Following Jesus

Following Jesus

The opening chapter of Mark is powerful in its sparseness. Mark doesn’t warm up with a birth narrative. He begins with eight verses devoted to John the Baptist and then in three short verses Mark disposes of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus goes out into the wilderness and back in only two verses, and Mark covers the arrest of John the Baptist in verses 14 and 15. Then Jesus goes looking for disciples. Simon, Andrew, James and John drop their nets and follow Jesus. Probably it didn’t happen exactly like that, but Mark’s style is dramatic. And the principle drama is in the invitation, “Come follow Me.”

Why did those first disciples follow Jesus? Mark tries to provide some answer to that question later in Chapter 1, when Jesus healed a demoniac in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Mark 1: 21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

Jesus taught with authority and performed exorcisms and healings. He was hard to ignore. In the First Century illnesses of all sorts were attributed to evil spirits, and so someone who could command the spirit world possessed spiritual authority. The healing ministry of Jesus helped to serve as his credentials for claiming authority in wisdom.

Another reason the fishermen of the Galilee were so ready to follow Jesus is that Herod Antipas was commercializing the fishing industry, taxing the production, processing and exporting of the fish and slowly squeezing the fishermen into poverty. They were more than ready for the message of social justice, and Commonwealth of God.

Our “modern” minds have difficulty relating to Jesus’ ministry of exorcism. We understand illness differently. We are also living far removed from the oppression of the Roman Empire and the desperation of the Galilean peasants, although the “Occupy Wall Street Movement,” may help us to more nearly appreciate Jesus’ call for social justice in the Common Wealth of God. But Jesus still presents us with his invitation to “come follow me.”



What might following Jesus look like for us? Allow me to try to bridge the gap from the First Century to the Twenty-first Century by lifting up one of the best modern examples of someone who chose to follow the way of Jesus.

Albert Schweitzer spent his childhood in the village of Gunsbach, in Alsace where his father was the local Lutheran pastor. Many members of his extended family were accomplished scholars and musicians. He became both a scholar and a musician earning doctoral degrees in Music, Philosophy, Theology and Medicine. He was an acclaimed concert organist, and years later earned money to support his hospital in Africa by making concert tours in Europe and making recordings.

In his Auto-Biography, Out of My Life and Thought, Schweitzer described his experience of Jesus calling him into a life of service:

It struck me as inconceivable that I should be allowed to lead such a happy life while I saw so many people around me struggling with sorrow and suffering. Even at school I had felt stirred whenever I caught a glimpse of the miserable home surroundings of some of my classmates and compared them with the ideal conditions in which we children of the parsonage at Gunsbach had lived. At the university, enjoying the good fortune of studying and even getting some results in scholarship and the arts, I could not help but think continually of others who were denied that good fortune by their material circumstances or their health.

One brilliant summer morning at Gunsbach, during the Whitsuntide holidays — it was in 1896 — as I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but I must give something in return.

While outside the birds sang I reflected on this thought, and before I had gotten up I came to the conclusion that until I was thirty I could consider myself justified in devoting myself to scholarship and the arts, but after that I would devote myself directly to serving humanity. I had already tried many times to find the meaning that lay hidden in the saying of Jesus: “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospels shall save it.” Now I had found the answer. I could now add outward to my inward happiness.

In 1911 Schweitzer earned a medical degree and soon embarked for Lambarene Station in Gabon French West Africa. The work was hard the climate torturous. In addition to caring for the medical needs of thousands of patients, he wrote books, advocated for world peace, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

Despite his prodigious scholarly achievements, and becoming a world famous celebrity, Schweitzer remained a truly humble person throughout his life. I believe his humility was rooted in his commitment to providing direct service to the needs of others. People who do good are constantly in danger of falling into an ego trip, especially if the world recognizes and celebrates their good deeds.

There are a couple of stories I think bear witness to Schweitzer’s basic goodness and humility. Once when he was touring Europe giving recitals to raise money for his hospital, his train was met by the press seeking an interview. The reporters were all crowded around the first class compartments waiting for Dr. Schweitzer who was finally seen getting out of a 4th class car. The news people rushed down to that end of the platform to try to get an interview and one of the reporters asked how come the good Doctor was riding in a fourth class coach. Schweitzer replied, “because there is not fifth class.”

On another occasion the press were waiting for Dr. Schweitzer’s train, and when he got off, he couldn’t stop to speak to the reporters, because he was carrying a young mother’s luggage, who had two small children with her whom he had befriended on the train.

When a reporter came to Lambarene to do a story on the Doctor’s hospital, he asked where he could find Dr. Schweitzer. The reporter was told he could find the doctor at the construction site of the new building for the hospital. When he arrived, he found Dr. Schweitzer pushing a wheel barrow. The reporter asked in surprise, “Dr. Schweitzer, how is it that you are pushing a wheel barrow?”

Schweitzer looked at him and said, “Well it’s really quite simple. You take a shovel and fill up the barrow with dirt and then you pick up on these two handles and push.”

Schweitzer formulated “Reverence for Life,” as his ethical philosophy. He wrote: “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.” And he lived his philosophy. He wouldn’t even swat a mosquito. When the American Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson came to visit Lambarene, Stevenson, swatted a large mosquito that was alighting on Dr. Schweitzer’s arm. The good doctor said sharply, “I’ll thank you that was my mosquito.”

Albert Schweitzer answered the call of Jesus to “come follow me.” He truly used all of his prodigious gifts in service to others. He was completely unfazed by his own celebrity, living faithfully and humbly giving his life to relieve the suffering of others.

We don’t have to leave our homes and journey to Africa in order to follow Christ. There are multitudes of opportunities to serve the needs of others right here in Huntsville. We can also join the fight against injustice and greed. Let me suggest you check out Pippa Abston’s blog post this week:

The State wants to give the Medicaid program to out of state for profit health management firms, who will take far more than the 3% the Alabama Medicaid program is currently spending on administration. I won’t say any more, read Pippa’s blog.

We are all called in our own way to come follow Jesus. Say yes to Jesus. Let me conclude with Albert Schweizer’s eloquent restatement of our Scripture this morning.

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

Say yes to Jesus.

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