Rev. Teri Peterson
fans or followers
3 January 2016, NL 2-16&17
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Mark sure doesn’t waste any time, does he? From the very first sentence he is a man of action, jumping right in to adult Jesus beginning his ministry kneeling at John’s feet in the river Jordan. It seems that Jesus started out as many preachers do—quoting his favorites. Both John and Jesus go with the message of “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But it isn’t long before Mark shows us a Jesus who is far more action than words.
It seems odd that here on the tenth day of Christmas, the first page of a new year, when we are beginning the season of Epiphany, we should be reading about grown-up Jesus traipsing about the Holy Land gathering friends and enemies, fans and followers. We usually think of Epiphany—the day after the 12th day of Christmas—filled with stars, wise men, and gifts…not the day when a 30 year old gets into a shouting match with a demon.
The word Epiphany, of course, means a sudden understanding, an insight—something has been revealed, we’ve had an A-Ha! moment. This season will be all about Jesus being revealed, and people, hopefully including us, gaining new insight and understanding of his kingdom, which is near at hand. Mark sets up the story with eight progressively more revealing epiphanies right here in the first chapter: from the heavens opening and God’s voice speaking to Jesus, telling him who he is, to the demon crying out in the synagogue telling everyone in the building who he is, from healing Simon’s mother in law to healing everyone in town to healing a leper with a loose tongue, from calling out names in such a way that people dropped everything and followed him to convincing them to follow him to other towns even when his popularity is growing right there at home. It’s a busy first chapter, and the next 15 will overflow with ways that God in Christ will reach out to us again and again and try to get us to understand, and to come and follow.
Come and follow.
Following requires going somewhere and doing something…not simply being amazed or entertained or fed. To Come and Follow means to get up and go where Jesus is going. The first disciples let their fishing nets fall from their hands and ignored the protests and pleas of their colleagues and family members—they got out of the boat and walked down the beach, to go where Jesus was going. They saw incredible power and heard shocking things, and they experienced the rush of being part of something big…and then Jesus went to the next town, and so did they.
Come and follow.
Our language has changed rapidly in recent years, so that now we follow celebrities on Twitter and our favorite ice cream shop on Facebook…which is not the same kind of following at all, of course. I can follow the local newspaper and my favorite author and DisneyLand, all from the safety of my couch, and whenever they say something it will come to me and even pop up a little red notification to let me know it’s arrived. Following them requires nothing of me.
Before we followed people and organizations on facebook, the button said “become a fan.” You could be a fan of a band, a book, a location, a person, a movie director, a store…you name it, it had fans.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus has more fans than followers. In our culture we like to talk about him, on the surface anyway. We quote the things he said that fit our worldview, we use the cross as decoration, and proclaim God’s blessings on the people we prefer. We build buildings and create institutions and make rules because of him. We like, or even love, Jesus, and feel good when we sing and pray and talk about him. When it comes down to it, though, does that make us fans, or followers?
Granted, it’s not always popular to be a fan. After all, Jesus was a brown skinned guy from the dangerous part of the world, and he lived in a country occupied by a white western European military who could and did kill people with impunity. He was a single man, he lived outside the economic structure of his day, and his friends were mostly teenage boys. He said things like “love your enemies” and “give to God what is God’s” and “put away your sword” and “they will know you are my followers by your love.” Even in his own day, he had only a few followers, though he seemed to have lots of fans, most of whom would fall away as time went on and they heard or saw more of the ways he subverted the empire, the economy, and the Temple.
To be a follower is not just to stand in line at the synagogue the day JC and the 12 come to town on tour, or to sport the band t-shirt on weekends. Fandom is easy and makes us feel good, we get a mood or ego boost and we can go on gushing until the next time they come around. Following will change us, and the world.
Jesus calls us as we are—Simon and Andrew and James and John are working in the boats right up until they hear their names. And then Jesus transforms us along the journey—they become fishers of people, no longer the same as the boys who hopped out onto the shore. Jesus lifts up Simon’s sick mother in law, a peasant woman confined to a clear role. Upon being healed, her first thought—immediately—is to serve. The word there is deacon—she becomes the first deacon, serving the needs of people in her care, transformed into a leader in compassion. The leper approaches Jesus with trepidation—“if you choose”—and Jesus feels it in his gut, this empathy and anger and longing and hope all wrapped up in a few words. He touches the man, just as he is, and he is transformed…not only from sickness to health and outcast to welcome, but also from fearful to joyful as he goes about telling everyone the good news.
From the very first chapter, Mark shows us a-ha moments that led to following Jesus, not merely to fandom. He reaches into the homes of grieving families, the bodies of sick sinners, and the minds of people who reach for violence as a first resort. He touches hands and hearts, he speaks peace and healing, he calls people to leave everything. Here, in the first chapter of this new year, with Jesus calling our names: will we be fans, or followers?
Come and follow.
May it be so. Amen.