Follow Jesus Immediately? The gospel of Mark is fascinating and challenging because he challenges the reader to use his or her imagination. Did you know that for centuries the early church had a very low opinion of the gospel of Mark? Mark is the shortest gospel and the Greek is not very elegantly styled. So most leaders in the church viewed it as a sort of a cliffs notes version of a gospel. It’s the one you would read if you didn’t have time to devote to the more lengthy and stylized gospels of Matthew or Luke. But in recent times, we have come to appreciate that Mark forces the reader to not just listen to the story passively but engages the reader in co-creating the story by filling in the gaps with our imagination. This is most obvious in the way that Mark ends his gospel story. If you go home and look at the end of the gospel of Mark, you’ll notice something very curious. Mark’s gospel ends with chapter 16, verse 8 saying, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” That’s it. The end. No resurrection appearances of Jesus. No report of the women or disciples overcoming their fear and rejoicing in the good news. If your Bible is a decent version, it will note a shorter ending of Mark and a longer ending. But these were added later by scribes who just had to finish the story. They couldn’t let it end like that. Mark however it seems purposely ended the story here making each person who hears it finish the story. The ending then becomes your own confession. Your own gospel. How do you overcome your fear to be bearers of the good news like these women? It’s not a matter of just listening to what Mark thinks and writes. In fact, there isn’t just the gospel according to Mark anymore, but it becomes the gospel according to Mark and insert your own name here. In fact, we should say that as we introduce the reading of the gospel. The holy gospel according to St. Mark and (say your name). Glory to you, O Lord. Have you heard this before? Did you know that you have a hand in actually writing the gospel story today? Probably not. In our age of reason, we have lost respect for the power of imagination to convey deeper truth. But if we are willing to go there, the significance of this of course is huge. We can’t approach the lessons from Mark as if he is simply reporting events and being brief about it. Mark is brief in order to allow for our imaginations to be fully engaged. He leaves room for us to co-create the story with him. In fact it is dangerous to read Mark’s gospel without this understanding. In our lesson for today, for instance, if we don’t engage our imaginations in the telling of the story, we miss its significance entirely. Jesus goes out and calls the disciples. He says only, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they leave everything and follow him. Without using our imaginations to fill in the gap, we can come away with the impression that the disciples were simply completely captivated by Jesus. It may seem as if they had no choice in whether to follow or not. They appear like puppets on a string. Jesus says, “Follow me” and they respond mindlessly, “Yes, master.” Even if you just picture these disciples as just having something special within them in being ready to drop everything and dedicate their lives to the gospel immediately, the lesson becomes less and less about us and our experience because we simply can’t identify with that. I can’t identify with that and I have not once heard anyone tell me their faith story and say, “I was happily working in a prosperous family business. I heard Jesus call me and I dropped everything and left my family behind to follow him.” Hopefully, we all have our moments when we hear Jesus call, rise to the occasion and dedicate ourselves to following him into an unknown future, but hopefully if it is a big change in our life this comes after much deliberation and prayer and consultation. In fact, if you showed up at the seminary today and told them that you heard Jesus calling you into the ministry this morning and drove right there, they would tell you to go home and keep listening and see if this call is affirmed over time and by others around you as well. If you showed up at an Armed Forces recruitment center with a similar story of how God was calling you to serve in the military, they would I hope at least send you to get a psych exam before inducting you. Same goes for most anything else, except perhaps joining a cult. Following anyone and abandoning vocation, family and friends without question immediately simply doesn’t relate to our world, nor should it. If we use our imaginations a little bit, we may surmise that Peter, Andrew, James and John must have known Jesus before this story. Galilee is a small area. They must have known Jesus growing up and talked about their future plans to save the world. They were only waiting for the right time to begin. When John is arrested, Jesus knows this is the right time and he calls his team together. Let’s go fish for men. It’s time. Let’s do this thing. We get perhaps more of a glimpse of what it may have been like for these early disciples, but we still haven’t co-created the story. To put it another way, we’re using our imaginations but only to reconstruct an historical event. We need to do more than that. Mark wants us to own the gospel so that it is our story too. I shared with the children about being fishers of men. And we used our imaginations to think about what that might mean for sharing the good news. But actually there is more. I don’t think that Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men” to steer them and us toward a better evangelism method. I think he says that in order to point out the continuity of their new mission with the life they have lived up till then. God isn’t calling them to something entirely different, but to see God in everything that they have done up to this point even as they are called into something new. We simply can’t picture dropping everything to follow Jesus immediately. But what if we were to turn that around. What if everything we are already doing contains the love of Christ already within it? I was checking out at Hills a couple weeks ago and one of the clerks, I won’t say who because I did not get his permission to share this story, he said, “So you’re off to do God’s work now, huh?” “Yes.” I replied. “And so are you.” I was on my way out the door so I didn’t stop to clarify, but I think he got my meaning. Working in a hardware store can be just as much God’s work as being a pastor. And it’s not God’s work only if you put religious signs on everything. “Sleds for Christ— $12.” “Nuts and bolts for the Kingdom, 12 cents.” “Mission M&Ms—12 dimes.” Twelve is a significant number in the Bible right? Anyway, we do God’s work not just when we evangelize or proclaim Christ, but whenever we live honorably and serve others with kindness and humility. And that we can and must do immediately. Where ever you are in your life, whether you are a homemaker, a parent, grand-parent, a salesman, teacher, manager, cook or clerk, God is working through you and creating his kingdom in the way you serve others in love. Jesus proclaims, “The kingdom of God has come near, turn toward God and believe in the good news.” Follow Jesus in whatever it is that you do and you will be essential in the building up of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t just create his kingdom out of thin air or force it upon us as if we had no choice, but God is always inviting, always forgiving, always inspiring the best in us to shine for his glory. Use your imagination. Where is God calling you? How is God immediately present in your life? This is after all the holy Gospel according to St. Mark and (insert your name here). Amen.
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