Following Jesus is Radical
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
I think we’ve heard some of these gospel stories so many times that we forget just how astounding they are. Let’s just pause for a moment to take in what we heard. These four men, Simon, Andrew, John, and James are at their jobs, tending to their fishing nets when Jesus comes by and says “follow me.” Simon and Andrew immediately set their nets on the ground, and they do as Jesus asks. John and James jump out of a boat, abandoning not only their duties but also their own father.
Can you imagine if Jesus swung by the modern day workplace of these men? Maybe they’re clerks at Safeway, and they leave their station in the middle of totaling up someone’s groceries. They don’t even turn off the belt, they just leave the cash register and everyone in line, and follow Jesus out.
It’s pretty risky. I can’t imagine that the people close to them were into it, particularly Zebedee, the dad left short-handed in the boat. Maybe their families needed that fish to eat for the next week. Maybe they needed the money from selling that fish to meet other needs. How were these men going to make a living if they were just going to follow Jesus around?
With the benefit of hindsight, though, we know that these four men became very faithful disciples, particularly John, the beloved, who was often described as closest to Jesus. After Jesus died, there are many stories of these men going out as the first apostles and spreading the good news of Christ into the larger world.
We remember them. They are saints in our tradition. And their ministries began with a radical act that probably no one in their lives understood, at least at the time.
I kind of relate. Whenever I meet someone new and tell them what I do for a living, particularly if they’re younger and particularly if they’re queer, they usually respond with polite bafflement. Not necessarily because I’m a priest, but because I’m a Christian, and a queer Christian at that. To a lot of people, queer Christian is a contradiction. But even beyond all the baggage that many strands of Christianity has left the LGBTQ community with, simply being religious, and particularly being a Christian, can seem toxic, at worst, or outdated, at best. Maybe even irrelevant.
After all, more than a quarter of all Americans now identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Perhaps they believe in a higher power, a force beyond themselves that gives them peace, but they don’t really subscribe to any firm set of beliefs or practice.
And that’s fine for them. “Go where the peace is,” is what a mentor always used to say to me. That’s what I did. That’s why I’m here. And now I’m starting to realize that what we do here, what we believe, what we commit to God and to this community as gathered followers of Jesus, is pretty radical.
Do you know what “radical” means, literally? In Latin, it means root. Therefore, to be radical is to get at the root of something—perhaps to reclaim it or perhaps to fundamentally change it. It kind of depends on your perspective, I guess.
To seek the roots, to explore the very foundation of something, is radical. It’s not something everyone wants to do, because it’s inherently uncomfortable. Radical people can make us uncomfortable because to shake the roots shakes everything else above them. When the foundation is changed, the whole structure is changed.
When Andrew, Simon, James, and John dropped everything to follow Jesus, it was radical. They made the decision that Jesus would be their root, and it changed every part of them immediately. And that’s what we do as a Christian community: we seek the roots, we find Jesus there, and we let him change every part of us.
Today after service, we’re having our Annual Meeting. I’ve often heard it described as the business meeting of a church, but that’s not how I think of it. Yes, we’ll go over our budget, and yes we’ll talk about some of the mundane—but important—parts of our ministry at St. Luke’s. But to me, that’s not about business, it’s about our roots. It’s about looking back over the past year and seeing how we’ve let Jesus change us—in how we care for each other, in how we care for this land and building we call home, and how we care for our community.
The work we do here isn’t business, it’s ministry. It’s our response when Jesus says “follow me.” It’s discipleship. Creating programs for our children is discipleship. Putting together a budget that will keep the church sustainable is discipleship. Playing music over Facebook, especially now, is discipleship.
Stepping into our individual gifts for the ministry of this parish is discipleship.
A few weeks ago, we renewed our baptismal vows, declaring what we as Christians believe, how we belong, and how those things will change our behavior. When we join as members of St. Luke’s, we also make vows—commitments to ourselves and each other about how we will be in community together.
First, we commit to showing up whenever this community worships or serves. Worship, I think, is food for the journey. When we get to pray and sing with others, when we share our vulnerabilities with others in community prayer—even on Zoom—we learn how to bring that same love and energy beyond this space into the rest of our lives.
Second, we commit to being honest with ourselves and with this community about what we can give: time, skills, and financial resources—and we give them. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve heard me say, “knowing that no is as good an answer as yes,” before I ask you to give of your time or energy. This is my invitation to you to be honest. It is as important to discern what you can’t give as what you can. When you say no when you need to say no, your yes becomes more joyful and more authentic when it’s time to say yes.
Third, we commit to being open to receiving the gifts of this community. I know this is the hardest one for some of us. I know a lot of us are a lot more comfortable with giving than receiving. Receiving puts us in the vulnerable position. It means we can’t do it all on our own. Committing to a community means opening ourselves to vulnerability.
And finally, we commit to sharing the good news of Christ beyond this community through the good and joyful use of our gifts. This means all we practice here at St. Luke’s—in worship, in faithful giving, and in receiving—we then practice beyond this community. Evangelism is living out the joy we practice here in the rest of our lives, and declaring that it is Christ who shapes that joy.
I know, I know, that’s the scary part. Like I said, I know that Christianity brings with it a lot of baggage when you declare it outside this safe place. But it’s up to us to change that. To share not only with our lives but with our lips that it is Christ who shapes our joy, who guides our lives.
That is our practice as a parish. And it’s radical. It’s radical to live our joy, and it is radical to declare our joy.
So today we’ll gather after service to look back on our discipleship over the past year, and we will renew ourselves for discipleship in the coming year. We will once again decide that Jesus is at our root and that we will follow him. Amen.