Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
Have you been out to the MU when the street preachers are there? You know, the guy reading the Bible out loud—out very loud—and perhaps with a sign that says something like THE END IS NEAR or another alarming pronouncement. Sometimes, there’s even more than one of them at a time. Are we familiar? Okay, so those guys believe that they are doing what Jonah was doing in our story.
“Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Jonah yelled, presumably, throughout the center of town. The guys by the MU believe that they, too, are telling the sinful masses the truth about the punishment in store for them from God if they do not change their ways. Do you think those guys are effective? I haven’t looked at any data, per se, but I would be surprised if a significant number of UC Davis students were moved to repentance from their efforts. In part, because—as of the time I was writing this sermon—our city has not been overthrown.
Tonight’s two stories—Jonah and Jesus—go sort of nicely together. They have things in common and ways that they differ. Both men are prophets, proclaiming the will of God. Jonah was, as the story goes, recently in the belly of a large fish; Jesus is inviting fishermen into the kingdom of God. That one is definitely a stretch, but I just like that we have a latent fish theme. The stories have some contrast, as well. The people of Nineveh, where Jonah is prophesying, are rich and powerful. The fishermen on the seashore, where Jesus is prophesying, are not.
When you think about the stories of the prophets, what do you remember about how the citizens of the place usually respond to the prophets? Not very positively, right? This is what is so weird about Nineveh, did you notice? They heard Jonah’s prophecy, and call to change their ways, and then they...changed their ways. “And the people of Nineveh believed God” it says, and “they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” That’s kind of surprising. It’s especially surprising that they seem to have done so immediately. They didn’t ask clarifying questions, they didn’t make excuses, they just...did it.
And that’s true in Jesus’ story, too. One of my favorite things about the Gospel according to Mark is that, in it, everyone does everything immediately. You may begin to notice that, as we go through this Gospel this year. The immediacy is so apparent, that in my seminary Greek class, when we were learning to translate, we learned the word “euthus” so well because we saw it so many times. I’ll always associate that with these stories. Mark’s is also the shortest Gospel, probably because he doesn’t waste time with details and detours. Whatever Jesus is doing, we get to the point—immediately.
So, Jesus heads down to the Sea of Galilee and says “follow me,” and the men on the shore immediately drop their nets and follow. Immediately! They ask no clarifying questions, they make no excuses for why they can’t. And, frankly, this is where my ability to identify with the original 12 disciples often hits a wall. I rarely do anything immediately. I rarely do anything without asking a laundry list of clarifying questions. I have a lot going on, and dropping my nets—or my work, or my plans, or my relationships—is just not something I see myself doing immediately. Fortunately for me, God seems to have plenty of time, and just pushes me to get to the point eventually.
Did you notice the oddness of where Jesus goes to collect his disciples? The seashore. These fishermen are not powerful, or rich, or well-known, or well-connected.
Living here in Davis, we are adjacent to a world-class university and just across the causeway from the capitol of the world’s sixth largest economy. We know a thing or two about the halls of power. If you’re looking to make waves here, you go to the top of the food chain, right? The chancellor of the university, the members of the state legislature.
We're also in the neighborhood of an agricultural behemoth known as California’s Central Valley. There are tons of other valleys around here—Capay, Anderson, Napa—and they all grow the food that sustains much of the United States, and, arguably, the world. If you have lived in California for your whole life, you probably take for granted that abundance of produce we have here, and the length of our growing seasons. The strawberries for sale at the Davis Farmers’ Market in August are truly a wonder of the world.
The farmers there, week after week, are keeping us alive and well. They are very likely not wealthy people. Their livelihood is determined by an incredible number of uncontrollable factors—weather, pests, consumer preferences, market prices, other farmers’ yields—and this is a risk they take season after season.
Why am I waxing poetic about farmers right now? Well, we don’t live on the Sea of Galilee, and so we’re not intimately acquainted with a first-century diet and economy based on fishing. We’re in Davis, CA, where we’re blessed to be intimately acquainted with our farmers, and an economy that is fueled in large part by vegetables.
This, then, is where I imagine Jesus scooping up disciples. They’re in Dixon and Winters and communities like those all over the northern half of California, planting and tending and harvesting and then trekking to markets like ours in Davis every Saturday morning. I can imagine Jesus walking through the rows of strawberries, telling sun-worn farmworkers that he would make them cultivators of people.
Jesus would not waltz into Governor Brown’s office and invite him to join the movement, as he did not waltz up to the throne of Rome and invite Caesar. Jesus knew that those whose day-to-day lives were already leaps of faith, interdependent on the earth and each other, would be the ones brave enough to join him. The ones who knew the power of small things done with great love. The ones who had been tossed about by the waves of injustice, and seen the fruits of the labor of their collective.
Grassroots organizing is perhaps a buzzword to us, now, in the age of online connection for political and community changemaking. For Jesus, though, it was an entirely new way of life. These fishermen, and the others who joined John the Baptist and Jesus’ movement were not the people whose opinions were usually sought after, were not the people whose work was usually valued, were not the people usually in control.
You and I live somewhere in between these locations; students at a university, but not its administrators; citizens of a global superpower, but not its governors; members of the largest protestant denominations, but not its bishops.
Do you think that those distinctions matter in the eyes of God, or are true measures of your worth in the world? No, certainly not.
Do you think that, out of whatever circumstance you find yourself in, Jesus calls you to be his disciple? Absolutely yes.
Will you follow? Will you fish? Will you farm?