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.
The year was 1975, and a young college graduate from the east coast was spending a year as a volunteer teacher in the midwest. She was far from home, with not a lot of money, not a lot of possessions— she didn’t even have a car. She got around on foot and by bus. One day, on her way home from teaching, she found herself walking home in the pouring rain. The bus was nowhere to be seen. She also had her guitar with her that day, and had no umbrella, so needless to say she was not very happy about walking home in the rain. But then as she was walking down the street, a car pulled up beside her. In the driver’s seat was a young man— maybe just a little bit older than her— with long hair and your typical 70’s attire— “you need a ride?” he asked. The young woman hesitated. Here she was, in a strange place, not a lot of friends, no family for hundreds of miles— accepting a ride home from a strange man was probably not the greatest idea. She glanced in the backseat and happened to see that the young man also had a guitar. “Well, he can’t be so bad then,” the young woman thought to herself. And she got in the car.
Now at this point you may be wondering, “what on earth was she thinking??” You may be thinking it was a bad idea for this young woman to get into a strange man’s car. It probably was. I, however, happen to be very glad she did, in this particular instance, because this just happens to be the story of how my mother and father first met.
Still, it’s a story that makes one a little nervous. It’s exactly the opposite of what any good mother would tell her daughter about accepting rides from strangers. It’s just not a smart thing to do. And in general, we just don’t put our immediate trust into a stranger— no matter how trustworthy they may seem on the surface. People have to be fully vetted— we want to know who they are, where they are from, what they’ve done— before we’re willing to trust them with our safety or our well-being. Perhaps sometimes we are overly vigilant, or overly skeptical of the motivations of others, but it almost feels like an unfortunate necessity of the world in which we live. A world in which a seemingly harmless teenager can show up at school with a gun. Or a world in which young women and girls are taken from their homes or assaulted in the streets. It seems only reasonable that we would harbor a certain sense of hesitation before putting our trust in a stranger.
Perhaps that’s one reason why hearing stories like the one from Mark’s gospel that we just read can be so jarring. Jesus is walking by Simon and Andrew, and from the shore calls out to them, “follow me.” The gospel tells us that they immediately left behind their nets—their very livelihoods— and followed him— a complete stranger.
Now if you’re anything like me, your immediate reaction to this story is to think to yourself, “I don’t think I could do that.” To begin with, wouldn’t any of us be hesitant to leave behind our livelihoods without some kind of contingency plan in place? Especially if we have families to support or debts to pay— we can’t just run off and leave our responsibilities behind. Furthermore, even if we were prepared to do all of that, wouldn’t we need to know something about the person we were following first? Wouldn’t we need to know that they were trustworthy, that they weren’t trying to scam us, or that they weren’t leading us into some kind of cult? Even if we were prepared to leave everything behind, we surely wouldn’t be prepared to do so for a complete and total stranger.
I remember a couple of years ago, I was helping to lead a confirmation class on the subject of discipleship. “What does it look like to follow Jesus?” That was the question at the heart of the class. In order to introduce the students to this question, we read this passage from the Gospel of Mark. You may or may not be surprised to hear that the student’s response was overwhelmingly negative. They bristled against the idea that anyone would be expected to follow a complete stranger. They were incredulous that they might be called upon to emulate the disciple’s act of radical faith and trust. “Sure, Jesus was a good guy,” they said, but no way would they follow anyone without knowing everything they could know about them first.
Perhaps part of this is simply a byproduct of growing up in the information age—when information is so readily available on the internet, it’s almost irresponsible not to do your research. But perhaps also, for better or for worse, we simply live in a world where trust is in short supply. There is a kind of skepticism that seems to come naturally to us in the 21st century. We are wary of strangers. We harbor a general mistrust of politicians and world leaders. We are hesitant to put our full faith and trust into any major institutions. We are always on the lookout for scams or people attempting to take advantage of us. Trust is not freely given in our society, it has to be earned. For better or for worse.
Now maybe this kind of skepticism gives us a sense that we are safer because of it. Maybe we feel like we’re insulating ourselves from potential fraud or violence against us or our children. But this kind of skepticism is not without it’s detriment as well. We end up going through all aspects of our lives having taken on this posture of skepticism and cynicism. And then that posture of skepticism begins to bleed over into our spiritual lives. And perhaps then we start to become skeptical and cynical towards God. Perhaps we start to feel uncertain about our ability to trust in God to provide for our needs. Perhaps we don’t really trust that following Jesus will lead us into a deeper, more fulfilling life. Perhaps we feel skeptical about the practicalities of discipleship in the 21st century. We just don’t trust Jesus to lead us where we think we want or need to go. We are wary of his more radical teachings. We are wary of how they might conflict with our sense of comfort in the status quo. We are wary at what he asks us to give up. We are wary. We are skeptical.
Still, I can’t help but feel that our world would be a lot better off if we trusted Jesus a little bit more. If we trusted his teachings on mercy and forgiveness, for instance, instead of holding grudges and maintaining bitter divisions. Or if we trusted his call for us to be peacemakers rather than putting all our trust in military might, drones, and bombs. Or if we trusted his guidance on how to engage with those on the margins of society— not with suspicion and mistrust, but with kindness, compassion and open hearts. You see, here’s the thing, we may think our skepticism and our wariness keeps us safe, but I think it also causes some serious erosion. Erosion of our ability to trust others. Erosion of our ability to trust God. Erosion of our sense compassion and empathy towards others. I think at some point, we need to learn to trust again. To trust with the kind of full faith and abandon of the psalmist, who writes, “God is my rock and salvation, and I shall not be shaken. Trust in God at all times, and pour out your heart before him for God is our refuge and our rock.” To trust with the kind of reckless enthusiasm of the disciples, who left everything behind to follow Jesus and became part of one of the greatest stories ever told. Do we not long for this kind of trust in our lives? Do we not long to be able to put aside the mantle of skepticism that has invaded our culture, in order to put our trust in something with absolute freedom?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for anyone to jump into a car with a stranger or to follow the first street corner preacher you see. We can still exercise discretion and wisdom in how we navigate the world. But perhaps some additional discernment is needed. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our fears and areas of mistrust— in order to stand them up against the teachings of Jesus, to see if it’s time to let some of them go. And perhaps it’s not a bad spiritual exercise, as we are still at the beginning of a new year, to try and make 2015 a year of trusting others and a year of trusting God.
After worship today we will be coming together as a church for our annual congregational meeting—an exercise in trust if ever there was one. We trust each other to help support the church financially. We elect leaders and trust them to guide our church’s finances, lead us spiritually, teach our children, direct our outreach and missions, and take care of this beautiful sacred space. Indeed, to engage in congregational life together is a tremendous act of trust. It’s an opportunity to put aside some of our worldly skepticism, in order to rely on one another, since after all, none of us can be the church by ourselves.
But it’s not just trust in each other that’s important. As a community of faith, it’s our trust in God that is most essential. Trusting that no matter what happens over the course of this next year— even if tragedy strikes, even if hardships are encountered— God will be there to guide us through, for God is our refuge and our rock. Trusting that even as the world changes, and even as the church adjusts to those changes, God will be there to guide us through, for God is our refuge and our rock.
As a community of faith, we are called to be like the disciples. We are called to leave behind our skepticism, our world-wariness, and our cynicism. We are called to trust that if we follow Jesus if we trust in his guidance and listen to his teachings, our church will grow into a deeper and more fulfilling life of faith together, and that we too can become part of one of the greatest stories ever told. Amen, and may it be so.