Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies


Sunday 8th November

Mark 1:14-20

A Call To Discipleship!

In the lead-up to Advent – that culminates for us in the birthday of the King I wonder if today you’re already feeling assaulted by the ‘party at all costs’ attitude this year. I had to pop into town a week ago and wondered why on earth on a warm, sunny Saturday there were long queues at some of the shops – until I twigged that it was Hallowe’en – All Hallows Eve. And even ‘Strictly’ that evening had everyone, including the judges dressed in costume.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all drawn into today’s obsessional society which is desperate to entertain itself – and the Church isn’t removed from its worst effects. (Which is why this season of remembrance is so important). Because if we’re honest we’ve even turned many of our churches into places of "consumer religion" – populated (although thankfully not hugely) with individuals who have the attitude of "so what-can-the-church-do-for-me?" instead of the ancient ‘Shema’ call we heard last week to love God with everything we have; to love our neighbours as ourselves – and to remind ourselves of what real life has as its proper foundation ."

Sad though it is we know that if some people don’t like what’s going on, then they’ll go somewhere else and find something more suitable – more acceptable and palatable – something that perhaps fits their preferences, or their egos a little more closely!?

But as we’ve been seeing these last few weeks from the gospels Jesus is looking for disciples, rather than merely customers or consumers or fans of Christianity – and this is the call we hear him making again in today’s reading.

Someone once wisely observed that "an athlete was never made by reading an instruction manual, but by hard training and practice.” I know they were excellently coached, but the physical fitness of that All Blacks rugby team was ‘something else’! In other words things don’t happen just through the reading and repeating of words – but by living them out - and working hard at them! (I was also told by a friend that the All Blacks have a way of keeping egos in check. They have a rota whereby 2 of the team have the job of cleaning the changing room after a test match – and guess whose turn it was after winning the Rugby World Cup?...Richie McCaw the Captain and Dan Carter, the man of the match)

In our gospel reading Jesus says to Simon & Andrew, "Follow me – come learn from me!” Disciples aren’t just people who think the Christian message might be true, or who simply attend church or chapel; they’re people who accept that Jesus is Saviour & Lord; they’re people who are determined to give him the right, the prerogative to reign and rule in their lives.

This call of Jesus: to "follow him", was – and is - a call to action! He says, in effect, “Come out of your familiar ’comfort zones,’ there’s a job to be done; and, I need you to cooperate with me, learn from me in getting it done!” The word "follow" for these fishermen was going to involve unwavering, unshakeable total commitment – following Jesus to the point of watching him die. They were going to have to leave their nets – just like Bartimaeus had to leave his security blanket – his cloak – behind; just like we need to let go of all the stuff that encumbers us from travelling light with Jesus.

We have no idea how many generations the Zebedee family had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee, but it was likely that the fishing business had been going on a while. It was safe, secure: people knew what they were doing – and when things went pear-shaped with Jesus later on (or so they thought) it’s what Peter and the others went back to – because it was their familiar default setting.

Just think about it: here you are just getting on with things and along comes this young rabbi from Nazareth and tells you to drop whatever it is you’re doing. Tom Wright says: “Only when you think a bit about the sort of life (these four) had had, and the totally unknown future Jesus was inviting them into, do you understand how earth-shattering this little story was and is. ‘Leave everything you’ve known:

….and follow Jesus…’

Mark is probably hinting to his readers that the old family business of the people of God – the way they’d got used to doing things - is being left behind. God is wanting a new chapter to be written – and he is calling God’s new people to write it.” That’s why we need to get behind our new ministry area and work together. That’s why we need to be there en bloc on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd – to show the Bishop this is what we want too – communities alive in Christ.

The words Jesus uses: "follow me" indicate that Jesus is asking for our lives - our hearts - our souls - our minds – all the resources we have, the gifts he’s given us, all our strength! Lawks! he’s asking a lot isn’t he?? But, then, he gave us and gives us everything in return!

