sure that following Jesus is always a matter of leaving everything behind.  

That is what it meant for Andrew and Simon and James and John; that is what following meant in their particular lives.  But if the story is about being swept into the flow of God’s will and giving ourselves over to it, then it seems to me that it will be a different story for every one of us in our own particular lives.
 
Sometimes following may mean staying at home.  

It may mean letting the hired servants go and taking care of Zebedee when he gets too old to fish.  

Sometimes following may mean casting the same old nets in a new way, or for new reasons.  

It may mean doing something different with the fish you catch, or spending the money they bring at market in a different way.  

It may mean reorganizing the whole fishing business so that the drifters down the pier have work to do, and so that everyone who works receives a decent wage.  

It may mean doing less every day, not more, so that there is time to watch how the light changes on the water, and how the happy fish leap out of it at dusk, happy to have outsmarted you one more time.
 
The possibilities for following seem endless to me.

Sometimes they will be big, no doubt about it, and sometimes they will be too small to mention, but it would be a mistake, I think, to focus too hard on our own parts in the miracle of discipleship.  

The God who called us can be counted on to create us as people who are able to follow.  

Whenever and however our wills spill into the will of God, time is fulfilled -- immediately!-- and the kingdom is at hand.

[1] “Miracle on the Beach,” in “Home By Another Way,” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Crowley, 1999