You heard about Sven and Ole? Sven and Ole died in a snowmobiling accident, don’t ya know, and found themselves in the company of the devil. But the devil observed that they were really enjoying themselves. So, he said to them ‘Doesn’t the heat and smoke bother you?’ ‘Vel,”Ole replied, ‘ya know, ve’re from nordern Minnesota, da land of snow an ice, an ve’re just happy fer a chance ta warm up a little bit, don’t ya know.
Well, the devil decides that these two aren’t miserable enough, so he turns up the heat even more. And when he returns to the room of the two from Minnesota, he finds them grilling Walleye and drinking beer. The devil is astonished and exclaims, ‘Everyone down here is in misery, and you two seem to be enjoying yourselves?’ Sven replies, ‘Vell, ya know, ve just got ta haff a fish fry vhen da veather’s dis nice.’
Now, the devil is absolutely furious. He can hardly see straight. So, he decides to turn all the heat off in Hell. The next morning, the temperature is 60 below zero, icicles are hanging everywhere, and people are shivering so hard that they’re unable to wail, moan, or even gnash their teeth. The devil smiles and heads for Sven and Ole’s room. But when he gets there he finds them jumping up and down, cheering, ad screaming like mad men.
The devil is dumbfounded, ‘I don’t understand, when I turn up the heat you’re happy. Now its freezing cold and you’re still happy. What is wrong with you two?’ They both look at the devil in surprise and say, ‘Vell, don’t ya know, if hell is froze over, dat must mean da Vikings won da Super Bowl.”[i]
Okay. That has nothing to do with the Scripture for today, but this one does! One day, Sven and Ole were bragging about their secret fishing spots. Sven said, “Ole, I got the best fish ‘in hole in all the nort-woods, don’t ya know?” “Really,” said Ole. “Yep,” said Sven, “As a matter of fact, da fish are so hungry and ready to bite, dat I have to hide behind a tree to bait my hook.”
Now, as we look at today’s text, the calling of Andrew and Peter and of James and John, it seems like evangelism is a piece of cake. Whether we’re the one being called or the one doing the calling, Jesus’ example makes inviting others to “come and follow” seem simple. Mark makes is seem like people are so anxious to join us that, like Sven, we must hide behind the nearest tree to keep from being overwhelmed. But you and I know both know that’s simply not the case. People today are resistant to even acknowledge the existence of God, let alone commit to joining a faith community. But why? Why do we have so much trouble getting others to join us?
Well, it might be helpful here for us to look at some of the features that set Mark’s Gospel apart from the others. First, it’s the shortest gospel and moves at the quickest pace. And Mark’s Gospel conveys a sense of the urgency in the ministry of Jesus. There are no birth narratives; no manger, no shepherds, no elderly prophets singing praise to God in the temple as they hold the promised One in their arms. Instead, Mark sets the scene with some very concise accounts of John the Baptist preaching, Jesus being baptized, and then driven out into the wilderness. And then he moves very rapidly into the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. I mean, by the end of today’s reading, we’re not even halfway through chapter 1! Time, then, and urgency are at the heart of this passage.[ii]
So, Mark isn’t saying that inviting others is going to be an easy proposition, but instead, that evangelism contains or requires a certain sense of urgency. But how does that translate to our experience of God? How is this “urgency” a part of our call to fish for people?
Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, says that, “True religion is always a deep intuition that we are already participating in something very good, despite our best efforts to deny it or avoid it. In fact, the best of modern theology is revealing a strong ‘turn toward participation,’ as opposed to religion as mere observation, affirmation, moralism, or group belonging. There is nothing to join, only something to recognize, suffer, and enjoy as a participant.”[iii]
And this makes a whole lotta sense to me. Evangelism, extending the call of Jesus to others, is best done through example; through participation in the mission of Christ. In my first call, I became involved in an area wide ministry called Outreach Africa. This group would gather a couple of times a year to package thousands of meals for people who were starving. Now, when I presented this opportunity to my congregation, I could have just shown them the poster and said, “If you’re interested go.” But instead, I decided to give a power-point presentation about the plight of those in the Sudan. And I concluded my presentation by telling them that Becky and I were going to help and invited the whole congregation to come and participate with us.
Now, this might seem like a little thing, but you must understand that participating in a mission project, beyond just bringing canned goods once a month or giving money, was way outside the comfort zone of this congregation. So, an invitation to “join” us rather than just “go” was important and effective. You see, 30 adults and about 15 youth joined with many others to package meals for people an ocean away. As a matter of fact, participating in this mission was so heartwarming, that the mission committee began to wonder why we couldn’t host such an event ourselves.
So, participation, boots on the ground outreach, is a vital component to inviting others. In other words, our actions speak louder than our words. But in addition to participation we must also be authentic. We can’t be all things to all people. We must be ourselves. We must be the church that God is calling us to be. So, as a congregation, who are we? How is Jesus calling us to be fishers of people?
Well, maybe the words of Anne Lamott might help us out here as we approach this question. She says, “I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”[iv]
There’s an awful lot of wisdom in her words. Joy and sweetness and affection, these aren’t your typical theological words: but I like um. Too often, I fear we get caught up in the dogmatic “thou-shalt-nots” and forget to meet people where they’re at. We forget to be authentic as we relate to others, sharing our vulnerability, our fears, and our doubts.
But Jesus was authentic, and his authenticity drew others to come and participate in a gathering movement. A movement that would change the face of the world. A movement that would be vehemently opposed by the religious authorities and catch the notice of Rome. A movement that would lead to a ministry of reconciliation and restoration, of social justice, and the propagation of peace.
But Jesus didn’t begin this ministry in the Temple or by recruiting the religious mucky-mucks. He started with simple fisherman. He began his ministry at the grass roots level. He chose to reach out to the common people, meeting them on their terms and amid their crises. When he went fish ‘in, Jesus didn’t use doctrine or arcane rules or traditions as bait, rather he used the promise of healing and restoration, of compassion and kindness; he promised a closer relationship with God. And yes, he challenged his followers to take up their cross, but these metaphorical crosses we bear are not cast upon us by God, rather made lighter because of Christ.
And this is where it all comes together. Our ministry begins with a wide welcome. In our church and in the United Church of Christ we offer an extravagant welcome to “all” because we are a part of the “all.” We’re no better or worse than anyone else. And it’s this understanding of being on equal footing that allows us to echo and expand upon the words of Paul. “In Christ,” he said, “we are no longer male or female, Greek or Jew, servant or free,” …and we might add: “In Christ we are no longer rich or poor, white or black, citizen or dreamer, native or refugee, gay or straight; in Christ we are no longer us or them. But in Christ, because of Christ, we are “all” one people.
So, here’s the question we’re left with today; are we going to fish or just cut bait? Are we going to hide behind the nearest tree or are we going to step out into the world, participating in the mission and ministry of our congregation and of the United Church of Christ? What’s preventing us from dropping our symbolic nets, whatever those nets may be, and offer an extravagant welcome to all our neighbors, inviting them to join us on this journey of faith? What’s stop us from offering an authentic invitation to those who are on the fringes of society, to come and walk with us, pray with us, weep with us, laugh with us… just as we are? What’s to prevent us from go ‘in fish ‘in? I don’t know. Perhaps, nothing…?
May it be so for you and for me.
[i] (an email forward from Patty Anderson)
[iii] Richard Rohr. Falling Upwards (Jossey-Bass, 2011)