Sermon: The Pole Star
Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D. Min.
Location: First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date: January 21, 2018
In the midst of preparing for this morning, I received an email from a preacher-friend of mine that simply said, “Praying for you as you prepare and deliver sermon Sunday. Don’t blow it!” Oh my, no pressure there is there? There’s a panoply of passages or texts we could look at on our first Sunday together but I’m going to stick to the one the lectionary is providing for today in Mark 1. Turn in your Bible to Mark 1.14-26. Our text highlights one simple idea that makes my job easier today and it’s perfect starting place for you and me to begin a long-lasting relationship together.
The Story of Mark is a fast-paced Story that focuses on one person and one major point. He crafts his carefully chosen words to indicate that things are different now; he is trying to convey that our very world has changed and his Gospel Story is an invitation to join in that new difference and distinctiveness. It focuses on one person, Jesus, and it makes one major point that the Kingdom of God is among us. These two realities are the power that turn all of our worlds upside down. We pick up in the Story immediately following Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John. John has since been arrested and thrown in prison because his preaching began to pinch the religious and secular powers of his time. The Baptist is introduced by Mark and is then quickly escorted off the narrative stage and the main character and purpose of the Story is brought in to focus. Listen to the Word of God!
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
16 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.17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (1)
Time and familiarity with today’s scripture has had the unfortunate result of our losing the sharp edge of our Story. We hear these words and can imagine Jesus walking about the breezy shore of the Galilee with the birds flying and all and he calls the first four disciples as he jauntily takes a walk on the beach. We get caught up wondering if Jesus already knew them or not since they responded so passively. The fact is, it does not really matter if Jesus already knew the four as the point of the encounter is much sharper and edgier.
We are being invited by Mark to see that Jesus was out and about with everyday people in the middle of their everyday lives. Jesus was out meeting people where they were in the larger community. The Good News of God came to Jesus and Jesus didn’t keep it to himself. He proclaimed it.
Now it’s helpful to note that there is a huge difference between proclaiming something and teaching something. Teaching helps others learn facts and nuances and assists in helping us learn how to think. We are taught something and then we are left to determine whether or not it is “true.”
Proclaiming is different. When Jesus comes proclaiming in Mark’s Story, he is declaring Truth whether or not we determine that we agree with his facts are or not. Proclamation is immutable Truth. Proclamation is not debatable. No matter what you say or try to prove, the thing proclaimed is the real deal. Let’s say you and I are looking up at the blue sky and I tell you, “Look, the sky is neon green.” You would look at me and say, “No it’s not. It’s blue. No matter how hard I try to convince you the sky is neon green the fact remains the sky is still blue. Just because I argue against you does not change the reality of the thing at hand. Jesus comes proclaiming in our Story.
And what immutable Truth is he proclaiming? The Good News. And what is the Good News? He is not coming on the scene and proclaiming what Western Christianity has long proffered as the “Good News” is that if we believe in him then we have eternal life through his work on the Cross – which we do big time, by the way! The deal is though, that’s not the Good News he was proclaiming. The Good News Jesus is declaring is that now is the opportune time and we are to see, experience, and enter into the movement of God’s in breaking, present kingdom in the here and now! Jesus does not begin his ministry by asking people whether they are going to heaven or hell; he begins by declaring the immutable truth that whether you want to embrace it or not, the very kingdom, the very presence of God, is in and among the people right this very minute!
Mark’s Gospel is loaded with urgency. Whereas the religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees want to debate facts on when the reign of God will show up, Jesus’ very first words are, “Hey everyone! Turn around and look at life in a new way: Quit debating and talking about the reign of God but look! The Kingdom of God is among you now!” We tend to hear the word ‘repent’ and think of how we should stop sinning. The word ‘repent’ feels so lugubrious and heavy; no one wants to hear about repentance because it feels like such a downer. Beloved, the word repent is so much richer than that simple meaning. It means to stop what you’re doing, turn around in the opposite direction and gain an entirely new perspective, a totally new view of God, of neighbor, and of our daily life. So, when the four fishermen hear Jesus say, “Come, follow me,” they are being told in the imperative to drop what they’re doing and is culturally expected of them and turn towards an entirely new way of living, loving, and sharing life. Why are they to do that? Because the Kingdom of God is at hand! Let me share with you my paraphrase of today’s text from Mark and listen to hear what I am suggesting the text is telling us today.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee declaring the good news that God is doing a new thing, saying the Good News is this:
Now is the opportune time,
The Kingdom of God has joined you,
Reorient yourself and give allegiance to God’s new way of living.
