Daunting Words: ‘Follow Me.’

Aquaculture Image by Emil Athanasiou via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Epiphany 3/4 | 01.21.2018/1.28.2018 | Mark 1:14-20

“Follow me” (Mark 1:17).

I’m not sure there are any verses in Scripture that are so succinct yet enormous as those two words. “Follow me” are some Jesus’ most daunting and exciting words.

He says them off the heels of this important announcement: “the kingdom of God has come near” (1:15). With that announcement, Jesus is saying that the presence and activity of God has arrived. A new era has begun. The Divine Champion has come to love, to teach, to save—to do God’s work—and what words accompany and mark that momentous arrival?

“Follow me.”

Two daunting and exciting words.

They’re daunting, because, well, just look at the example of the disciples in today’s story. These guys—Andrew, Simon, James, and John—upon these words, literally drop what they are doing, abandon their father, and take on an entirely new life. An entirely new life is quaked into existence just because Jesus says, “Follow me.”

James and John literally leave their father! And, to clarify, one scholar notes that this “is more than some ‘flighty’ behavior of young sons,” this is abandoning the honorable livelihood of their household.[1] “Follow me” is a daunting and sacrificial phrase.

Not only that, now look not only the life they abandon, but also the life into which they are thrust. After ‘dropping their nets,’ what came next for these disciples in the Gospel of Mark was a demanding life of service: exorcisms, healings, preaching, resistance, feedings, teachings, risk, and caring for others. All because of ‘Follow me.”

With the words there is an immediate “sense of urgency” implanted to join in the work of Jesus.[2] I don’t mean to sound cynical, but sometimes I hear some Christians dotingly categorize themselves as “Jesus followers”, but I can’t help but not understand that warm fuzzy tone with which they say those daunting words. The call to discipleship, the call “Follow me”, as seen here and throughout the rest of the Gospel is pretty clearly not a shallow sentimental little phrase, but a thunderously demanding, urgent, and grueling call by Jesus. I don’t hear those words sentimentally; I don’t hear those words with warm fuzzies. I hear those words with profound intimidation!

For goodness’ sake, “Follow me” is a call to pick up a cross (Mark 8:34), to an urgent and constant life of sacrifice and action. Jesus is asking for our whole life to be joined to him and his work. In everything that we do we should be thinking of how it is loving the neighbor, caring for the vulnerable, and sharing gospel. These words are disruptive and demanding!

So, when we call ourselves followers of Jesus, this does not mean Jesus is merely a brand we wear. This does mean we simply ‘like’ his Facebook page. This does not mean Jesus is merely our favorite ‘team’ of which we are simply passive fans. Just look!—shown by the example here in Mark, for Andrew, Simon, James, and John, this is a total and all-in lifestyle of activity and work, and not easy work!

Following Jesus is not fashion choice, it is not fandom, it is not passive, and it is not private. “Follow me” means we are called out of our boats of comfort and privacy into the world, taking Jesus to the streets where our whole lives are enjoined to his cause—the cause of love, justice, community, and spreading his good news. That is daunting!

“Follow me” is daunting. And, sisters and brothers, my goodness, it also powerful and exciting.

“Follow me” is a daunting task, but also a powerful gift. These words give us, ordinary people like you and me, sacred identity and meaning. Here’s what I mean by that: look and see that Jesus does not seek out major armies, governments, or merchants, but rather calls everyday people to do his work on earth, people like you and me (cf. 1:17-20).

YOU are the Andrews and the Marys. Next to you are the Simons and James and the Marthas! We have identity as disciples, and not only that, with these two words we are called to meaningful lives—not just surviving day in and day out, but to lives of purpose in duty to one another, and to the world. That is how “Follow me” is so powerful.

Furthermore, these words “Follow me” are not only to us as individuals but to us as a community. “Notice,” emphasizes one scholar, “Jesus calls them together, not separately.”[3] We are called by this daunting phrase not alone, but together. The people around you right now and all other parishes, all other synods, and all other denominations are together! And “God knows…We cannot follow Jesus on our own…We need each other,”[4] and the powerful thing is that “Follow me” creates community and calls us together.

And we are not only joined together, but the words, “Follow me” inherently imply Jesus’ presence! The ‘me’ in that statement is the Son of Man himself. So, of course, the life of discipleship is not without its difficulties, challenges, and hardships, and although the “promise of the Gospel is not that hardship will be taken away,” it is a promise “that God is with us in the hardship.”[5]

And, finally, my fellow disciples, the call to “Follow” is daunting, yes, but remember always, what saves us is not how well we follow Jesus, “what saves us is Jesus…[T]he cross is the basis for our salvation, [and the] following” is our joyful response.[6] So follow not in mortal fear, but in joy and power.

“Follow me.”—daunting because our whole lives are called into service. Powerful because our whole lives are given identity, community, and Christ himself. Amen.

     [1] Matthew Skinner, “Podcast #582 – Third Sunday after Epiphany,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=974.

     [2] Karoline Lewis, “Podcast #582 – Third Sunday after Epiphany,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=974.

     [3] Karoline Lewis, “You are Never Alone,” Dear Working Preacher, Workingpreacher.org,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5044.

     [4] Ibid.

     [5] David Lose, “Epiphany 3 B: Fullness Where We Least Expect It,” In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/01/epiphany-3-b-fullness-where-we-least-expect-it/.

     [6] Lamar Williamson Jr., Mark, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983), 48?

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