The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Mark 1:14-20
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me.'” (From today’s gospel, Mark 1:14-20)
The middle of August 2012 I received a phone call from our younger son, Randy. He was in the Marines, stationed in California, almost twenty-three years old, and about two weeks from completing his service and being discharged. He and his wife planned to stay in California. She was already working and he was looking for a job.
“Dad,” he said. “I got a job.” I could hear the excitement in his voice. “Oh that’s so good,” I said. “I’m happy for you. Tell me about it.” “I’m going to work for the Harley dealership in Maui,” he said. “Oh,” I squeaked. “Really?” He didn’t own or ride a motorcycle.
“Yeah. Rachel gave her two weeks notice today. We’re going to sell or give away our stuff, pack a couple of bags, and drive to Texas to see you all. I’ll sell my truck there. Would you take us to the airport?”
“Now, tell me that again,” I said. What you are doing?” It wasn’t because I hadn’t heard or understood what he had said. I was stalling, trying to think of what to say. So he told me again. And as he did I was thinking to myself, “This is the best dumb idea I’ve ever heard.” When he finished I said, “Randy, you’ve got to go. You cannot not do this. I’m so excited for you all. Come on home. We’ll take you to the airport.” They came and on September 2, 2012, my wife and I took Rachel and Randy to the airport.
I’ve thought a lot about that phone call and his decision to move to Hawaii. I’ve come to believe that that was a “follow me” moment for Randy. I don’t mean that he heard the voice of Jesus or that God told him to go to Maui. That’s certainly possible but Randy never told me anything like that. No, I think he’s a young man who likes to surf, he and his wife were looking for an adventure, and an opportunity presented itself. But I’m also unwilling to say that God was not present or involved in Randy’s decision and move.
And I wonder if we more often than not hear this story too narrowly and we interpret Jesus’ words “Follow me” in a way that is too small and restricive. We tend to make them only about the church, the religious institution, and a particular way of life. They too often become about an exclusivity and a certain kind of life instead of inclusive of all people and applicable to all lives.
What if “Follow me” is Jesus’ invitation to every one of us to step into the fullness of our life? What if it is the call to become fully alive? What if it’s about becoming more authentically ourselves, living with integrity, and discovering our truest self? Maybe every time we act in such a way that our life seems to fit and our words and decisions reflect who we really are we are answering Jesus’ call to follow him. Have you ever had the feeling that you just had to do something even though you didn’t exactly know where it would take you or what would happen? It didn’t just feel right. It felt necessary. And to do otherwise would be a betrayal of life and yourself? Maybe that’s what how Simon and Andrew, and James and John felt. Maybe that’s what it feels like to answer Jesus’ call, “Follow me.”
I can’t imagine Randy not having gone to Maui. It wasn’t just a move, a job, or a great place to surf. It was about him growing into himself. There’s something holy and sacred about that. Regardless of who we are, how old we are, or our life’s circumstances, I think we’re all trying to grow into our truest and most authentic self. That growing into ourselves seems to happen in the “follow me” moments of life: those moments of decision, change, vulnerability, and not knowing; moments when the world and life become larger than before; moments when we step more fully into ourselves.
What are some of the “follow me” moments in your life? What has been your Maui? When have you dropped your net, stepped out of the boat, and walked away from old man Zebedee?
These moments come to us in thousands of ways and they often don’t make a lot of sense. “You’re going to Maui to do what?” That sounds crazy, impulsive, and even irresponsible. But maybe it was faithful. Because I’m willing to bet that, twelve or thirteen years earlier, when I told Randy and his brother that I was quitting my law practice, moving to Tennessee, going to seminary, and that we would be living apart for a little while, they probably thought I’d lost it. “Dad, you’re doing what?”
How crazy is it when two people look at each other and say, “You’re the one. I don’t know what will happen next week, in a year, or twenty years from now but I am willing to go find out with you. You want to get married? You want to make a life together? That’s a “follow me” moment. Or think about when we come to this place for the funeral liturgy of a loved one, and, in the midst of tears and pain, in the longing to have that one back, we declare that life has changed not ended and even at the grave we make our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” How crazy is that? And yet it’s another “follow me” moment. Have you ever looked at your life and wondered what it was all about, faced a truth about yourself, longed for something new, or wanted a different way of living and being? And then you made changes, life giving changes that fit you and grew you up? That’s a “follow me” moment.
Sometimes the “follow me” moments of life take us to the paradise of Hawaii, but not always. Sometimes they take us to places we never wanted to go or to circumstances we never wanted to face. Sometimes they set before us the sublime and other times they reveal the ways in which our lives have become disfigured. Sometimes they are public moments for everyone to see and other times they are moments known only to God and us. They can be as adventurous as leaving everything behind and starting over in a new place or as ordinary as giving to the panhandler on the corner, going home to our spouse, keeping a promise, changing a diaper. Each of these moments, in whatever form they come, can take us more deeply into ourselves and more fully into our lives, and ultimately connect us with the holy. The “follow me” moments of life are less about where are are going or what we are doing, and more about who we are becoming.
They touch us deeply and speak to our heart. So much so that Simon and Andrew were willing to drop their nets and walk away, and James and John were willing to get out of the boat and leave their father Zebedee. How crazy is that? What are the moments in your life that have touched you so deeply and spoken so directly to your heart that you couldn’t do anything but get up and go? You had to follow that calling. It was real and authentic for you and your life.
These moments are not once in a life time opportunities. They present themselves again again throughout our lives. “Follow me” is the ever present and ongoing call of Jesus to every one of us. So let me ask you this. What is the “follow me” moment for you today, right now, in the current circumstances of your life?
“Follow me” moments seem to have a common thread. They ask us to let go, to leave behind, to walk away. Isn’t that what Simon and Andrew and James and John did? We never get anywhere new unless we are willing to leave where we are. We can never hold anything different unless we’re willing to drop what’s already in our hands. That means letting go of our nets, getting out of our boats, and walking away from old man Zebedee.
Please don’t literalize those. They are symbols and images descriptive of our lives and they hold a key to the “follow me” moments of our lives. What are the nets in your life? The things that entangle you? Those things that capture and imprison you? What are the little boats that contain your life and keep it small? The ones that give you an illusion of security and stability? The ones that are overly familiar and comfortable and keep you sailing the same old waters of life? Who is old man Zebedee in your life, that one from whom you continually seek approval and try to meet his or her expectations? Identify the nets, boats, and Zebedees in your life and you’ll find a “follow me” moment and the invitation to step more fully into your life and become more truly yourself.
I’m always amazed at how Simon and Andrew and James and John don’t say a word. They don’t ask a single question. Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What should we take? They don’t ask any of those questions. Those were not their concerns. They just get up and go. I think they were more concerned about who they would become than the logistics of the trip. You can bet, however, I asked Randy those questions but they weren’t his concerns either. “Randy, where will you stay?” “I don’t know Dad. I have a friend who has friends but I’ve never met or talked to them.” “How long will you stay with them?” “I don’t know Dad. Until we find our own place.” I asked other questions but the answers were the same. He didn’t know. He only knew that he had to go.
This was his “follow me” moment. I know what that’s like and I’ll bet you do too. We’ve all got them. We may not have all the answers, we only know that we have to go, we have to do this thing. The question isn’t so much do we have a “follow me” moment but will we.
Will we drop our nets? Will we get out of the boat? Will we leave old man Zebedee? The promise of Christ is that if we are willing to do that we will step into the kingdom, into the fullness of life, into our truest and most authentic self. That’s what I wanted for Randy. It’s what I want for myself and for you. It is, I think, what God wants for every one of us.
“And Jesus said to then, “Follow me.”