January 31, 2021
(You can view a preached version of this sermon on YouTube.)
Last week Simon and the others left behind two boats full of fish, and now, just one chapter later, they are so hungry they are wandering through grainfields eating kernels from the heads of grain.
This discipleship thing is no joke.
St. Francis of Asisi (back when he was just regular Francis of Asisi) could have lived a life of luxury. His dad was a wealthy cloth merchant and, as one web site puts it, Francis “squander[ed] his youth away in having excessive fun.” I would argue that having fun is not “squandering” and I’m not sure there is such a thing as “excessive fun,” but you get the idea. Francis was rich and comfortable and doing just fine.
Then God started showing up to him in visions. One day, when Francis was in the ruins of a church building, Jesus spoke from the crucifix and said, “Rebuild my church.” So while his father was out of town, Francis took and sold some of his dad’s cloth and brought the money to the priest of the broken down church. (You can see Francis is taking Jesus’ call quite literally—like if Simon and crew had started throwing their nets over people in the streets.)
The priest, though, didn’t want this stolen money—or more to the point, didn’t want to incur the wrath of Francis’ dad. And sure enough, when Dad found out, he was furious. Francis was summoned before the bishop. With his dad and many other people looking on, the bishop explained to Francis why he should not use ill-gotten gains to repair the church buildings. And convicted of his sins, Francis gave his father back all the money he had received from selling the cloth—and all of the clothes he was wearing at the time. The poor bishop had to act quickly to throw a robe on the naked Francis. He renounced his father and lived the rest of his life in poverty: begging, restoring ruined church buildings, working with the sick, and founding the Franciscan order.
This discipleship thing is no joke. Sacrificing money is a big deal. Even if you’re not called like Simon or Francis to leave everything, we are all, as Christians, called to give and to share. The biblical standard for giving is a tithe—ten percent of your income.
A clergy friend recently told me of a conversation she has with her stewardship committee about how they should all be giving away 10% of their income. “My goodness,” someone said, “if we did that we’d have to completely re-adjust how we live our lives.”
“Well, yeah,” said my friend. “That’s kind of the point.”
Of course, discipleship is not just about material sacrifice; it also involves other kinds of sacrifice–like social sacrifices and sacrifices of safety. In the text we heard today, there are basically three stories: Jesus gleans grain on the Sabbath, Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and Jesus chooses the twelve apostles. This last part seems pretty disconnected from the two Sabbath stories, but it is worth noting that Jesus names these disciples immediately after the religious leaders “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”
In saying “yes” to Jesus, the apostles are not only giving up some money—and fish—in order to follow him around the countryside. They are also attaching themselves to Jesus in a way that puts them in bad standing with some of their religious leaders and threatens their physical safety as well.
Norman Kember was a biophysics professor in London—which I imagine was a pretty good gig. He was also a Christian and a pacifist and so he decided to join a Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq. You may remember that in 2005, four CPT members were kidnapped by armed gunmen in Iraq. Norman was one of them.
He and his teammates were held captive for months as their captors made demands from the international community. Just over three months after the kidnapping, the body of one of Norman’s teammates, Tom Fox, was found in a garbage dump. About two weeks after that, the remaining three team members were freed by armed forces. Which was, to be sure, a little awkward for committed pacifists.
This discipleship thing is no joke.
So, up to this point, this is a good Mennonite sermon, right? Discipleship and sacrifice and commitment. That’s what we’re all about. And all of that is there in the text, to be sure.
But you know what is also in the text? Provision and freedom and wholeness—and even, I think, some humor.
Provision: Even though Simon and the other fishermen don’t have fish to eat, they do find food. Just like when Francis throws off his clothes he is given a robe.
Freedom: Jesus insists that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. For his first century followers, this is a release from the oppressive nature of some of the religious rules that were imposed on them. I would say that for Jesus’ 21st century followers, it is the practice of Sabbath itself that is an invitation to freedom. Rather than having too many Sabbath rules, many of us are more likely to ignore Sabbath altogether—but this commandment, which Jesus does follow, is an invitation to a space in time where there is freedom from work, freedom from the relentless insistence on productivity, freedom to connect with God and each other in ways not often allowed by our modern schedules and obligations.
Wholeness: The man’s withered hand is healed—it is restored to wholeness. And immediately after Jesus names the twelve apostles, he gives his Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount). Luke writes that “all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (V. 19)
And humor? I really like a perspective on this passage I heard from a Jewish scholar, Amy Robertson. She is amused by the incident of Jesus healing the man’s hand, because really, technically, Jesus doesn’t do anything. Talking to someone is not a Sabbath violation. Obviously Jesus knows he is healing the man. And the religious leaders know Jesus is healing the man. But he never technically does “work.” Robertson says she can just picture Jesus locking eyes with the Pharisees while he says to the man, “stretch out your hand.” Just daring them to find something wrong with what he’s doing. I think this is kind of a funny scene—just like last week’s image of the boats that are about to sink with all of those fish.
So yes, following Jesus does require sacrifice—sacrifice of material goods, of comfort, of social standing, of safety.
And as followers of Jesus we experience God’s provision, we embrace a deep freedom, we participate in healing and seek wholeness. And we find joy and humor in life together.
This discipleship thing is no joke. For sure. But it can involve a few jokes, and perhaps even lead to “excessive fun.”