Follow Me and Be Fishers of People

Kent Beduhn
1/24/21

It would be a good time to re-start Christian cycle with Jesus’s call to us all: “Change your Mind, Follow Me, Become Fishers of People.”  Are we ready, willing or able to actually do those things?  When do you find yourself able to meet these challenges, show up and “be the eyes, hands, ears and presence of Jesus”?   Let’s reflect together, as Jesus’s challenges resonate in us, to stay inspired to act in such a way that we can grow, create and expand the beloved community, just as Jesus did.

 

It is more than just the Christian year that has begun. The Inauguration this last week was particularly unusual, more essential than usual. It revealed essences of our Democratic way of life: transfer of power based on the expressed will of the people, who voted for the people who will, one hopes, represent them.  This is not based on any specifically Christian principles, although much of our recent American political life has been adopted as a reflection of Right-wing, supposedly “Christian” biases.  Without exploring those in depth, it’s clear in the life, ministry and death of Jesus, he did not follow the will of his Father, Abba, for the sake of political, worldly domination, competition or gain.  In fact, the power tactics of Jesus look more like continuous and progressive surrender to the “powers and principalities,” through redemptive Love and Suffering. This is Jesus, who was executed for blasphemy by Roman torture as an enemy of the State and Temple power structures.  Although he was accused of being “King of the Jews” by those power structures, Jesus tells Pilate explicitly, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” 

 

1.    Meta-noia: “Change your mind.” 

As we turn to this starting place of the ministry of Jesus in Mark, the startling call of Jesus still wakes us from our winter slumber: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  Jesus proclaimed the “fulfillment of time,” the chairos of time, in his ministry, and the Kingdom of God—meaning God’s power and dominion acting NOW on earth.  The next verb is key in scripture: “repent,” translated by Jerome in the Latin as “penitentia,” expressing regret or doing penance, and translated in the Greek as “meta-noia”—“change your mind!”  The differences in these 2 definitions make an extraordinary difference, and they have resonated throughout the theology of the church ever since. 

 

“Repent” means “turn back,” a reflective mode of accountability for past wrongs.   This focus on sin, the past, confessional vulnerability and relationship is necessary. It helps our conscious minds and hearts to be wary of “missing the mark.”  (According to Richard Rohr, in the Universal Christ, much of the history of the church in the West has been ritualized around sin-counting, categorizing and forgiving wrong, attending to the negative past.  It’s kept priests busy and well-employed and the hierarchy quite intact.  But has it moved the church forward, outward, in service of God and the Kingdom of God, and, above all, following Jesus?)   But, once we have been accountable to our past wrong, what then?  It is the “meta-noia” Mind-Changing definition of Jesus’s first proclamation that expands the journey of following Jesus into present and future-focus.  It has been more evident in the theology, liturgy and practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church.   It evokes for me the creative meeting of real-world challenges, creating possibilities and working together for change. I would hope that we as a church are a mind-changing and mind-blowing people, following Jesus by facing the world in faith, a.  I have seen us alive in this engagement, and it’s wonderful to behold.  

 

The world has a way of intruding on what we “think” we should be about, as our faith calls us to engage as an extension of Jesus’s eyes, ears, hands, feet and heart.  Such was an incident which launched Carol and me into the Way to Jerusalem MG 15 years ago.   We were part of an “Every Church a Peace Church” delegation in Bethlehem for 12 days, and also with “Black Voices for Peace” including Damu Smith and Carolyn Boyd (who’s preached at 8th Day).   At the close were trained in doing nonviolent action by the Palestinians for an action planned against the building of the Wall surrounding Bethlehem.  At that time, the Wall surrounding Bethlehem was being built as a so-called “security wall” by Israel, made of 30’, grey concrete slabs, stood end-to-end and bolted together.  (This should sound familiar, since it’s driven by the same, short-sighted Trumpian reactivity and prejudice that we’ve been living with as American policy on our border with Mexico, recently.)

 

I remember the mind-changing perspectives and practices of nonviolence we had studied the prior year in Bethlehem at the Nonviolence Conference, and the hunger to integrate the Kingian principles taught by students of Bernard Lafayette: (reading only emboldened)
 

PRINCIPLE 1: NONVIOLENCE IS A WAY OF LIFE FOR COURAGEOUS PEOPLE.

It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice and utilizes the righteous indignation and spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
 

PRINCIPLE 2: THE BELOVED COMMUNITY IS THE FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE.

