3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2021

Old Testament – Jonah 3:1-5, 10

New Testament – Mark 1:14-20


The Way


INTRODUCTION: In her bestselling memoir Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Sarah Hepola writes of her love affair with alcohol.


A highly seasoned drinker after years of consumption that began at an early age, Hepola would frequently consume booze until blacking out - often leaving her waking up in strange places with strange men trying to piece together the events of the evening. 


The stories she tells are both that odd mix of funny and tragic all at the same time. On one occasion, for example, she tells of waking up in a total stranger’s house in their dog bed. Or as she said of the experience in an interview with NPR: “And I woke up because the dog was pushing me out of the bed. The dog was like nudging its little wet snout into my drunken face and I was like, what am I doing here?”   


But eventually, at the age of 35, Hepola finally decided she had to quit drinking. And even though she had made the decision to quit 100s of times before, for some reason it finally took. And while a lot of people who drink too much quit because they are worried about dying, for Hepola, the decision was more about wanting to live. Or as she has said: “I’ve heard other problem drinkers say if they hadn’t quit, they probably would have died. I never thought that. But I did think, If I don’t quit, I’m never going to live.”


And so she made the decision to finally quit drinking. And while the initial decision was scary and the road hasn’t always been easy, she now sees it, as you might imagine, as one of the most important decisions she has ever made.       


ONE: Of course, Simon, Andrew, James, and John also made a pretty important decision too, right?  


There they are, the two sets of brothers busy with the task of fishing, only to have Jesus show up with his invitation to become followers. “The time is at hand,” says Jesus, “follow me.” And with that, they suddenly decide to become followers. 


You see, here is the thing...the brevity and spareness of the passage tends to hide just how momentous the decision of all four of them really is. Since Mark’s writing style tends to be pretty direct and matter-of-fact, it can be easy to overlook the weight and power of the scene.


After all, in accepting Jesus' invitation to follow, the four men are basically choosing to walk away from their lives as fishermen all so they can start traipsing around the Galilee with a penniless preacher. For James and John, the significance of the decision is easier to see, since they actually leave their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands.     


There’s Zebedee, probably thinking how nice it is that his sons have decided to carry on in the family business, only to suddenly see them stop their net mending and wade ashore in order to follow Jesus. It is a stunning scene. 


Why I wouldn’t be surprised if Zebedee, thinking his sons had run off to join some bizarro cult, looked into hiring someone who specializes in rescuing people from such groups. 


So Simon, Andrew, James and John, also knew about making a big decision. Jesus shows up unannounced on the shore calling them to follow, and in no time they drop everything they are doing in order to go do just that - follow.     


TWO: Given all that, it’s surprising in many respects that anyone ever decided to follow Jesus in the first place. 


After all, when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John, they actually have no idea where they’re going. Jesus says “Follow me!” and with that they just start walking. There’s no detailed discussion of their journey ahead and there’s hardly a calculation made regarding the risks. 


One thing is clear: Simon, Andrew, James, and John would have made lousy Presbyterians! After all, if they had been Presbyterian, they would have been smart and spent some time exploring the issue in greater depth before making a decision, right?  


Some of you may have heard that old bit about a man who rushes into a church during a large ecumenical gathering and shouts "The building is on fire!" In response to the man’s declaration, the Methodists all huddle up in a corner and immediately start praying.


The Baptists, as they’re prone to do, start talking about water and how it sure would be handy to have some. The Fundamentalists all shout, "It's the vengeance of God!" and begin rending their garments. The Lutherans quickly write out a statement containing 95 reasons why fire is bad and post it on the front door of the church. 


The Episcopalians, ever the cool bunch, form a procession and promptly march out of the church in a grand fashion. And the Presbyterians? Well, they get together and appoint a committee to look into the matter so a report can be given at next month’s meeting!

So Simon, Andrew, James and John, wouldn’t have made very good Presbyterians. Jesus shows up calling on them to follow him, and before anyone can count to ten, they’ve dropped everything. 


