There are defining moments in life that change everything. After they happen, you are never the same; your life is never the same; the world is never the same. As I think about the stories of people’s lives, I can hear the many times someone has started a sentence with “now after.” “Now after my brother was born, now after we got married, now after we had children, now after my parents died, now after the textile mill closed, now after I was laid off, now after my divorce, now after my sister got cancer.” You can’t go back to the world that existed or back to being the person you were before that defining moment. The moment changes you; it ushers you into a different way of being in the world. There are defining moments like that in our individual lives, but there are also defining moments in our lives together, moments that change the world. “Now after World War I, now after Hitler, now after the Industrial Revolution, now after the internet, now after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., now after 9/11.” I think about someone telling the story of the civil rights movement, starting it with, “Now after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.” Everything changed after that day in Montgomery when Rosa decided enough was enough. After that moment, a whole movement set in motion. These defining moments are moments that offer both crisis and opportunity. They are moments that call for decision or response. Sometimes they are moments that can lead to movements that can change the world.
Our text for today hinges on a defining moment, the moment after John was arrested. The text begins, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Mark doesn’t give us the details until later in the gospel, but John was bound, put in prison, and eventually had his head put on a platter all because he preached a gospel of repentance that applied to everyone, a standard of righteousness that even applied to King Herod. John stood up to the kingdom of Herod, and then that kingdom killed the one who prepared the way of the Lord. It was a defining moment, a moment of crisis, a moment that called for a response. Jesus responded by coming out of the wilderness and into Galilee to proclaim the gospel, to begin his ministry, to initiate the Galilee movement. John had told people to get ready, and now Jesus is here saying that the time is fulfilled, that the kingdom of God has come near, that they should repent and believe the good news.
This kingdom of God is in contrast or conflict with the goals of Herod’s kingdom. It’s not something that just changes our individual hearts or minds or our individual lives. As Baptist theologian and pastor Walter Rauschenbusch, known for his role in the social gospel movement, says, the reign of God is not just something that happens in people’s hearts; it transforms the world. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s awful. Let’s pray for John’s family and quietly work on changing the practices of the Herodian dynasty, but be careful not to do things too fast or be too political. We don’t want to offend anyone.” No, Jesus said, “Turn around. You are going the wrong way. The kingdom of God has come near you; it has changed everything; believe in the good news that God has totally transformed every aspect of the world.” This is the beginning of the Galilee movement.
What is the first thing that Jesus does as he begins this movement? He recruits people to be a part of the movement. As he walks along the Sea of Galilee, he calls out to four fishermen, two sets of brothers. First, to Simon and Andrew who were casting a net, he says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They immediately leave their nets and follow him. Then he calls out to James and John, who were mending their nets, and they too follow immediately, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with hired hands. The text describes some of the things that James and John left behind; they have boats and hired hands; discipleship costs them these things. In the disciples’ world, their decision to leave everything behind and follow Jesus would have been seen as an extraordinary disruption; it would have been seen as putting the welfare of the whole family at risk. We’ve heard this story so many times that it’s become normal for us, but let’s not forget how strange it is that they immediately respond to this abrupt call. They don’t even speak a word; they don’t take the time to pack anything or say goodbye; they just leave. It’s a divine call story, like the call of Abraham. It is only because Jesus himself calls out to them that they immediately respond. They have been called and claimed by God. They aren’t exactly sure what they are getting into or where this road will lead; they just obey. Through their relationship with Jesus, they will learn how to walk on the journey of faith.
Since this is a movement that started after John’s arrest, the disciples do know something about what they just signed up for. They know it’s a movement that’s not made those in power very happy. It’s a movement that has great cost. It’s a movement that requires risk. The Greek word here for “arrest” is “paradonthenia,” and it means “handed over” or “delivered up.” It’s the same word that’s used for Jesus being handed over or betrayed on the night when he shared the bread and the cup with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. The disciples soon learn that following Jesus means following in the way of the cross. While we know that they will waiver and fail, for now they respond to Jesus’ call completely, immediately. They change their whole way of being in the world.
Has our response to Jesus calling out to us, asking us to follow him, been immediate and complete? We are not called to add another task to our lives. We are called to a new way of being, a new identity. Jesus does not say, “I will make you fish.” Jesus says, “I will make you become fishers of people.” If it’s just about a task, we can respond by saying, “Okay, Jesus, fish for people, I can do that. How about every fourth Monday? Can anyone else do fourth Mondays?” But it’s not a task that Jesus is calling us to. Being recruited into the Galilee movement is in invitation to change who we are and how we show up in the world. Being recruited into the Galilee movement is not a in invitation to private salvation that only affects us or perhaps the people who live in our house; being recruited into the Galilee movement is an invitation to a public vocation that announces the good news of the gospel and transforms the world. Being recruited into the Galilee movement is an invitation to follow in the way of the cross, to be willing to live a life of risk and insecurity so that all will know that the kingdom of God has come near.