The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
 

PRINCIPLE 3: ATTACK FORCES OF EVIL NOT PERSONS DOING EVIL.

The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.
 

PRINCIPLE 4: ACCEPT SUFFERING WITHOUT RETALIATION FOR THE SAKE OF THE CAUSE TO ACHIEVE A GOAL.

Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent. 
            

PRINCIPLE 5: AVOID INTERNAL VIOLENCE OF THE SPIRIT AS WELL AS EXTERNAL PHYSICAL VIOLENCE.

The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign.  It provides a mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large.  Specific activities must be designed to maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.
 

PRINCIPLE 6: THE UNIVERSE IS ON THE SIDE OF JUSTICE.

Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe.  The fundamental values in all of the world’s great idealogies include the concept that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the ends.
 

Mind-changing of Kingian Nonviolence moves us to ultimately “educate and transform our enemy.” It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice and utilizes the righteous indignation and spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
 

The power of the moral authority is most clearly articulated for me in principle 4: 

ACCEPT SUFFERING WITHOUT RETALIATION FOR THE SAKE OF THE CAUSE TO ACHIEVE A GOAL.
 

Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.              

 

In Bethlehem, prayerfully considering in the hotel room the Action Carol and me were supposed to participate in the next day was difficult. The were Palestinian trainers were clear that there could be tear gas, rubber bullets, clubs used, and possibly blood spilled. There were dangers of panic, stampede or other dangers—should we muster the courage to face the suffering we were likely to encounter from the Israeli Defense Force guarding the wall and nearby guard tower.  Could I not react, get angry, should Carol be attacked, or injured, or worse? What would this Action demonstrate, much less prove, morally? It was a long night.  We talked and prayed, and then talked and prayed more. In the end we walked to the Wall Palm Sunday, seeking a “Way to Jerusalem” to worship (some 5 miles further down the road), asking for passage through the wall to proceed. We were led in Palm Sunday procession by the donkey and the children, after morning services. During the procession.  I had my guitar and found others singing and marching! We got to the guard tower and wall, only partially open and the tone became more serious. We stood, we sang, there were leader speeches, proclaiming the intention of the Action. When we were asked to by the Israeli Defense Force to leave, we sat down (more than 200 people) as our leaders had decided to do. We were given a 10” command by the IDF to leave.  No one moved.  More songs but quietly. After 30”, there was some agitation among the IDF guards.  SOMETHING was going to happen. An officer came out and announced through a bullhorn, “If you do not disperse now, you will face military action and arrest.” There was silence and more vigilance in the demonstrators. Our Action leaders were in discussion. Tear gas launchers were ready. The young Israeli soldiers had fear in their eyes. They had seen this before. Carol said she felt compassion for them.The leaders, some minutes later, requested we slowly rise and begin to walk back. Slowly. So we did. This is just a small taste of the “good trouble” the likes of Gandhi, King and John Lewis engaged in their entire lives. It lit in Carol and me the fire for justice and principled action, strategy and mind-changing transformation.  

 

2. “Follow Me”

 

Becoming aware of the Good News: the Action of God in the World was, for many of us, made more vivid George Floyd’s death, and the impact of NV protest for racial justice and equity.  More than the diversity and strategic action of Black Lives Matter movement, it comes home to us now.   How do you recognize the Good News, action of God in the world, in our church, through our movement to become Anti-racist Church?  Our opportunity to follow Jesus comes through the redemptive Love and Suffering we accept.

 

Good questions were raised as we began discussing anti-racism last Sunday after church: How will we know when we’re “done”? ( We were examining the list of transformative actions, attitudes and principles proposed by Barndt’s book, Becoming an Anti-Racist Church.) Can we do all of this at once? It seems to me there are many lengthy and weighty challenges embedded in the leaders’ proposed direction.The challenge of we Whites giving up White, worldly power for God’s power comes through. Shared power and spiritual unity means being afraid, but trusting how God is changing us through this.  