There’s no discussion on the potential risks and pitfalls of their new endeavor and a committee is nowhere to be found. In faith, they simply start walking without a clue where they’re going.


THREE: Maybe that’s why Frederick Buechner has famously defined faith as “a journey without maps.” 


Because when it comes to following Jesus Christ, there’s only the call to follow. There’s no schedule given to those who answer yes to his call and there’s no detailed itinerary provided to them either. Relying only on God’s goodness and providence, we’re asked instead to simply begin a journey trusting that somehow along the way we’ll eventually find the way. 


“God calls us saying, ‘Come and follow me.’” writes one man. “We arrive and then we must follow. We find but must go on seeking. God’s call is a never-ending call, to the unknown, to adventure...It is a call incessantly to go farther, and farther. For it is not static but dynamic...and reaching him means going on and on. God’s call is like the call to become an explorer; it is an invitation to adventure.” 


A California newspaper sometime ago ran a fascinating article about a small fishing town. Turns out, as the boats came in with their haul, the fishermen  would clean and gut the fish right there on the dock, tossing the leftover parts into the water. 


Well, after a while pelicans discovered they had a pretty easy food source. So whenever the boats came into harbor, the pelicans would gather to lazily gobble up the discarded remains tossed into the water. And for the longest time that was the way it went. The boats came and the pelicans ate.


But then one day the fishermen learned they could sell the remains of their gutted fish, and so they stopped tossing the bits and pieces into the water. Strangely, though, the pelicans kept coming and they kept waiting. In fact, they kept waiting and waiting and waiting until some of them actually started to starve and even die from lack of food.


Well, after bringing in a bunch of wildlife experts, they determined something fascinating. The pelicans, it turns out, had actually forgotten how to fish! And so to solve the problem, they had to introduce new pelicans into the flock to reteach the old pelicans how to once again fish.   


Well, the story is a cautionary tale for those who would follow Christ, isn’t it? For sometimes we can become so static, we can become so well-adjusted and content with where we are and with what we’ve found, without even thinking about it we simply stop moving - moving ever farther and farther into our respective journeys of faith and God’s never ending call.


FOUR: Eugene Peterson, in his book The Jesus Way, writes of his family’s hiking adventures when his sons were growing up.


Eager to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible, the boys would always rush off in a mad hurry. “’For them’, writes Peterson, ‘the trail, the way, was reduced to one thing and one thing only: the way to the top of the mountain. 


They set out with all deliberate speed to conquer (their verb of choice) the mountain, get to the peak, write their names in the metal box containing the names of successful climbers. 


They always took a couple of pictures to document their feat. And then, reeking with boredom, they waited for their slowpoke parents who were carrying the lunch. ‘What took so long? We’ve been waiting for hours!’”


As Peterson reflects on his boys’ question, he offers these thoughts: “What did take us so long? Well, there was a lot to see, to savor, to absorb, to enjoy: a mountain goat posing regally on a cliff, a blue-fringed gentian [violet] to look at again for the first time, the wind-sculpted trunk of an ancient white-bark pine, a water ouzel playing in a waterfall, the nectarine that we relished as we sat and took in the next range of mountains that had just come into view…[the] Way for us was far more than a way to get to the top.” 


For Peterson and his wife, the way wasn’t about following a set schedule, map, route, or even a plan. Rather, for them the way was taking a journey – a journey in which they were vividly present to the world around them.


Trusting that along the way they would eventually find the way, Peterson and his wife simply enjoyed and cherished their journey to the top of the mountain.    


CONCLUSION: And so it goes when it comes to us and our journeys of faith.  


Even though we might not know exactly what awaits us on our journeys as disciples of Christ, we too can still go. We can get up and move-move into the new and unknown future offered to us in Jesus Christ by being vividly present to the world around us. 


Because in the end faith is never just a noun; it’s also a verb. It’s a process rather than a possession. It’s the giving up of an old life in order to begin a new one. 


It’s taking a journey without a map trusting that along the way we’ll find the way.