Come and follow me

Come and follow me

This is the sermon the Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles preached at the Third Sunday after Epiphany worship service, January 24, 2021.


Epiphany 3B  Mark 1.14-20

“Now after John was arrested…”

We’re still in chapter one of Mark’s gospel – in fact, we’re haven’t even reached the halfway point of chapter one. Already John the Baptizer has appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by John, followed by the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove on Jesus, then immediately ushering him into the wilderness for 40 days. There alone in the wilderness, Satan tempts Jesus while angels watch over him.

What takes Matthew four chapters to cover, takes Mark only 13 verses. This is what it’s like reading Mark’s Gospel… only the most important elements of Jesus’ story are shared. It’s a gospel that moves quickly from one scene to the next without storytelling flourishes that more fully set the scene for readers.

So, when we read Mark’s gospel, we must pay attention to what actually is included. We have to ask ourselves, why is Mark sharing this particular story or detail when he omits so many other things?

This is what I had to remind myself as I read the gospel for this morning. Most of the reading is familiar:

Jesus’ offers his first public words of his ministry, followed by the calling of Simon and Andrew to join him as fishers of people.

Two events that make perfect sense for chapter one of Mark…but what doesn’t make sense to me are the five words that introduce the text,

Now after John was arrested…”

Mark won’t tell us why John is arrested and executed until chapter six, and yet, Mark wants his readers to know that Jesus begins assembling his disciples right after John is imprisoned. Why? What’s going on?

What we learn in chapter 6 is that in addition to preaching repentance from the wilderness, John the Baptizer also preaches about Herod Antipas’ illegal marriage to Herodias. Like so many prophets before him, John challenges the throne, calling the king to live up to a higher standard, to God’s standard. John expects Herod Antipas to follow Levitical law which forbids him from marrying his brother’s wife when that brother is still living.

We learn in Mark chapter 6 that Herod Antipas actually enjoys listening to John the Baptizer even though he’s unsettled by how personal John’s sermons have become. He believes John to be a righteous, holy man, who is called by God. In truth, Herod’s a bit scared of John, so he protects him when his wife Herodias wants him arrested. She does not enjoy listening to John preach, we’re told she holds a grudge against him because of the things he’s saying about her. Herodias wants him dead.

This places Herod Antipas in a difficult situation.

If John keeps preaching these prophetic sermons, he’ll likely incite a rebellion.

But if Herod arrests and executes John, then his death will likely incite a rebellion.

Like I said, a difficult situation.

Today Mark tells us that Herod chooses to arrest John. While we have to wait until chapter six for the details, what we can imagine here in chapter one is the level of shock John’s followers feel. Herod abuses his power. He arrests John the Baptizer simply because his wife doesn’t like what he’s saying about her. No doubt this move agitates folks into action.  This is where we are today.

Now after John was arrested…Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.

Jesus’ preaching picks up where John left off. In fact, Jesus’ message is so similar to John’s that folks thought Jesus WAS John. They thought John had been raised from the dead! We identify John the Baptizer as the prophet who preached repentance and today we hear that Jesus, too, preached this message.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus didn’t take cover, he doesn’t cower to Herod’s power. Jesus instead begins preaching all over Galilee with the same courageous urgency as John the Baptizer. The Kingdom of God is among us! Repent! Believe! The time you’ve been waiting for is finally here! The reign of God is present among you.

At this point, Herod likely thinks Jesus is the spark that will light the fire of revolution. He likely expects Jesus to demand folks join him in his fight to take overthrow the king.

But that’s not what Jesus does. At all.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus walks by the sea of Galilee where he sees Simon and Andrew throwing their fishing nets into the lake. After John was arrested, Jesus speaks these bold words echoing John the Baptizer, but rather than call Simon and Andrew to join a violent resistance, Jesus instead invites them to turn away from their oppressors and instead come follow him.

After John was unjustly arrested, Jesus doesn’t ignite an insurrection, he offers an invitation, “Come and follow me.”

These five words set the stage for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and tell us how he as God incarnate will respond to Herod’s oppressive regime. And these words speak directly to us today. Imagine how many current scenarios could begin our own story of Jesus calling us to join him:

Now after the unarmed black man was shot.

Now after the election was challenged.

Now after Covid casualties reached 400,000 Americans.

Now after the U.S. Capitol was breached.

Now after the unpeaceful transition of power.

We always have an option as to how we will respond. I hear Jesus here with this call to follow him, but to be honest, I also hear Michelle Obama in 2016 reminding America that, “When they go low, we go high.”

Now After John was arrested, his followers were ready to overthrow Herod Antipas. I expect Simon and Andrew were among these people because as soon as Jesus asks them to come, they at once drop their nets to follow him. He doesn’t coerce them or bully them into coming, he invites them with the enticing power of Good News.

Mark tells us that Jesus appears proclaiming that the Reign of God is has come near –and it is built on justice, truth and love. Herod’s violent, oppressive reign is coming to an end…even if it wasn’t yet clear to those first century followers. Loud, coercive voices can be hard to ignore. They can sound more powerful than they actually are. But Simon and Andrew are not fooled. With a tremendous amount of faith, they drop their nets and choose to follow Jesus.

They follow Jesus knowing that he’s calling them to repent, to turn away from their sins and turn toward the Good News. They follow him knowing that it’s going to be hard work. Challenging Herod’s violence with more violence would be far easier than what Jesus is calling them to do. But perhaps these first disciples know that would just perpetuate the cycle…violence begets violence begets violence.

Jesus doesn’t offer Simon and Andrew a life free of pain and oppression. He doesn’t promise to remove them from their hostile, occupied world. Jesus instead offers them hope in the form of an invitation. An invitation to join him in changing that hostile world, to join him in establishing God’s will on earth among all people.

This is Jesus’ invitation to us as well. We are living in that time after John was arrested and we have a choice. We can meet violence with violence. We can ignore the violence, choosing instead to stay in our boats and continue casting our nets into the lake. Or we can follow Jesus.

Following Jesus is not the easy choice. It’s neither the quick choice nor the pain-free choice. Following Jesus won’t instantly erase the trauma we’ve experienced or the betrayal or heartache. But it does offer us hope. It offers us a new way of life that requires loving the poor, the abused, the excluded. It requires courageously resisting evil forces who oppress other human beings because of their gender identity, sexuality, race or ethnicity.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus called out to those who would hear, Come and follow me.