Cross with Fish
Drawing based on ironwork at Benton Chapel, Vanderbilt University.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Mark 1:14-20 January 6 seems sure to become one of those dates when we remember exactly where we were as we watched the news unfold, and one of those dates that becomes distilled in our memories into iconic images: the pictures that tell the story of the day as we remember it.
As the shock has worn off, I find myself continuing to wrestle with two images from that day.
Outside the Capitol, rioters espousing white Christian nationalism and white supremacy and anti-Semitism and misogyny carried signs that read “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020.” They knelt in prayer invoking the name of Jesus before storming the Capitol.
Inside the Capitol, meanwhile, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democrat from Delaware, found herself trapped in the gallery of the House chamber after others had been evacuated.
As chaos broke loose around her, Representative Rochester started to pray. The moment is caught on video.
In the name of Jesus, she prayed for healing.
She prayed for protection, for those protecting the lawmakers, and for all of her “brothers and sisters in this Congress who protect America.”
She prayed for peace: “Peace.” “Peace in the land. Peace in this country. Peace in the world.”
Reflecting on the experience the next day, Representative Rochester said that she knew that “God is bigger than this,” and so she laid down her sadness and her anger and she just started to pray.
Two stories of that one day.
—-- And the question on my mind is how do we move forward from this place?
How are we called as Christians ,.. to respond to a riot that distorted the symbols of the Christian faith in service of the agenda of white supremacy and white Christian nationalism?
As we turn our eyes to the future this week, how do we avoid simply papering over what happened under the guise of a false unity?
How do we heal from this breach? _____
Theologian James Cone, in his book God of the Oppressed, writes that story “is the history of individuals coming together in the struggle to shape life according to commonly held values.”
Cone wrote this about the ways in which the stories that shape us can also confine us.
“When people can no longer listen to other people’s stories, they become enclosed within their own social context, treating their distorted visions of reality as the whole truth.
And then they feel that they must destroy other stories, which bear witness that life can be lived another way.”
Cone describes the history of enslavement and genocide of indigenous peoples in this country as attempts “to establish the white story as the only truth in history.”
Cone wrote those words in 1975, but he could have written them on January 6, 2021.
But here’s the thing: although our stories can confine us, Cone assures us that stories can also liberate us.
He writes that the biblical story, which is independent of our own stories, “lays a claim upon us in our contemporary existence.”
“God’s story,” he goes on, “becomes our story through the faith made possible by the grace of God’s presence with us.”
God’s story lays a claim upon us and by the grace of God becomes our story.
I think that’s part of the answer of how we move forward from this place.
By embracing anew a very old new story.
One that shows us that things can be different. One that can liberate us from all that confines us.
And it turns out that today’s Gospel reading takes us right there.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of Jesus calling the first disciples.
To be a disciple is simply to follow.
To walk the same road that Jesus walked and to learn from him.
In calling us to discipleship, to be his followers, Jesus calls us into a new story.
A new story to shape our lives. A revolutionary story. The story of Jesus.
The story of Jesus: in which the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the captives are freed, the oppressed are liberated. The story of Jesus: in which the man Jesus was killed by the forces of empire because he called out injustice, because he stood with the oppressed and persecuted.
The story of Jesus: in which Christ, the Son of God, was resurrected “thereby making good,” theologian James Cone writes, “God’s promise to bring freedom to all who are weak and helpless.”
The story of Jesus: the living Christ, in whose resurrection we find the promise that Christ is with us now and with us always.
That’s the story into which, by grace, we are called.
And that sounds like a story we sorely need. That’s the story that lays claim on us as Christians. _____
But Mark’s Gospel makes clear that when we step into that story, when we embrace it fully, we have to leave our old stories behind.
The disciples leave everything behind.
Their nets, their boats, their livelihoods: left behind.
James and John even leave their father. They leave all of it and follow.
They leave behind their old story, the story of men who fished for fish in a tightly knit seaside community, to step into the story of Jesus. And so, too, are we called, to leave behind our old stories and step into Jesus’ story.
We don’t necessarily have to leave our jobs and our families and our hometowns in order to follow Jesus.
But we will have to leave the old stories that keep us from giving the whole of ourselves to the One who says to us: “Follow me.”
Maybe those are stories that tell us that the point of life is to acquire things.
Maybe they’re stories that tell us that love is something we have to earn.
Whatever they are for each of us, following Jesus, stepping into his story, means leaving behind the false stories, the self-referential stories, all of the life-limiting stories that keep us from him.
And this moment in history is calling us to take seriously the work of untangling ourselves from all of those stories, conscious and unconscious, that stand between us and the revolutionary, liberating story of Jesus.
The events of January 6 make that much clear.
Those who invoke Jesus’ name in support of white supremacy and anti-Semitism and all manner of hate are not telling the story of Jesus. They are attaching the name, Jesus, to a very human story of hate and fear.
And it’s important that we speak truth to that lie.
Yes. But that’s not all there is for us to do.
I heard a talk on Monday by Resmaa Menakem, author of the book My Grandmother’s Hands, which is about healing from racialized trauma.
Someone asked him how white people who want to be allies in the fight against racism should be responding to the Capitol Riots.
“Don’t distance yourselves from your cousins,” he said. “Ask yourself what’s my part in this?”
It’s a challenging answer. And an important one as we consider what stories we need to leave behind to fully embrace Jesus’ call.
Because the truth is the underlying story of white supremacy that was on display on January 6 is one that we all have to reckon with.
All of us, in this country, no matter what body we are in have been shaped, in part, by our country’s racial history.
And leaving that behind means acknowledging that, and then working to understand and start to undo the impact of that the pervasive story of white supremacy.
That means understanding privilege, learning to be anti-racist.
That’s hard work. But it’s necessary work.
Work we’re called to do if we are to leave the old, life-limiting stories behind and step fully into the story of Jesus and the good news of liberation and justice that he proclaims
Jesus called the first disciples out of their quiet lives into lives of speaking fierce and dangerous truths. Lives of healing the sick. Feeding the hungry.
Proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom come near.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes their story this way.
“Until that day, everything had been different. They could remain in obscurity, pursuing their work as the quiet in the land, observing the law and waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But now he has come, and his call goes forth. Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting - they must rise and follow him.”
We, too, must rise and follow him.
That means setting down “the human ballast,” as Bonhoeffer put it, that we have “overlain on the pure Word of Jesus.”
It means giving up trying to fit Jesus into the stories we tell and instead allowing his story to claim us. —-
And I think that’s where we start this process of moving forward.
By letting his story claim us. Fully.
And that asks much of us.
There’s a lot to leave behind, as we embrace Jesus’ call and step fully into his story.
But there’s good news in this story. Plenty of it.
Because the story of discipleship is not really about the disciples.
It’s a story about Jesus. About grace. The grace we need to do what we need to do. Jesus didn’t send the disciples forth alone.
He met them where they were, and called them to follow.
Jesus is the one who meets us where we are, who comes to us in our place of uncertainty, not knowing.
In those moments when our despair and our anger and our not knowing what to do drives our knees into the dirt, Jesus meets us there.
And reminds us that as disciples, we walk in his story.
We are called, with the help of God, to live lives that bear witness to the fact that things can be different.
We can be part of that story.
Follow me, Jesus says.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that if we say yes to his call, we don’t know where the road will lead.
“Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy.”
A road of boundless mercy. It starts with answering, with the whole of our lives, those astonishing words.
“Follow me.” By grace, we will. Follow him.
Into his challenging, transformative, amazing story. The road awaits, friends. The time is now.