TITLE: Doing Crazy Things for Jesus SCRIPTURE: Mark 1:14-20
People do crazy things -- or things that look crazy to most of us.
I remember reading about Dr. Joseph Kramer who appeared on a 60 Minutes program several years ago. Dr. Kramer lived in New Jersey and had a successful practice there -- until he closed his practice and set up a clinic in a tough, poor neighborhood in New York City. Dr. Kramer treats all comers -- insurance or no insurance -- able to pay or not. One day a woman brought her sick baby to the clinic -- a VERY sick baby. When Dr. Kramer saw that the baby needed more help than he could offer, he closed the clinic and drove the mother and baby to a hospital. Closed the clinic! Drove them to the hospital! When is the last time that your doctor shut down the clinic and drove you to the hospital?
Why would a doctor shut down a successful practice in a nice neighborhood to set up a clinic in a bad neighborhood? Kramer said, "I know I don't have to come down here if I don't want to. But I come down -- maybe because it's an ego trip. I feel that they're going to be here waiting for me, and it's like standing up a date. I just don't want to stand up the people down here." He said, "I actually watch children grow up here. I get to know families, their problems. I'm really a country doctor in New York City."
Why did Dr. Kramer do his crazy-clinic-thing? I think that he did it because he wanted to make his life count for something. And I don't think that he was crazy -- not at all. Would that we were all crazy in exactly the same way!
In our Gospel lesson today, Mark tells a story about Jesus and four fishermen. First, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew as they were casting their nets into the sea. He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." Mark tells us, "And immediately they left their nets and followed him."
Immediately! They didn't tell Jesus that they would get back with him. They didn't suggest that he have a cup of coffee while they talked it over. IMMEDIATELY they left their nets and followed him! Immediately!
A little further on, Jesus saw two more fishermen -- James and John. He called them to follow him, and they got out of their boat and followed. They didn't ask permission to get their affairs in order. They didn't ask for time to say goodbye. They left their father standing in the boat and started walking -- started following Jesus.
Why did they do that? Why did four grown men -- all mentally competent -- leave their fishing businesses and their families to follow Jesus? Mark doesn't tell us. We wish that he would give us more detail -- that he would give us what Paul Harvey calls "The Rest of the Story."
That is fairly typical of Mark's Gospel though. He tells one quick story after another -- always leaving us wondering -- wanting more -- wishing that we knew the "why" behind the "what."
But I think that I can tell you the "why" behind the "what." I think that I can tell you why these four men followed Jesus -- followed him at the drop of a hat -- left everything to follow him -- followed him IMMEDIATELY! I think they followed Jesus because they saw that he could make something of them -- that he could change their lives from ordinary to extraordinary -- that he could use them to shift the world on its axis a little bit -- more than a little bit. I think that they followed Jesus because they believed that following him was the most important thing that they could do with their lives.
And they were right! Simon and Andrew -- James and John -- two pairs of brothers! Would we have heard of them if they had stuck with their fishing -- if they had stood rooted to their past instead of allowing Jesus to lead them into their future? Hardly! If these four men had failed to follow Jesus, they would have lived the rest of their lives in quiet obscurity. At the end, death would have swallowed them without a ripple -- and that would have been that.
But that wasn't that! They followed Jesus, and nothing was ever the same again. Their lives were not the same -- that's for sure. Their world was not the same.
Because these four and a few more like them followed Jesus, they changed the world. They carried the message of Jesus to others. They helped to establish the church. They baptized -- and healed -- and proclaimed -- and some of them died in Christ's service.
-- But the result is a world where Jesus' name is proclaimed every day -- every hour of every day. The sun never sets on the kingdom that they helped bring into being.
-- The result is a world where the church daily makes people's lives better -- where Christ's church gives money and time and blankets and food and clothing and tents to care for people whose needs are desperate.
-- The result is a world in which Christ's church teaches people to love instead of hate -- to change lives through kindness rather than through violence.
-- The result is a world in which the most beautiful music and the most beautiful paintings and many of the most beautiful buildings are dedicated to the Christ who called these four men to follow him.
-- The result is a world where Christ's disciples have started hospitals in Christ's name -- and drug rehab centers in Christ's name -- where people build houses for needy people in Christ's name.
-- The result is a world in which there is hope. I know that there are plenty of reasons not to hope -- not to believe. Over the years, we have seen a decline of manners -- random acts of violence -- wars and rumors of wars. But we have also seen people who have believed in Christ through it all -- and who have seen Christ do wonderful things when nothing wonderful seemed possible.
Jesus came proclaiming, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." These four men listened -- and repented -- and believed the good news -- and Jesus used them to change the world -- TO CHANGE THE WORLD -- not just their little corner of the world, but the whole world.
Listen to Jesus' short sermon one more time, because Jesus meant it for you as much as for those four men. His sermon changed their lives, and it can change your life as well.
In a sense, it doesn't seem like much of a sermon -- just 19 words -- but it says everything that needs to be said. Listen carefully, because Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
"The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news."
He means that the time has come -- the hour is nigh -- the decision point is here -- the kingdom of God is upon us. He says, "Repent, and believe in the good news."
Jesus calls us to repent. We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty for things that we have done wrong. Feeling guilty is part of repentance, but only part. True repentance involves a change of mind -- a change of heart -- a change of direction. Christian repentance means turning away from the things of the world so that we might follow after Christ -- so that we might go where he leads us, wherever that might be.
So Jesus calls us to repent. And then he says, "Believe in the good news." That seems like a lot to ask. "Believe in the good news," he says, when there is so much bad news all around us. You almost hate to open a newspaper anymore, because newspapers are so full of bad news -- but Jesus says, "Don't believe that. Don't lose hope. Believe in me! Believe in the good news!"
And when we believe in Jesus -- when we believe in the good news that he came to bring -- he makes good news happen. And so he says, "Believe in the good news" -- and, when we believe, God will do wonderful things through our lives. "Believe in the good news" and you will see good news blossom before your eyes.
Now is the time -- decision time. Christ comes to you just as he came to those four men beside the sea and says, "Repent, and believe in the good news." He doesn't promise to make your life easy. He does promise to make your life important.
I would like to close with a poem by George Macdonald. You might never have heard of George Macdonald, but he was an author and Christian minister who died a century ago. You have probably heard of Tolkien, who wrote "The Lord of the Rings" -- a book that recently became a hit motion picture. Tolkien learned from Macdonald's writings. You have certainly heard of C.S. Lewis whose "Narnia" recently became a blockbuster movie. Lewis regarded Macdonald as his "master" -- a great man in whose footsteps he aspired to follow.
Macdonald wrote these words. Again, I invite you to hear them, not as written to the world at large, but to you personally. They are the words of a person faced with the decision to do or not to do what God wants. They are the words of each of us as we daily face the decision to do or not to do what God wants. The poem goes like this:
I said: "Let me walk in the field."
God said: "Nay, walk in the town."
I said: "There are no flowers there."
He said: "No flowers, but a crown."
I said: "But the sky is black.
There is nothing but noise and din."
But He wept as He sent me back.
"There is more," He said. "There is sin."
I said: "But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun."
He answered: "Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone."
I said, "I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say."
He answered me, "Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you, or they."
I pleaded for time to be given;
He said: "Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide."
I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town.
He said: "My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?"
Then into His hand went mine.
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light Divine,
The streets I feared to see.