Mark 1:14-20 (CEB)

Jesus’ message

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Jesus calls disciples

16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

John 1:29-42 (CEB)

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’ 31 Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”

Jesus calls disciples

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ[a] ). 42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 Hello God? We’ve got questions! Does God have a purpose for my life?

            Have you ever felt like you were traveling down a road to nowhere?  Have you ever struggled to know where you were going and why you’re headed that way?  Today’s question is probably the biggest question of all – most of us ask God this question, and many of us ask God this question continuously over the journey that is our lives.  And so I want to just cut to the end of the sermon and say – yes.   The answer to the question is “yes”!  God does have a purpose for your life.  My theology is pretty simple – the way I view God’s purpose for our lives is like this.  There are two things that God wants to accomplish in our lives:  God wants to love us, and God wants to use us.  And so God wants us to receive that love poured out on us in so many ways – to receive that love and then to give it back to God.  This is one of the reasons we were created to receive God’s love and love God back!  But, also, in response to that love, God wants to use us in some amazingly creative way to share that love of God in the world.

And so in today’s scripture, we see two versions of how Jesus called the first disciples to do God’s work in the world, and we have several characters to look at.  We read about Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, their father Zebedee and John the Baptist.  And so let’s spend some time thinking about what purpose God had for the lives of these very first followers — how did they respond and how did God love them and use them.

The scripture from John is really at the end of the life of John the Baptist.  Two weeks ago when we heard the story of the baptism of Jesus, we learned that God had called John the Baptist to a very specific purpose – to prepare a path for Jesus, the Messiah.  John was supposed to go before Jesus and to announce beforehand that the Savior was coming and that the people should get ready for meeting this life-changing man who was the Son of God.  John had a very specific purpose in life.  According to the book of Luke, John came to know about God’s purpose for his life based on a prophecy that his father Zechariah spoke when he was still a baby.  Zechariah said that his son was born to “go before the Lord to prepare his way.”  And Luke 3 tells us this: “God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”  And he began preaching in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus.

Sometimes, God’s word and even God’s voice makes a clear impression on us what our purpose is in the world.  Sometimes we hear that voice of God, either audibly or figuratively, and we know exactly how God wants to use us in the world.

But sometimes, maybe most times it’s harder to discern God’s purpose for our lives.  Sometimes we are just minding our own business, doing our normal everyday task, and along comes Jesus.  Maybe we are going about our normal routine – like Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John — getting up at the crack of dawn and loading up the family’s boat with nets and setting out to catch fish to support the family.  And in the midst of what we think is a routine way of life, something different happens.  In the case of these disciples they heard the call to change their hearts and change their lives and to come and follow Jesus.  They heard that the Lamb of God had arrived; that the Messiah they had been waiting for as Jewish people had come to save them.  And they were invited to come and see for themselves.

And so it is with us today.  Because Jesus still seeks out followers today.  Jesus still needs disciples today.   God still wants to love us and use us today.  And so you might know what I mean when I say that even in 2018, thousands of years later, we experience this invitation to draw near to God.  We begin to feel this tug toward the Almighty – and God begins to stir up our hearts and our souls.  We begin to hear God whispering to us in essence, “Come and see,” and “come follow me.”  Most of us don’t receive a prophecy like John the Baptist which lays out our life’s purpose for God.  But nevertheless, God wants to use each of us.  And so God’s whisper becomes louder and louder and more and more insistent:  “Change your heart and your life.”  “Come and see.”  “Come and follow me.”

God loves us, and God wants to use us.

God’s purpose for our lives is a general call to act for God in the world.  But don’t we want what John the Baptist had – don’t we want to know specifically how God wants to use us.  Don’t we want more details about our specific life’s purpose.

If you are reading the whole Bible this year, you know that we have been studying the book of Genesis.  And we read the creation story.  God created the earth, the sky, the seas, all the creatures.  And God created us!  God created humans, too.  God said we are made in God’s own image.  Psalm 139 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made!”  And in case you hadn’t noticed, we are all created so very differently.  We humans are all shapes and sizes and colors, aren’t we?    You can see how different we are just by comparing your hands with your neighbors.  Look at your hands.  Now look at the hands of someone sitting next to you.  Notice the differences in skin color and texture.  Our fingers are different, our nails are different, the lines on our palms are different.  We are each uniquely made by the creator of the universe!

Not only are we physically different, we all have different personalities and gifts and skills.  The Apostle Paul talks about the idea that we are all gifted with different spiritual gifts, and he compares it to the body of Christ – each of us has a spiritual gift and we must all use the particular thing we have for God.  First Corinthians 12 says that the body can’t function without the stomach or the eye or the head.  Each of us has gifts given from God that we are supposed to use for God.  Right?

Because God loves us, and God wants to use us.

God didn’t create his children to be unthinking or identical robot-like people.  And so, God wants to use who you are – who you uniquely are, and who God created you to be, for God’s purposes.

I want to show you what I mean by this.

Sometimes we have found an occupation/a vocation that we love!  We feel like God created us for that purpose because it just fits who we are so well.  And this thing might have nothing to do with faith.  Or at least we think that.  But really every facet of our lives has to do with faith.  Each of our gifts, each of our experiences both good and bad, and each of our skills can be put to work for God.  This week K-Love radio got a new host, and so she was introducing herself, and she was talking about how she had always wanted to be on radio.  She had a great voice and a bubbly personality.  I could tell that God had created her in such a way that she had great skills for being a radio announcer.  And she had worked in a secular radio station for years.  And then she heard that call.  She heard Jesus saying, “come and follow me.”  Her faith deepened, and she talked about this idea that God had revealed a way for her to use who she is in a very overt way with a religious radio station – with KLove.  Do you think sharing God’s love through music and words on the radio could be a purpose from God?

