Come, Follow Jesus

3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15”The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17”Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)

Sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Someone beats you in getting that deal you were looking for on a vehicle, or a house – and then you find an even better deal on a far better vehicle, or house. The person you fawned over in high school rejected you – or dumped you – but then years later you met the love of your life. If the that bad moment hadn’t happened, then the much-better event never would have either.

Elise O’Kane was a flight attendant. She wanted to work her usual trip from Boston to Los Angeles, but when she scheduled her flights for the next month she accidentally typed in a wrong number. She wound up with the wrong schedule and was forced to be the flight attendant on the flight to Denver. Driving to work that morning she was so angry. Such a dumb, little mistake changed her entire month! She tried to trade with someone to get back on that flight – but no one would. She flew away to Denver, and the plane she originally should have been on crashed into the World Trade Center.

Sometimes in life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. One little mistake changed O’Kane’s flight, made her angry, disrupted her month, and saved her life.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was marked by something very sad. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “John was put in prison.” This was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, the last prophet who pointed ahead to Jesus. He was also a cousin of Jesus. As we saw last week, John even baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. And for all of his faithful service and proud proclamation of God’s Word, he was thrown in prison.

The Gospels make a big deal about this. The Gospel of Luke goes so far as to tell us why John the Baptist ended up in prison. “John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done.” Soon things got much worse for John. While in prison, Herod had John the Baptist beheaded.

What a blow to the Church! Just when the Lord had begun speaking to his people again, just when things were starting to look up, John was imprisoned and killed. There didn’t seem to be anything good that could come from such an awful act.

And this wasn’t the first time that happened. In fact, John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death was just the next example of the grim circumstances that surround the Lord’s prophets. Here’s a summary of what that job entails: They “were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”

I bet your life has felt like that, too. Think of all the awful moments: the days that fell apart, the happy moments dashed by tragedy. Those are the events that lead men and women, children and elders, pastors and prophets to say things like this: “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” The prophet Jeremiah cried those words out to the Lord after facing death. Here’s what Job retorted in his anguish: “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

What’s the point? Believing in Jesus seems to bring only heartache and ridicule and sadness and loneliness and anger, and perhaps in the end, even death. You could fill an ocean with the tears of Christians…yours included.

Those were the spiritual depths John’s followers found themselves in after his imprisonment and eventual death. His words that had seemed so fresh and vibrant now ingloriously ended. The bad had once again outweighed the good.

But sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. All at once, the people begin hearing those same words of John come from the mouth of someone else. “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

Jesus was that good news. And he was looking for followers who could share that good news, too. “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ’Come, follow me.’” And then Jesus tells these brothers what he is going to make them: “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men.” Then he found James and John, and the Gospel of Mark tells us, “Without delay he called them.”

They would follow him through a ministry of hardship, persecution, and seeming disaster at every turn. The end of Jesus’ ministry would look as tragic as the beginning. While John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ own death would seem to mark its end.

And that certainly was the low point for Jesus’ disciples. Their Lord had died – crucified, no less! The same might happen to them. Perhaps at that moment some of those disciples wondered why they ever followed Jesus in the first place. If it only entails tragedy and grief and persecution, maybe they should have stayed fishermen instead of becoming fishers of men.

But, sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Christ’s death took away the sins of those disciples. It paid the price for your sins as well. His resurrection the following Sunday won your salvation.

And now the Lord once again calls to you this morning with an outstretched hand saying those beautiful, loving words: “Come, follow me.” And here is why: “I will make you fishers of men.” It wasn’t easy for those disciples, and it won’t always be easy for you as a believer in this world. Sadness will still come. Persecution and hardship will stalk you. But even in those awful moments, remember what the Lord is able to do: sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better.

That’s what happened to Elise O’Kane. Her life didn’t end on September 11, 2001. After that tragic day Elise felt the guilt of being a survivor. She took a leave of absence from the airline. She couldn’t fly again after everything that had happened. But her story didn’t end there. She went to nursing school and graduated three years later. Now, she specializes in cardiology and has helped saved countless lives.

In all of your tragedies, through all of your dark moments as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death, remember that you are not alone. You are never alone. The Lord who called you to follow him, who called you to share his word will lift you up under every trial and temptation. And one day, he will call you home – away from this sin-filled world, away from the pain, and away from death itself…from earthly strife to eternal life. Because sometimes something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Amen.