Admirer or Disciple?

Mark 1: 14-20 / Norman B. Bendroth

14Now 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. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

This passage has always struck me as kind of weird. Jesus is taking a stroll down the beach, runs into Peter and Andrew, says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of people” and they do! The same thing happens with James and John—in this case they leave their poor father to run the show without them. What gives? They didn’t pack, stop the mail, cancel the paper, put the dog in the kennel—they just left!

Remember, Mark always cuts to the chase. He uses the word immediately all the time as he jumps from scene to scene. Jesus had actually probably been preaching in Galilee for quite a while following in John’s footsteps and this band of brothers would have heard him and were likely stewing over his message.

The scene is the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a lake about 12 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point. The lake is harp-shaped and also known by the name, Chinnereth, from the Hebrew word for a harp-like instrument. Perhaps it is a day like any other day in the life of those who fish those sometimes treacherous waters. Simon and Andrew, perhaps weary from a night of fishing, are still plying their nets when a stranger approaches them on the shore. The dialogue is brief. In fact it might have appeared to them that this stranger didn’t know squat about fishing. He doesn’t talk about how the trout are biting, but says they can fish for people? This must have sounded nuts.

Mark gives us no clue to what is going on inside their heads at such a strange proposal. There was no preparation. The only note we get from the text is the second occurrence of “immediately. All we can say about the call is that “the kingdom of God” had somehow broken into their lives in Jesus’ call to follow him and become his disciples. But then isn’t this why we identify with this story? God comes to us in our most unexpected moments. God’s kingdom, God’s kingly reign and rule in our lives breaks in as pure gift when we least expect it.

The root word of disciple is discipline, which means to come under the discipline or guidance of Jesus. But this is a “good news”/”bad news” sort of announcement.  The “good news” is that God’s reign has arrived; the “bad news” is they have to repent. Now most of us don’t know what to do with that word “repent.”  I mean, we’re decent, middle class folks with good intensions. We don’t do drugs, (accept perhaps alcohol in moderation); we aren’t into wife swapping (but our imaginations some-times run wild); we pay our bills (although with credit cards that are maxed out); we work hard at raising our kids (but we always wonder if they’re getting enough of our quality time).

No, we’re not stalkers, axe-murderers, or philanderers.  Our sins are the more quiet ones of the soul-small-mindedness, pettiness, stinginess, selfishness, negativity, ingratitude, false pride, mean-spiritedness, worry, gossip, and kvetching. We commit adultery in our hearts. We cut ethical corners. We are subtlety racist and sexist.  I’m Ok, you’re Ok.  The bland leading the bland. But left unchecked there is Kim Jong Il or a Mata Hari potentially lurking in each one of us.

As I said, discipleship means discipline.  As in all discipline, the benefits are seen over time, not in cataclysmic leaps forward.  You don’t drop 25 lbs. in two weeks; it took you a lot longer to put it on than that.  It takes a steady commitment to eating less, exercising more, and eating more of the right things. It’s more like a pound and a half to two pounds a week you lose.  Jeffrey didn’t become a masterful organist overnight.  The only way he enjoys the freedom to play as skillfully as he does today is because he subjected himself to the discipline of practicing day after day after day.

Christian discipleship is the same way.  It is a constant process of self-examination, of rejoicing at progress, but never thinking that you have arrived.  It’s now, but not yet.  Jesus said if you follow him, he’ll make you “fishers of people.”  I’ve done enough fishing to know that it can be both tedious and exhausting. If you’ve ever watched the cable show, “Deadliest Catch,” you know what I mean.

Repentance is really a tuning — a linking of our wills to God’s, so they function in partnership. It’s rather like what goes on when a musical instrument is tuned. The musician sounds a tone on another instrument: a pitch-pipe or a tuning fork. That first tone is steady, unvarying; it will not slip up or down the scale, thrown off by changes in humidity or frequent use. As the tuner adjusts the nuts, change in tone will happen to the strings of a piano or a violin, but it will not happen to the tuning fork. That primary tone remains the same. So it is with the way of Christian discipleship. It is not enough to make cosmetic changes in our lives but we need to allow ourselves to be tuned to Jesus Christ who is God’s new humanity. Discipleship is a process not an event.

