Sermon: The Muddle of Discipleship

February 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39

It’s my experience that all supervisors, executives, and bosses share one basic characteristic: they don’t know how long it takes for their employees to get things done. I’m sure our office manager, Momi Lyman, has noticed that about me. I’ll give a long, involved description of a request that takes her five seconds to do. And then I’ll blithely ask her about something else, which turns out to be a Major Project requiring hours of her time.

I’ve been on the other side of this relationship, too. Some years ago, the Connecticut Conference Minister at the time put three tasks on my to-do list. All of them required a fair amount of work, attention, and just plain time, and it was clear as well that she expected them fairly soon. So there I was, in a muddle. The worst of it was that I didn’t have any notion of which one she wanted first.

In my memory, all three of these big projects landed on my desk within an hour. I’m pretty sure that’s my memory trying to make the story better.

So I did the only thing I could. I sent her an email asking which one had the priority.

A few minutes later, she appeared in my office, puzzled that I seemed to think these three items required some time and effort, and concerned that I couldn’t immediately discern which was the most important. She sat down and the two of us took the time, and the work, to figure out how to get everything she wanted done, done.

This many years later, I remember the work we did to prioritize the work, and I don’t remember a thing about any of those three projects. We’d tackled the muddle of our institutional work.

Sort of like Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, and John tackled the muddle of discipleship.

Jesus and his four new friends had just come into town – not a new town, the familiar town of Capernaum. Simon had family there. Jesus, if the beginning of chapter 2 is a good clue, had a house there. James and John’s family probably sold their fish there.

Simon – that’s Simon Peter, by the way. In this first chapter of his gospel, Mark still calls him Simon, because he hasn’t told the story of Jesus giving him the name of Peter yet – Simon definitely lived in Capernaum, because he invited Jesus back to his house after worship in the synagogue. That’s how they found Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed, and how Jesus came to heal her.

It’s all very simple, really. Go to church, come home for dinner, mother-in-law is sick, heal her, and life goes back to normal.

Hang on a second. “Mother-in-law?”

A man with a mother-in-law usually has someone else in his life, and that’s a wife. So yes: Simon Peter was married.

I’m embarrassed to admit how many years I’d read this passage before that finally clicked in my brain.

Simon Peter’s wife does not appear elsewhere in the Gospels, neither Mark nor the other three. The apostle Paul made a passing reference to Peter being married in First Corinthians. In fact, he wrote that other apostles had families, too.

And suddenly this simple life of discipleship gets muddled, doesn’t it?

I grew up with a very dramatic portrait of the first disciples: They left their homes and families, as James and John left their father in the boat, and went off to walk with Jesus. All those other obligations stayed behind.

Except that they didn’t. The first stop of the discipleship journey was their own home town. The first people Jesus healed were the members of their families, their friends and their neighbors. The first people who heard Jesus’ message that the realm of God was at hand were the people who knew him best. And who expected things of him.

Jesus’ ministry plunged right into the muddle and uncertainty and confusion and multiple obligations and mixed priorities of real life.

In the morning, Jesus chose another priority. As he would many times in the gospel accounts, he walked away from the crowds for some time alone, to renew and refresh himself, to pray, to be with God. Among this muddle of obligation and ministry and summons and family ties and friends’ expectations is the duty to care for one’s self.

In this, Jesus followed the lead of Simon’s mother-in-law. Sick, she went to bed. Jesus, exhausted, found his own quiet space. Simon’s mother-in-law, healed, took up her discipleship, as Karoline Lewis writes, and served. Jesus, refreshed, took his message on the road to other towns. And served.

His followers, too, discovered that they would follow Jesus not just from the beach to the town, but to other towns. Later they would follow him to Jerusalem.

They would follow him all through the muddle of discipleship.

I wish that I could, at this moment, present you on a bright, shining platter, a fool-proof system for simplifying the muddle of discipleship. I can’t.

The simple truth is that we are constantly between obligations. We have to take care of ourselves to do anything right. We have to give time and do the hard work of our family relationships. Our friends want and need us. Our employers demand us. Our community calls us. And then somebody like me comes along and says, “Oh, by the way, Jesus needs you, too,” and then later, which is not the same thing, “And the Church needs you as well.”

Discipleship is a muddle.

There’s just no substitute for what Dr. Crabtree did with me that day: sit down and sort the priorities, find some simpler ways to do complex tasks, leave some things for another day and abandon some other things, and do it all the whole time knowing that it won’t be perfect, it can’t be perfect, and some of the balls you’re juggling are going to hit the ground. Watch out for your toes.

We haven’t been summoned to separation from living, but to participation in living. We have been summoned to a messy, muddled discipleship. But Jesus walks that same dusty, twisting road with us, and he knows just how complex are our cares.

He’ll be there to help us sort things out. He’ll be there as we take on the tasks. He’ll be there as we serve. And he’ll be there as we stumble, as we falter, and as we succeed and rejoice.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

As always, the prepared text and the sermon as preached do not match. It was ever so…

The image is an illustration of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, found in an 11th century manuscript of the writings of Abbess Hitde von Meschede.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on February 4, 2018

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