Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, Church of the Epiphany, Lebanon

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me’” (Mk. 1:17).

Some of you know that this weekend was our diocesan convention: our main gathering as a church each year, to do the necessary business of the community. It was different this year, of course, a “virtual convention” held through video conference and live streaming. We passed a budget, which is an important tool for ministry, guiding our mission in the coming year. We elected people to leadership, and we took counsel with each other about our common life. It all began with prayer, with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, as was meet and right.

One feature of any convention, any meeting held according to parliamentary process, is that the gathering needs to get organized. Rules need to be adopted, an agenda needs to be approved, officers and committees appointed, so that the meeting can do its business. It’s the first order of business, as it were. It’s the work that goes on before the work can begin. If you don’t pay attention to laying the groundwork of your time together, it will be hard to get things accomplished. In that respect, this year was no different from the years before.

Our Gospel reading this morning is a story of call. This is often the case in Epiphany, where we see Jesus selecting his crew. He calls the Twelve to join him in his ministry, to be leaders in the church. “Church” is not a word the Gospel writer Mark uses; but in choosing twelve Jesus was intentional in forming a community. After all, there were twelve patriarchs and twelve tribes in Israel. Jesus was not just choosing some folks to follow him, but by choosing twelve he was signifying his intention to lead a community.

In choosing Simon and Andrew, James and John, Jesus was “getting organized,” paying attention to the first order of business before the work began. He called these four men, to take responsibility in the life of the community, to join him in his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. They were to cast out demons; and eventually they traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem where he would be crucified and rise again. It all began, however, in Galilee, with Jesus choosing and calling folk who were to follow him in the days ahead.

What’s required for answering the call? Our four fishermen may hold a clue. First, we have to be listening. Remember the story of the call of Samuel last week: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9). The two sets of brothers in our Gospel today weren’t so distracted by the work of mending that they missed the call. They weren’t so enmeshed in what they were doing that they couldn’t hear the word that was being spoken. They were open enough, in their ears and in their hearts, to consider the call.

Second, we have to be willing to stretch ourselves. There’s nothing in our Gospel to suggest that these four people had any prior training in the work of the kingdom. Simon and Andrew, James and John, accepted a call that required them to rearrange their lives in dramatic ways. They had to be transformed. They received a new vocation and a new identity. As Jesus says in our reading, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mk. 1:17). When they stretched themselves, they became something more than they’d been before.

Third, we have to be ready to hit the road. For Jesus’ disciples, following Jesus was a drastic move. It took them to places that were far beyond themselves. The disciples in our Gospel today had to be ready, not only to hear and to obey, but to get moving. As our reading says, And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mk. 1:18). Answering the call moves you from where you are to where you need to be.

Part of the message for us this morning is that, in terms of call, we’re already organized for business. God has already called us: that’s why we’re here. The next step takes us out from the Church of the Epiphany, into the mission field beyond. God has brought you into this community, so that you can be sent in mission and ministry. Our confirmands are showing us the way, in listening, stretching, and moving themselves in response to the call. We’re organized so that we can do the work. Jesus has called us, and now it’s time to follow.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee