Mark 1:14-20 / Epiphany 3B / 25 January 2015

In Mark’s version of the Gospel, everything happens “immediately.” In the Greek, euthus. At once. Without hesitation. “And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” “And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.” Immediately. If all you had was Mark’s version of the Gospel, you’d think it all happened in six months or so. One thing immediately after another.

There is a sense of urgency here. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel. There is no time to wait. The kingdom does not tarry for procrastinators. There is no sense of “let me think about it and I’ll get back to you in a week or so.” “Now is the moment, now is the time of your salvation.” When the kingdom comes to you and the King summons you, you drop everything and you go. When the King says, “Follow me,” you follow Him, no questions asked.

You sense that urgency in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were bogged down in petty divisions and all sorts of confusion. They were a house divided and at each other’s throats. They had taken Paul’s message that “all things were lawful” with regard to foods and they ran with it straight into “anything goes.” They had a member sleeping with his stepmother and thought nothing of it. They had disputes that resulted in lawsuits and weren’t ashamed of it. They showed up drunk and divided to the Lord’s Supper. In short, they were a mess.

They had questions for Paul about marriage. Could a believer ditch an unbelieving spouse? Answer: no. Is it better to marry or remain single? Answer: It is better to marry than to burn with passion. The Corinthians were occupied with things temporal and losing their bead on things eternal. They were occupied with the earthly kingdom and losing sight of the heavenly kingdom.

It’s easy to do. From the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, most, if not all, of your energies and activities are directed to temporal, earthly kingdom issues. If you stop and do the math, you’ll realize that very little of your time and attention is spent on heavenly, spiritual, eternal matters. A sweet hour of prayer on Sunday morning, and heaven forbid that it should go much beyond an hour and fifteen minutes. Maybe a ten second prayer before meals. Factor in a little time for personal devotions, prayer, Bible study and you come out to maybe 5 to 7 hours a week. That’s five to seven out of 112 waking hours or something around 4 to 6% of your non-sleep time. And this is for the eternal stuff, the stuff that extends beyond this life, your eternal destiny beyond your death. And so it’s really no surprise that things temporal overshadow things eternal since 95% of our time, if not our energy, is consumed by things temporal – what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear, where we will go on vacation, what will we do to pay the bills.

The apostle Paul reminds the distracted Corinthians that “the present form of this world is passing away.” The things they think are so important and that consume their attention are destined to pass away. Things temporal are just that. Temporal. Time bound. They come with an expiration date. And since the fulness of time has come with Christ, our view of the present age is altered. We are living in the last of the days. The end times. The “eschaton.” There is an urgency that has never been before. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, nearer now than when we gathered here last week. The appointed time has grown very short. Paul said that 2000 years ago, but the idea is still the same. In the end times there is no such thing as tomorrow. There is only “now.” Today. The present moment.

Even the great and noble institution of marriage, the foundation and building block of society and civilization that traces all the way back to Adam and Eve, the very picture of Christ and the Church, is bound to this present age. In the resurrection, we neither marry nor are given in marriage, according to Jesus. Paul can write to the Corinthians, “Let those who have wives (or husbands) live as though they had none. Let those who mourn live as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing. And those who buy as though they had nothing, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with the world. That doesn’t mean we live in isolation from the world but as Jesus said, we are “in the world yet not of the world.”

Faith holds the things of this life, the things temporal, with a loose dead hand of trust. That includes the net of your livelihood and vocation. The fishermen immediately left their nets, their business, Father Zebedee and the hired hands, the boats and all the responsibilities of a family business, to go and follow an itinerant preacher from no-name Nazareth without so much of a clue as to where they were following or any guarantee of the outcome. They had no idea that the words “follow me” would lead to Jerusalem, to arrest, to trial, to the cross and the open tomb. They had no clue what it meant to be “fishers of men.” Fishers of fish, they understood. But fishers of men was a whole different thing. Fish you caught with nets and a little knowhow concerning the way of fish. But how do you catch men who don’t wish to be caught, and whose ways are far more complex than fish?

Jesus would teach them, and in teaching them would teach us as well. The net in which men are caught is the net of Jesus’ own death and resurrection. This is the net that drags everything to the shore of the resurrection on the Last Day when the catch is finally sorted out. Instead of casting nets they would cast the Word. Instead of boats there would be pulpits and congregations. Instead of fish flopping in a boat there would be men and women and children of all nations rescued from Sin, Death, and the Law by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s significant that among the first of the disciples were fishermen. They weren’t educated men like the apostle Paul. They weren’t leaders or organizers or motivators of men. They were simple, humble, hard-working men who went out every day in the uncertain task of catching fish. And when they weren’t casting their nets they were tending to their nets and servicing their boats, as they were doing when Jesus caught up with them and said, “Follow me.” If Jesus intended to start some sort of movement or organize another religion among religions, he might have been a bit more picky about who the ground level guys were, don’t you think? Fishermen.

Yet fishermen knew something about catching fish. They were net fishermen, not bait, hook, and line fishermen. They didn’t try to outsmart the fish. They just went where they thought the fish were going to be, and they cast a big, wide net and hauled them in. Their fishing was kind of a picture of the kingdom of God in action – not a selective catch of this fish or that one, but a universal catch of the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus. They weren’t going to catch men for the kingdom by outsmarting them or by loading their hooks with attractive bait, but rather they were going to proclaim the kingdom of God in the crucified King, the Lord Jesus Christ, casting their net far and wide and deep, and letting the Lord and His angels sort out the catch. Or to switch metaphors for a moment, they would be like a sower of seed, who broadcasts his seed far and wide without any regard for where it lands, whether good soil or bad.

As the church, we are first caught ones. We are fish who have been caught in the baptismal nets of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like fish in a net, we didn’t choose to be here, but we’ve been hauled into the boat, discipled by the “follow me” words of Jesus ringing in our ears. That’s what got us up this morning. That’s what brought us here this morning, even against the will of our old Adam who would rather sleep in on a Sunday morning and contemplate brunch rather than the Supper of our Lord and meditate upon the sports section of the paper or peruse the internet rather than hear the Word of forgiveness.

And it doesn’t end there. We’re not a catch of fish flopping aimlessly in the hold of a fishing boat. Jesus takes fish and makes them fishermen, just as He took fishermen and turned them into fishers of men. As we heard last week with Philip and Nathaniel, disciples make disciples. The caught go and catch. Peter, Andrew, James, and John who were caught by Jesus were being prepared to be sent by Jesus to catch men for the kingdom as they had been caught. “Make disciples by baptizing and teaching.” Cast the net of the Word and catch men for the kingdom of God. That’s the church’s mandate in the world. Not to transform the world, save society, or clean up its morals. Make disciples. Cast the net. Haul in the world for whom Jesus died. Be fishers of men who are swimming in a sea of Sin and Death.

There is a little difference between fishing for fish and fishing for men. Fish are caught to die, and presumably to be eaten. Men are caught to live, and to keep them from being consumed by Sin and Death. And that’s the urgency of things eternal. The present form of this world is passing away. The things in this world that promise life can’t deliver. There is only One who can deliver, the One who died and rose to save the world. The net that hauls us as fish to the shore brings us to life. Yes, there is death. Death to things temporal. Death to Sin, Death, and the Law. Death to yourselves. Old Adam must die. But Christ must rise, and we must rise in Him. That’s the big difference between us and fish. We die to live.

You’ve been caught. Now go and catch.

In the Name of Jesus,
Amen.

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