As Jesus was walking and living out this new life by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fisherman. And Jesus called out to them and yelled, “C’mon and fall in behind me and I will make you fish for people!” And immediately they abandoned and cut ties with their past and followed him.
As he went a little further, he saw James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boats restoring the nets. Immediately he yelled out to them, and they abandoned their daddy Zebedee in the boat with the day-laborers and followed him.
Simon and Andrew heard the urgency in Jesus’ call and cut ties with their professional past and followed him. James and John hear Jesus’ call and they not only abandoned the family business but also their own dad, the paterfamilias – the patriarch of the earthly family – to go and follow Jesus. It cost each of the four something very dramatic. Their following Jesus redefined the way they lived their life, the way they understood their relationship with neighbor as well as what it meant to be a follower of God; in other words, their following of the call of Jesus changed their present-day life; Jesus spent more time talking about what it means to be “saved” in this life in the present tense as opposed to the afterlife. Salvation, wholeness, is a present reality for Jesus and in order to experience that we have to reorient ourselves, let go of what we think defines us and how we think we define God and follow Jesus.
Professional fishing defined and directed the four disciples’ lives. What defines and directs your life and mine? Does your hobby define who you are or does Jesus define your hobby?
Do your business dealings define who you are and your success or does Jesus define you and your business dealings that demonstrate the kingdom of God is among us?
Do the activities you do with your family define who you are or does Jesus define your family and what it is that directs your family life?
Do the good works you do through civic clubs and organizations define who you are or does Jesus define the work you do in our civic clubs and community service?
Do your investments define who you are and what you believe or does Jesus give meaning to your investments, wealth, savings and what you spend your money on?
Jesus asked the four fishermen to decide that day to publicly indicate what defines them – Their work? Their family? The culture’s expectations? Or will he, Jesus, define and direct what they to do, say, live, and love?
The great church historian Alister McGrath indicates that back in the early Reformation, the first Protestants rallied around a saying, “ad fontes,” Latin words that literally mean a returning to the fountainhead and sources of the Christian faith, which for them, were the original Old and New Testament scriptures as opposed to blindly adhering to a Papal bull or mandate.(2) Mark is advocating not a return to the sources per se; Mark is advocating “ad fontem” – a return to the Source of our faith which is Jesus. Ad fontem means Jesus shines light on all our relationships with God and each other, with family, business or philanthropic experiences and not the other way around. The proclamation in Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Source, the foil, the ruler by which we measure our faithfulness and service. One can be a great teacher, Rotarian, Bible Study Fellowship attender, mom or dad, Habitat builder and still be a lousy Christ-Follower if Jesus is not defining your work, your teaching, your parenting and/or your civic activity.
In my pocket I carry a small compass with me wherever I go. Whenever I am in a meeting, out and about, spending money or talking with others, I will place my hand in my right pocket and fumble around with this little compass. Why? I do this because whenever I feel or look at my compass, I am reminded of Ad Fontem, the Source of my faith which is Jesus. Just as the compass points to magnetic north and helps us navigate our way by the Pole Star, the North Star, Polaris, the compass in my pocket reminds me that in all I do or say, I will follow the direction of my spiritual pole star, i.e. Jesus. If I follow my compass and the direction its pointed, I will always find my way back home to the Lord’s loving arms who will always show me the way and how I am to live.
As a spin on the popular phrase from the Capital One credit card commercials, “What’s in your wallet?”, I ask each of us, “What’s in your pocket or purse that reminds you who, where or what your Pole Star is?”
Repent, beloved, i.e. reorient yourselves to seeing God and neighbor in new ways! The Kingdom of God is among us this very moment! And all of God’s people say, Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D. Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
(1)The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(2) Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought. An Introduction. Fourth Ed., (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2012), 40.