Most of you know I was a lawyer and a preacher for several years.  And people had trouble grasping that – they joked all the time that they didn’t understand how a lawyer could also be a preacher.  But I found that as a lawyer, I regularly had the chance to share the love of God – because I was working with people who were often experience the worst times of their lives – some of my clients were in desperate financial need and were filing bankruptcy.  Some were grieving the loss of a loved one and came to my office for help with a probate.  I helped people grapple with their own deaths and make end of life decisions as I prepared wills and living wills for people.  I could share the love and hope and peace of God with people who were struggling.  Do you think this could have been the purpose God had for my life at that time?

Sometimes people live out God’s purpose outside of their daily work.  Some of you all may know Lori Grace.  She lives in Russellville and attends First United Methodist Church and she works at Farm Credit.  One Sunday her pastor read this quote that was written by a deep-thinker named Frederick Buechner.  He said: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Those words deeply impacted Lori, and she began to see a deep need around her.  She began to see a need for affordable housing for people in need.  This need that she saw really didn’t have much to do with her chosen occupation.  But you see, Lori is a great organizer and leader.  She can motivate people and take care of detailed plans.  And God gave her this tenacious personality!  Lori’s gifts combined with the power of the Holy Spirit to create Habit for Humanity of Pope County.  She led the effort to raise tens of thousands of dollars to build houses for people in need, and the project continues today!  Do you think providing housing for people in need could be a purpose from God?

How many of you have watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS?  The show started in 1968 and ended in 2000 after 895 episodes.  Fred Rogers had a lot of unique qualities.  He had a deep faith; he was quiet and thoughtful; he was patient and loving.  Fred Rogers died in 2013, but his legacy continues.  I’ve been reading a wonderful book called The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers.   Did you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister?  The church really didn’t know what to do with him because before he was ordained he became convinced that he needed to help combat some of the negative effects of television, and he came up with the idea of his children’s show.  The church finally agreed to ordain him as a minister without a church.  But you may not have known this because I don’t remember that Mr. Rogers ever talked about his faith on the show.  But what I do remember is that he exhibited love and grace to all – telling the kids who watched: “I like you just the way you are.”  It has been said that Mr. Rogers was a perfect example of living out St. Francis of Assis’ belief that we should “preach the gospel at all times; when necessary use words.”  Do you think showing unconditional love to children through a tv show could be a purpose from God?

One of my favorite disciples of Christ is Mardie Robbins.  She’s a retired teacher and she’s getting up in years.  Her health is not that great.  But you know what, even though her life’s purpose is different now, she still has a purpose for God.  She has one of the deepest relationships with Christ that I know.  She is an intercessory prayer warrior – she seems to have a direct connection to the Almighty.  A few years back she was laying flat on her back in the hospital.  When I visited her, she was expecting to be wheeled down the hall to surgery in just a few minutes.  And all she could talk about was that she had come to the hospital unexpectedly and didn’t have her prayer book with her.   She was upset that she couldn’t pray for her family, her friends and her church that day in the way that she wanted to because she couldn’t remember all the names in her book.  Do you think lifting up heartfelt prayers to God could be a purpose from God?

I could tell you stories all day about the creative ways God calls people to come and follow.  Because God loves us, and God wants to use us – at every age and every stage of our lives.  Don’t be surprised if God weaves his way into your ordinary, every-day life to use exactly who you are and what you love for his purposes.

In today’s scripture, God had a purpose for the lives of the characters in the story.  John the Baptist was near the end of his life.  He was arrested and beheaded by the brutal and suspicious King Herod, but only after preparing the way for the Messiah.  James, John, Andrew and Peter followed Jesus for three years- witnessing him heal the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons, and offer love and forgiveness to the least of these.  They hid in fear as their master was arrested and executed.  But then the Holy Spirit descended upon the fearful disciples, and they were empowered to fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for their lives — they did become fishers of men – they scattered across the world telling people about the love of God that had come to earth in Christ Jesus.

But there’s one person in our story today, that I kept wondering about this week, and that is Zebedee.  The Mark text says only a little bit about Zebedee:

19 After going a little farther, Jesus saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Zebedee was left behind in the boat!  We have no idea what happened to Zebedee, he’s only mentioned briefly in the Gospels.  Maybe he followed Jesus later.  Maybe he became a believer and prayed for and encouraged his sons from home.  But all we know is that he was left behind in that boat even though he would have surely heard that same voice.  “Come and follow me!”

God loves you.

God wants to use you.

Will you come and follow Jesus?

Let us pray.

Mighty God, your call to each of us through this scripture is strong this day.  We thank you for loving us.  We thank you for creating us so uniquely.  And we thank you for using us for your purposes in a world that really needs your light.  But today God I want to pray especially for those people who might not be so clear that they have heard your voice.  I pray for those who can’t see at all that you have a purpose for their lives.  God would you pour out your Spirit to inspire us, to help us to change our hearts and lives, to realize that the Lamb of God has come near to us and to come and follow you.  Amen.