 

Yes, God’s Kingdom is alive and God acts in this world. Look for those acting in the name of Jesus. George Floyd’s murder activated NV protest all over the world. No, Black Lives Matter is not explicitly a Christian or religious organization. If only our Christian leaders, and we ourselves, could muster more of the principles to act in the name of Jesus to eliminate the violence and oppression with nonviolent protest. Will the vulnerability and death of our Black and People of Color brothers and sisters become our moral cause? Will this become our mind-changing moment within the dedication to Anti-Racism in our church. I certainly hope so. It’s already changing us through the commitment to consider our corporate call to be anti-racist.   Reinhold Neibuhr (and Fred Taylor, and Harvey Bullard-Bates) said it’s good to preach holding the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper on the other to discern how God is acting. Let’s keep this in mind as we re-shape our Beloved Community into the direction God is pointing. The Time is Fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Believe the Good News, God’s action stands fulfilled among us while we act as Jesus acted. Perhaps the mark of our love for one another, and our suffering with and for one another will become the mark of our moral authority in asserting what is right, and true and redemptive among us.
 

Principal 4: ACCEPT SUFFERING WITHOUT RETALIATION FOR THE SAKE OF THE CAUSE TO ACHIEVE A GOAL.

Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.              

 

3.  Now, Become Fishers of People

 

How we now become fishers of People for Jesus is not only through spiritual practices (holiness, piety), social action (being part of the current movement), community unity or mission/ spiritual support groups, but also discerning where Jesus would show up and hang out.  Where can we be the hands, head, heart and presence of Jesus?  The responsiveness of Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John along the shores of Galilee was “immediate.”  It’s the word repeated in Mark to describe the kind of spontaneous and captivating “rightness” of the moment.  

 

One of the most compelling ironies of the January 6th coup and attack on the Capitol incited by our past president is its occurrence ON Epiphany, the very day when, in the church year, we honor the arrival of the Wise Men to the Stable to honor Jesus. The irony of the attack was not lost on the recent Christianity Today article, “We Worship with the Magi, not MAGA”

 

Epiphany calls us to light and truth. It reminds us that the promise of Isaiah is fulfilled in Christ: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60:3). Light is beautiful, and it is also revelatory. The word epiphany comes from the word reveal and gestures toward a realization of the truth. To have an epiphany is to grasp reality, to receive insight. In these gospel stories, followers of Jesus begin to slowly understand who he is. They glimpse the truth: The light of the world has come to all people and all ethnic groups.

 

The season of Epiphany reminds us that we do not just receive the light of Christ. We are charged with sharing it with all the world. But if the nations were watching recent events in DC—as people destabilized democracy while carrying flags that read “Make America Godly Again”—would any onlooker want anything to do with this Christ?

 

The violence wrought by Trump supporters storming the Capitol is anti-epiphany. It is dark and based in untruth. The symbols of faith—Jesus’ name, cross, and message—have been co-opted to serve the cultish end of Trumpism.  (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/trump-capitol-mob-election-politics-magi-not-maga.html)

 

The wisdom of following Jesus means you are clear about what following Jesus is NOT.   Contrary to the spirit of following, people that have been “fished” by Jesus do NOT chant, with the mob assaulting the Capitol on January 6th, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President!”  There is no part of Jesus in that act, and no part of Christianity in that movement.   Becoming fishers of people means becoming Jesus’ presence and light, casting the “net” for others by your good action, sharing your positive example, your invitation to others to get some of the good things you apparently have to give.     

 

The wonderful Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman put it this way in “The Hill We Climb” :

“Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid

If we're to live up to our own time

Then victory won't lie in the blade

But in all the bridges we've made

That is the promise to glade

The hill we climb

If only we dare

It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation

rather than share it”

(https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/20/politics/amanda-gorman-inaugural-poem-transcript/index.html)

 

 

No, following Jesus is not about building our nation to be “great again,” or following a demagogue to attain power, and influence “millions of evangelicals who see Jesus as a means to ill-conceived ideas of American greatness.”  (“We Worship with the Magi, not MAGA” Christianity Today)

 

Becoming fishers of people may look, in Epiphany, like changing our mind to follow Jesus into “Good Trouble,” into rebuilding health and relationships, reconciliation between races and neighbors, and supporting one another in our church not only with what we’re against but what we’re FOR.  We have the moral fortitude and perseverance to be for more than a leader or a nation, but understand our primary commitment, as “Fisher’s of People,” to justice for all peoples.  This was an intentional oversight in our founding documents and principles as America, with White supremacy embedded in our national DNA.  Let’s not make the same mistake other Christians have in following a false, idolatrous leader, rather than Jesus.  Then we will have become  true “Fishers of People”—all people, not just the select ones we imagine God favors.  As God is just, may this be so. 

 

Amanda Gorman closed her remarkable Inauguration poem with what resonates within as an invitation to the wisdom of Epiphany— fulfill the time courageously, seek and even become the light:
 

“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover…

…our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,

battered and beautiful

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it”