“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
By Father Jonathan Turtle
Here is a question for you: What comes to mind when you think of the word “evangelism”? Perhaps you think that’s not very Anglican—doesn’t that have something to do with those Evangelicals? Maybe you think of a missionary in the jungle somewhere or a man standing on a busy street corner with a bull-horn and placard.
I came across a description of evangelism this week that I think is rather good. It is from William Temple, once Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, “to evangelize is to so present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men and women shall come to put their faith in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour and to serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.” Presenting Jesus. In the power of the Holy Spirit. So that people put their faith in God through him and enter into life in the church.
That’s evangelism. It is a Bible thing, it is a gospel thing, it is a Jesus thing, and it is very much an Anglican thing. For example, what we know today as Anglicanism evolved out of the practices and customs of the Church of England. A tradition that began in England and is now found on every continent. In Canada there are approximately 750,000 Anglicans. In Nigeria there are 22 million. That does not happen apart from the work of evangelism. One might say that evangelism is superAnglican. So, here’s another question for you: When was the last time, if ever, that you yourself have had the opportunity to share the gospel with someone else?
In our reading from Mark this morning we encounter Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry. He comes proclaiming the good news and inviting others to believe in it and to join him in this ministry to the world.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee.” One of the things that is so interesting about Mark’s gospel is the quick succession of events that give the impression that Jesus is always on the move. He, “came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan,” (1:9). Immediately after that the Spirit, “drove him out into the wilderness,” (1:12). Now he came to Galilee to begin his earthly ministry. Two verses later Jesus, “passed along” the Sea of Galilee where he finds Simon and Andrew. Then he “went a little farther” and found James and John.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is not a stationary figure, like a spiritual guru that sets up shop and is sought out by travelers from near and far seeking wisdom. Of course, people do seek Jesus out, but they do so within the framework of a Jesus who is on the move, traveling about, coming and going, never stopping over for very long. Why? Because Jesus has a mission and that mission is to seek and to save the lost.
Mark tells us that Jesus came, “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.” This is more than an announcement, it is an actual irruption of the presence and reality of God into human history. The whole history of salvation has led to this moment. Everything that came before this was a pledge and a foretaste. Now, all of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
What does this mean? “It means a complete re-appraisal of the human situation,” said one 20th century theologian. Now is the time for human creatures to orientate their lives in the light of this day which has dawned. That is what it means to repent and believe the good news.
As Jesus continued along he found Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishing, “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. The same goes for James and John—Jesus called and straightway they left everything to follow Jesus. “So long, dad.”
First of all, what a wonderful picture of trust. An immediate response to the call of Jesus. No doubting or second guessing, no weighing the cost to see if it’s worth it, they simply get up and go. How can this be? Surely these men must have seen in Jesus’ face and heard in his voice a beauty and goodness that far surpassed all earthly beauty and goodness and they wanted in.
Second, notice that no sooner has Jesus begun his earthly mission than he invites others to participate along with him: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” You and I have been caught up in the net of God’s kingdom but there are others, other fish in the sea, that Christ wants to gather into his kingdom and he intends to bring us along with him for the ride as co-workers. That is what evangelism is: accompanying Jesus as he proclaims the nearness of God’s kingdom to men and women and invites them to follow him.
I want to challenge you this year to share your faith with someone else. Really pay attention to what is going on around you. Listen attentively to your neighbours, your colleagues, your friends. Listen and pray and wait for the Lord to open a door. And when he does, come alongside that person, full of compassion, full of the love of Christ, and take a risk—open your own mouth and tell them about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ and the love that he has for them.
So, to re-cap, Jesus Christ is on a mission to seek and to save human creatures by calling them to turn around and trust in him. And, he enlists his followers as co-workers in this. This is the work of evangelism and it is at the core of what it means to be the church. But following Jesus is costly and that means that the good news of Jesus might not always sound like good news to people, so we need to persevere.
Mark tipped his hand to this at the beginning of our reading this morning: “Now after John was arrested.” This tells us something really important about following Jesus: it is going to cost you. John the Baptizer was arrested and later beheaded. Simon-Peter and Andrew were crucified as old men, Peter upside down at his own request because he felt unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Lord. Andrew made the cross his pulpit and for two days he preached to the people before he finally died. James was the first Apostle to be martyred, beheaded by Herod Agrippa. His brother John was the only Apostle not to be martyred, though he was arrested and sentenced to death. However, he miraculously survived being boiled in oil and was subsequently exiled to the island of Patmos. And, of course, Jesus himself was rejected and crucified.
Because the good news is costly. It demands our full allegiance. When Jesus calls someone to follow him he invites them to renounce all worldly riches and power, to renounce themselves, and to follow him alone. Make no mistake about it, this is the absolute best thing anyone could ever do and yet to the untrained ear it sounds considerably worse.
One Christian leader put it this way: “God is love. But love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves.” When Jesus calls us, he takes us as we are but refuses to leave us that way. He wants to purify us by his love and that transformation can be painful. If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia you know that Aslan the lion is described as good but not tame. In a similar way, Jesus is good and desires only the good but he is not tame.
There is a saying attributed to Jesus though not found in the canonical gospels: “He who is near me is near to the fire.” The nearer we come to the fire of his love the hotter it burns and the more the chaff in our own life is consumed. And the more the chaff in our life is burned away the hotter and brighter our lives radiate with the love and light of Christ.
This is what Jesus calls us to and what we call others to with him. Let us not fear the heat of his love and the brightness of his light. Though our transformation may be painful it is shot through with the mercy and love of Christ. And let us not be discouraged if the work of evangelism takes time to bear fruit. The gospel will not be welcomed everywhere we go but if we go with the gospel then we go with Christ. Amen.