As a church, we had a defining moment on January 9, 2018, the day our brother in Christ Gilles was unexpectedly detained by ICE. From now on we will tell stories that begin with the phrase, “Now after Gilles was arrested.” It was a moment of crisis and opportunity, a moment that called for decision and response. It was a moment that led to a movement to do everything we could to stand against the kingdom of this world so that we could show that the kingdom of God has come near, the kingdom that transforms a world that detains and deports people like Gilles. It was a moment that involved risk. It was a moment that provided clarity about our calling, clarity about what it means to follow Jesus. It was a moment that we can cling to and remember on ordinary days when the way forward doesn’t seem as clear, when our privilege clouds our vision, when our distance from the least of these makes us more ambiguous and apathetic than we should be. It’s a moment that invites us to change the way we show up in the world, to remember that following Jesus always involves being willing to take risks and standing up to the kingdoms of this world on behalf of those who are marginalized; it always involves participating in the kingdom of God by working to transform our broken world.
That defining moment also provided a lot of clarity about who was called. Being a part of the work of organizing a movement to stand against the kingdom of this world is not just the job of a politician or a lawyer or an organizer or a minister. Those people have their roles to play, of course, but you were recruited from your ordinary jobs with your various levels of expertise to participate in the movement. You were asked to use your vocational gifts to follow Jesus to help make the world as it should be. You were asked to draw upon your relationships with others to help all be seen as beloved, as worthy, particularly to help others see that Gilles’ life is worth saving. You are qualified, and you are called to do this work. The calling of Jesus’ disciples stands out to us as a great example this morning. Jesus doesn’t just call the religious officials who are hanging out in the temple. Jesus goes to the fisherman along the seashore, doing the regular work of casting and mending nets. Jesus calls people from ordinary jobs, ordinary walks of life to use their gifts to follow him and to share with others the good news of the kingdom of God. You continue to answer that calling as we wait here in the weird timing of already but not yet, the time when we know the kingdom of God has come near but that the world hasn’t completely been transformed, because if it had, our brother Gilles would be here in our midst.
In their book Organizing Church, Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes, lament that most of the churches they encounter do not do the transformative work of the gospel that is preached and embodied by Jesus. They confess that this is a sin they too have committed. They note, “This is a systemic, collective problem – the commodified, competitive congregation does not look much like the church. In its long journey, Christianity has grown from a small, marginalized group to cultural hegemony in the West. …The vision and hope of Christianity that we call ‘the gospel’ has been domesticated from the proud-scattering, throne-crushing vision of Mary in Luke 1:46-55, to a personal faith that so often reinforces our individual wants and fears while also reinforcing the divisions of class and social mobility. …The gospel is much larger than the container we have made for it. While personal and spiritual, it is also material, social, political, and yes, local and global.”[i] The words of Conder and Rhodes put a decision before us, begging the question of what kind of church we will be. Will we be a church that silently nods to the status quo and props up the dominant culture or will we be a church that aligns with the good news of Jesus that scatters the proud and crushes the thrones of the powerful? Conder and Rhodes suggest that by drawing upon the work of community organizing churches can be empowered to “initiate and support meaningful social change in the world” and transform their own congregations by “aligning them with the sociopolitical rhythms and patterns of the gospel.”[ii] They invite us to be that church that aligns with the kingdom of God, the good news of Jesus that does indeed transform the world.
What will our story be? How will the story continue to unfold, the story that follows that defining moment, the moment after Gilles was arrested? What will our journey together of being disciples look like? Will we let this defining moment change us for a lifetime? Will we keep aligning with the kingdom of God or will we let the gospel be muddied by our allegiances to the kingdoms of this world? Jesus has called you. You already know how to fish. Now you have to become fishers for people. You are invited to use your unique gifts, your relationships, your talents, all you have to offer, to announce that the kingdom of God has come near and that unlike the oppressive kingdoms of this world, God’s kingdom is good news. You are invited to follow Jesus into walking the way of the cross – the way that risks security and reputation and well-being, the way that disentangles you from power, the way that challenges the dominant culture. You have been recruited to join the Galilee movement, to stand up to the kingdoms of this world, to witness to the transforming work of the gospel, and to join Jesus on the wild ride of being fishers of people who help all to see that God truly has changed the world.