”Follow me” – .....two simple words I want us to think about this morning - on a Sunday that reminds us of just how many paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy. And not just those who gave their lives in the two World Wars – (a list of familiar names that we’ll hear read once again at the close of our service this morning) but almost 500 who’ve died since 2001 in Afghanistan; over 4,500 US soldiers since the onset of the Iraq war. And the estimated 220-320,000 in the Syrian Civil War. It goes on….& just one more statistic that Revd Glynne James reminded me about in a while back: of the 15 million who gave their lives in the Great War – 6 million were totally unaccounted for – lost, no details.

If we have ears to hear, Jesus is constantly asking us the same question he asked Simon and Andrew, and James and John. We know that some listened to his call, while others, like the "rich young ruler" from a couple of weeks back, rejected his offer and walked away, sorrowful and downcast!. So when Jesus calls us to "follow him," he’s calling us to a new direction; he’s calling us to a new future; and he’s calling us to a new way of thinking and living!

What’s new about the direction? Well if we really understand the gospel, it’s an awesome and incredible invitation for each and every one of us to discover a fresh sense of purpose and trajectory for our lives. There was a famous philosopher called René Descartes who was exploring the nature of existence and consciousness - what it means to be a human being - and famously said the words “I think therefore I am” (Cogito ergo sum). But some have wondered if our modern equivalent isn’t “I shop therefore I am” or Tesco ergo sum (as Elaine Storkey, one of my Oxford tutors put it!) Is that all there is to life? The essence of the Christian gospel is that without Jesus in our lives we’re totally without direction – completely lost. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength – and they neighbour as thyself.”

We’re going to be thinking a lot about light and candles these next weeks, aren’t we? And it’s John’s gospel that records Jesus, himself, saying: "I am the light of the world: whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Jesus, is telling us that he’ll give us a new sense of direction, so that life will no longer be aimless and our identity no longer bound up with how we look or what we’re able to buy – or indeed what people think of us. He says: “follow me” – not any of this other stuff, not any more, anyway – because there’s a new direction to go in.

Someone who says: "follow me" certainly isn’t someone who’s dwelling on the past! What a relief that one is: with Jesus it’s not where we’ve been that matters; but where we‘re going. And it’s not whether we’ve fallen or messed up that matters (because we all have and we all do), but whether, with his help and forgiveness, we’re going to be prepared to get up and go.

The "good news" of Jesus, is that as we trust him – trust in what he did for us on the Cross – we no longer need to be defeated by our failings, our messes, our sins of the past – because they can be – indeed they are already... forgiven: put away, ‘as far as the east is from the west’ as Psalm 103 reminds us, buried in a dark pool (as Corrie Ten Boom envisages them) – with a sign hanging over them saying “no fishing”.

We can make a new beginning – if we choose to! So to listen to Jesus saying ‘follow me’ can mean a new direction, a new future that isn’t dogged by the past – and then finally, a whole new lifestyle!

God calls us as redeemed people to live in this world as demonstrations of his rescuing power - as agents (if you like) of his transforming grace. There is a tension God intends us to face living in our culture because it’s how we learn to live according to a whole new set of considerations. The bible calls it ‘living by faith’ – living in ways that, first and foremost please Jesus; that trust him and want to make him known to those around us.

I’ve been managed and performance- assessed and graded and marked and appraised to within an inch of my life over the years. I’ve lost sleep, ended up with stress-induced liver disease that very nearly killed me. I’ve agonized to please and impress and woo and wow....and for what? In the words of Gerhard Tersteegen, an 18th Century German hymn writer: ‘”And thus be great and do great things and die – and be embalmed with praise.” – An epitaph unlike those who really deserve our thanks as we remember them today. (although when Julie and I were down in Kingsbridge Cemetery recently we did notice one that read “I told you I was ill!”

Jesus calls us to discover a different kind of living – one that affects every area of our life – not just this slot when we come together to worship on a Sunday morning. So when we hear him saying; “follow me” this is a call to discipleship! Nothing else – and nothing less.