So, I don’t want to romanticize the Christian life.  It is hard work.  But it is joyful work.  It is a call to follow Jesus in a life of personal transformation and growth and into a life of service for others.  And remember that this is God’s work in you, not just yours.  The marvel is that if and when we fall short, God doesn’t scowl, but forgives and empowers to go on. We are not saints, we are not heroes. Our lives are lived in the quiet corners of the ordinary.

Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a widely admired Bible scholar, speaker, writer and farmer. A Baptist minister with a Doctorate in New Testament Greek and a B.S. in agriculture, Clarence first gained a reputation as a preacher. From an early age the young Jordan was troubled by the racial and economic injustice that he perceived in his community. Hoping to improve the lot of share-croppers through scientific farming techniques, Jordan enrolled in the University of Georgia, earning a degree in agriculture in 1933.

During his college years, however, Jordan became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. This conviction led him to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, from which he earned a Ph.D. in Greek in 1938. While at seminary Jordan met Florence Kroeger, and the couple were soon married.

In 1942 Clarence Jordan found a unique way to combine his interest in scientific agriculture with his passion for the gospel of Jesus. Clarence and Florence came to Sumter County, Georgia to live out the teachings of Jesus amid the poverty and racism of the rural South.

In the midst of a segregated and racist society, Jordan envisioned a place where blacks and whites could live and work together in a spirit of partnership. Based on a radical call to discipleship, Jordan planned to create a community that was committed to racial integration, nonviolence, a simplified lifestyle, sharing of possessions, and stewardship of the land and its resources.

Jordan called this experiment koinonia, from the Greek word meaning community or fellowship that was used to identify the small community of faith in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus that pooled its economic resources and shared a common life in the spirit of Jesus. This was the model for the fledgling farm. Jordan referred to the adventure as a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.” They founded Koinonia Farm, an interracial Christian community in Americus, Georgia, deep in the heart of the South.

The community grew through the turbulent 1950’s, as the Jordans and their neighbors farmed together, ate meals, and attended Bible studies and summer youth camps. Throughout the 1950s and early 60s, Koinonia Farms withstood threats, property damage, excommunication from churches, Grand Jury investigations, and economic boycotts.

In the mid-50s fences were cut, crops stolen from the fields, and garbage dumped on the property. A truck’s engine was ruined by sugar placed in its gas tank, and nearly 300 fruit trees were chopped to the ground. The farm’s roadside market was bombed several times and eventually destroyed. Nightriders sprayed machine-gun bullets at the houses. Fires were set on the property, and crosses were burned on the lawns of black friends.

Finally Sumter County residents bolstered their attack with an economic boycott, hoping to choke the farm’s livelihood, since they seemed unable to scare the Koinonians away. It was necessity that forced the community into a mail-order pecan business during the boycott. The United States mail and the open pecan market were two things the local people could not control. Their marketing theme was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”

Clarence had given up his life to God, and thus lived with the knowledge that no one could take his life from him. He understood deeply the connection between life and death, the impossibility of sharing resurrection without participating in crucifixion. And so he endured excommunication from his church and gunfire from nightriders, living as a man who knew that local hatred and the Ku Klux Klan had no more power over his life than Pilate did over Christ’s.

In  the  early  1950’s,  during  the  strife  of  the  civil  rights  movement,  Clarence approached his brother Robert, who later became a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, and asked him to represent legally Koinonia Farm.  Robert refused by trying to explain: “Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations.Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, and everything else I’ve got.”

Clarence responded with, “Well, we might lose everything too, Bob!”

“But it is different for you.”

“Why is it different?  I remember that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you.  He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior,’ and I said, ‘Yes.”

’What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be – the cross?”

“That’s right.  I follow Him to the cross, but not ON the cross.

I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple.  You’re an admirer of

Jesus, but not a disciple of Him.  I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”


Oh God, help me, and all of us, not to be simply admirers of Jesus, but truly followers.



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