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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT Follow Me - Mark 1:14-20

Once again, the gospels after Epiphany are all about beginnings. We’ve seen John baptize Jesus and proclaim him the Lamb of God. We’ve seen Jesus begin his ministry and Nathanael proclaim him the Son of God. This week we see Andrew and Peter, James and John drop everything to follow Christ.

As we start the year, what do these gospels have to tell us? What kind of beginning is Christ calling us to? After all, we’re baptized Christians. We know we’re redeemed. Our sins are mostly misdemeanors. We go to church on Sunday. We’re even taking the time to read this gospel. So, what more does he want?

Follow me: that is what Jesus wants. Sometimes Christ speaks in parables, other times he poses questions… not this time. Jesus phrases his message in a no-frills imperative voice: Follow me. Put down your nets: and I will make you fishers of men. They did. And he did. And the world has never been the same since.

Follow me: that is what Jesus wants from us, too. Put down your remotes. Get off your couches. Stop texting. Stop being busy being busy. We pay lip service to the fact that being a Christian is more than a Sunday morning thing. But beyond platitudes, to be a Christian comes down to constantly answering Christ… to following him in all things and at all times. That defines what we are and why we are here. Being a Christian governs every aspect of our lives: our private personal conduct, our family,
social and professional lives. It is what God has planned for us from before time began.

OK. But exactly what does it mean to follow Christ? Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing. Right up front he tells us that he has work for us to do. We are to be disciples. We are to be fishers of men. God does not give us his grace to sock away for a rainy day. We are to be channels of his peace, not repositories of his favor. Our lives must proclaim the gospel… or we trivialize the cross. It is the ultimate example of “use it or lose it.”

Let’s ask ourselves: Are we using God’s grace? Or letting it stagnate? Are we truly disciples? Or just someone with a baptism record tucked away somewhere? Are we living with purpose? Or are we drifting along? Does our life witness Christ’s love? Or does it mock his sacrifice? In fact, do we have any idea what following Jesus really means?

For Peter, Andrew and James it eventually meant martyrdom. Only God knows precisely what it will mean for each of us. Every day brings new challenges… new opportunities. That is why every day in Christ starts with a leap of faith. We focus that faith with an active prayer life built around reading and living his word… through organized bible study, through private daily devotionals, through making Christ a real presence at rising, at dining, in idle and in active times… and finally in day’s end reflections. Faith always comes first. Without it there is no Hope, no Charity. Paul
Paul instructs us in Hebrews 11:1 that: Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

Father Mychal Judge made that leap of faith on 9/11. As a New York City Fire Department Chaplain, he followed Jesus to the World Trade Center. But before he did, he left us this prayer: “Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way.” Father Judge put his faith in Christ and followed him home to glory in the company of so many other 9/11heroes.

Chances are, following Jesus will not mean martyrdom for any of us. But it certainly does mean struggle and sacrifice… both large and small… for every one of us. That’s the way it was meant to be. As Peter and Andrew could tell you: The fish don’t jump into the boat. It takes long, hard, dedicated, often frustrating, work. And that goes double for the fishers of men. Disciples are not meant to drift along basking in God’s grace. We must work at being disciples, helping Jesus make more disciples… in our families, among our friends… reflexively spreading his saving net out to everyone we meet.

Every conversation we have today… every misunderstanding, every frustration, every disappointment… they are all opportunities for kindness, for forgiveness, for humility. They are all the voice of Jesus calling to us: Follow me.
eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ - Mark 1: 18

Mark tells us that Jesus simply called them and they obeyed. No elevated character, or religious leanings, or special aptitude gives them qualification. However, they did exemplify faithfulness and sacrifice and a bit of recklessness, a life-giving break with convention.

Challenge and Opportunity:

An English bishop once said, “Everywhere the disciples went there was a revolution or a revival; everywhere I go they serve tea.” Or, as Annie Dillard commented once: “The enormous temptation in all of life is to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end.” Make a conscious resolution in the New Year to step out, take some risks, for Christ’s sake and for the world for which he died and was resurrected.
Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck In Good Faith: Always We Begin Again

Not to bring up a potentially sore subject, but how are your New Year’s resolutions going? I
mean, it’s been a couple weeks so I think this is a fair question. I’m not asking this to put you on the defensive. For all I know, your new vegan diet is working brilliantly and your six-pack abs have already caused a stir at the gym. Of course, if things aren’t going exactly according to plan, you’re not alone. Apparently only 8% of New Year’s resolutions stick, which is why I pre-empted the whole thing this year by not making any.

As I thought about this annual tradition of making and breaking resolutions, it reminded me a bit of the spiritual life. We fall away from our resolutions just as we fall away in our relationship with God. Every person of faith, no matter how devoted, goes through cycles of engagement and disengagement. Sometimes this occurs around prayer, those conversations with God that offer perspective and relationship. We intentionally set aside time for silence and introspection and all is well for awhile, until the demands of our lives come crashing back in, causing us to stumble.

Sometimes it happens with renewed dedication to church attendance before falling away again. We get out of the habit or something happens in our lives that we can’t make sense of and we decide it’s just not worth it. It seems easier to give up on God and drown out the still, small voice within our souls that gently invites us back into relationship.
And it’s easy enough to do. Just turn up the volume on your life by avoiding silence, shunning introspection, over-scheduling yourself, staying online, and keeping the TV on. That’s pretty much the formula for avoiding the deeper questions of life.

These cycles of connection and separation don’t make us bad or weak, just human. They also bind us to the generations of saints and sinners who have come before us in the faith. People just like you and me whose faith has fallen short at one time or another.

The difference between breaking a New Year’s resolution and falling away from relationship with God hinges upon divine invitation. The guilt and sense of failure we put on ourselves when we give in to temptation and eat those bad carbs even after we resolved not to, is self-inflicted. In contrast, God doesn’t curse us when we stumble but offers a hand to lift us back up and make us whole. God continually invites us back into relationship; the invitation is always extended no matter what we do or fail to do. Which is an amazing thing and part of what makes God, well, God.

One of my favorite quotes from St. Benedict, the 6th century father of western monasticism, is “Even when we fail, always we begin again.” We will fail; we will fall. That’s not a question. But each stumble is an opportunity to begin again and renew right relationship with God. That hand with which God offers to lift us up is always extended in invitation. God waits
patiently and eagerly for us to return.

So, perhaps you’ll resolve to draw closer to your faith this year. Or at least start asking some deeper questions about the world around you. No one has all the answers, of course, but every faith community helps us see the divine presence in our midst. And if you stumble along the way? That’s fine. Because “even when we fail, always we begin again.”

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