Looking Ahead, Not Down
Mark 1: 14-20
As you called from their daily work the four who were fishing, so, God, you call us in the midst of everyday life. We would hear your voice and discern your call. May we respond to your call by looking ahead to the new way of life. Amen
This winter has been unseasonably mild and warm, although we had a few days of it this week. It has been reported that our city has used only a third of the usual amount of street salt so far compared to the same period last year. This is good news for our environment as well as our city. The city has reportedly saved around 3 million dollars so far just because there has not been much snow on the streets.
However, I have to confess that these days I am getting anxious to have a series of abundant snowfalls so I can go cross-country skiing before this winter is over. Some of you remember that I came to church one Sunday morning last year, walking with a cane. That happened almost a year ago, after my left knee was injured by a bad fall during a cross-country skiing trip. Thanks to vigorous workouts, I feel fully recovered now and cannot wait to go skiing again. But I have had no luck yet and my skiing gear is collecting dust in my garage.
I am still a beginner skier; there is much I have to learn about cross-country skiing. This morning, I would like to share with you an insight I gained from the bad fall I had last year. One of the fundamental skiing skills I have to master is shifting my body weight between the two skis alternatively without losing my balance when I slide and glide. In order to keep the proper balance, I have learned how critical it is to “look ahead” instead of “down.” It is easier said than done. I always tend to look down at my feet or the skis, being afraid of falling. Then, I lose my balance and fall. Contrary to my instinct, the more afraid I am of falling, the more often I fall. So, I still struggle to raise my head and focus on something ahead and not on my fear of falling.
When I read today’s Gospel reading from Mark, I was reminded of this critical tip for cross-country skiing, “Look ahead, not down.” As Jesus walks by the
Sea of Galilee, he sees people going about their everyday
work, hauling in the daily catch of fish. In the midst of the ordinary, Jesus calls four
fishers, two sets of brothers, with the words “Follow me.” And immediately –
a word that Mark uses often to express the urgent need to proclaim the gospel
in troubled times such as those faced by the first readers – Simon and Andrew,
James and John leave their boats and their nets and follow.
The story of Jesus calling the four fishers in Mark is so brief that it might be called “telescoped,” that is, an event which may have transpired over a longer period is presented as swift and complete. As a result, many questions can be asked. Who were these four individuals? Did they know Jesus? Had James and John heard of Jesus from Andrew and Peter? What did Jesus see in them that prompted him to choose them?
In particular, what did they think as they dropped everything and left their work and their families? They went with Jesus, apparently, without question. What compelled them to go? We will never know. That part of the story is no longer available to us. What we do know is that they decided to give up their fishing to live the less secure, more nomadic life as a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus.
From this time on, everything would be different for these four. They are required to leave behind a past way of life, trusting in the One who calls into an unknown future. In other words, they are called not to “look down” to the past or current way of life, but to “look ahead” to the new way of life. According to Mark, they follow Jesus immediately. However, I imagine it took a lot of courage to “look ahead” and follow Jesus, not fearing that unknown future.
Last Sunday, Kathryn kept us updated about the work of our Joint Search Committee. We were glad to hear that their work had gone well so far and that our advertisement about searching for a new minister was in the January edition of the United Church Observer. We are waiting for more applications to arrive until the end of the month. Speaking about the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, she assured us that the committee would work hard to make the whole process transparent and fair and, at the same time, keep us informed about the process. Also, she announced that next Sunday we would have a covenanting service with the Committee, the Presbytery and us as a congregation during the morning service. The Rev.
McNaughton, Secretary of the Presbytery, will come to preach
and lead the covenanting. We are looking
forward to it.
One and a half years ago, when we began this journey of Intentional Interim Ministry here, we were not sure about what was ahead and how things would turn out. Not many of us had a clear idea of what interim ministry was all about. Even though I had completed special training courses, I had no experience of interim ministry either. It was my first appointment as an interim and only my second pastoral charge since ordination. I was far from an eloquent, experienced and confident interim minister. From the beginning, some of us openly expressed some concern and worry about this ministry. Many of us, myself included, were afraid of “falling,” looking down to what had happened in the past.
Now, we are excited to look ahead to the calling of a new minister soon, hopefully within a couple of months. In retrospect, we have managed not to fall, but to balance ourselves so as to arrive at the point where we can see the finish line of our interim work. According to the Manual, Interim Ministry is an intentional, time-limited ministry. Its primary intention is to work toward specific goals identified by the Presbytery and the congregation. In other words, we set up goals to work on within a couple of years, something to look forward to from the very beginning of our interim work. I think that setting up those specific goals has helped us to look ahead, not down, all the way along.
As a congregation, we have experienced a great deal of difficulty caused by the sudden disruption of ministry following the medical leave of a minister. One of the important goals for our interim work was, therefore, to establish a stable, long-term pastoral relationship by calling a new minister. How would we achieve this goal? What would we need to do? Was there anything we could do differently? It was not an easy task. Some of us have struggled with many flashback memories of what happened in the past. Old wounds were reopened. But we know that we needed to do that in order to move on and begin our ministry anew. The Transition Committee, the Joint Needs Assessment Committee and the Joint Search Committee have kept us aware of the purpose of our interim work and helped us look ahead toward the future, not down to the past.
Our interim work is not done yet. There is still much work to do. The good news is that the finish line is not that far away and we can see it more clearly now. We hope to celebrate that when we call a new minister in March.
Today, Jesus tells the four fishers that their new work will be to “fish for people.” Their work will be to tend to relationships, to care for others and to invite them to hear the good news that Jesus is proclaiming. Now, we too are called to “fish for people,” leaving behind a past way of life and looking ahead with courage to an unknown future. May we bring this call of Jesus into the interim work that lies ahead. Amen.