'All In' for Jesus

Mark 1:16-20

‘All In’ for Jesus

January 28, 2018          Maple Grove UMC


          If a traveling rabbi/teacher came up to you while you were at work and said, “Follow me” . . . would you?   The answer, probably, is “It depends.”  It depends on just how compelling this teacher is. It depends on what else is going on in your life.  Perhaps above all, it depends on how much you want a fresh start. 

          “Follow me,” Jesus said.  And they just up and followed.  Commen-taries will explain how unusual this scene would have sounded to folks in Mark’s time, and in turn that may explain why these men would have dropped everything to follow a rabbi they’d never met. In those days, rabbis simply didn’t go around calling disciples; disciples came to them and applied, people begged to follow them.  Being invited to follow a rabbi was the honor of a lifetime.  Only the best and brightest need apply; only those with the right social and educational background were accepted.  Yet here was rabbi Jesus wandering around calling random guys, “Hey, follow me.”  They must have thought, You mean ME?  Follow a rabbi?  You want ME?  Heck yes!  When do we leave?  Unlike other rabbis, Jesus doesn’t call certain people to be disciples; he calls all people to be disciples. He doesn’t single out special people to follow him; all people are special to him.  Of course they followed him!

And Simon and Andrew didn’t just follow eventually, or when they got around to it. Mark says they immediately left their nets and followed him. And after that, Mark says, Jesus immediately called James and John.  This word ‘immediately’ is a feature of Mark’s gospel.  Of the 51 times the word appears in the New Testament, 41 of them are in Mark.  ‘Immediately’ relates to what we heard last Sunday—that the time, the kairos, is fulfilled.  If you think about it too long, you may never follow; if you think about it too long, you may never make the change you need.  If you're looking for a fresh start, don't wait for someone to give you permission, don't wait for the stars to align, don't wait until you have your act together.  It's time, Jesus says, immediately.


          Jesus said, “Follow me,” and they did; they up and followed.  And Jesus still says, “Follow me.”  So what might that mean for the likes of you and me?  Unlike the four people in the gospel reading, not everyone who follows Jesus leaves their job or their family or their home town.  Jesus may call us to do those things, but they’re partly metaphorical.  What if we stay right here—what does it mean to follow Jesus?

          One of the great spiritual teachers of our time, Rueben Job, put it this way:  “To follow Jesus is to commit myself to a lifelong journey of being led where Jesus wants me to go and not necessarily where I want to go.  This situation often causes opposition within myself.  Jesus may call me to do what I do not normally and easily do.  Jesus may ask me to wait or remain silent when I wish to speak or move on.  In each of these cases I experience opposition within to what Jesus calls me to do and to be.”1

          New Testament scholar, Ched Myers, finds that the call to discipleship in Mark is an “urgent, uncompromising invitation to ‘break with business as usual.’ For those who choose to follow,” he says, “the world [as it has been] is coming to an end. The kingdom has dawned, and [this] is . . . the discipleship adventure.”2  In other words, following Jesus is a fresh start, it’s an adventure, it’s life-changing . . . and it’s a bit unsettling, uncomfortable.

          Finally, notice that following Jesus is not a mental activity.  It’s not even a theological activity, in the sense of believing certain things about God or Jesus.  Following Jesus is a physical activity, a relational activity—it’s about changing the way you live your life.  And it is also a spiritual activity, because you don’t change what you do without changing your heart.  The late, great preacher, William Sloane Coffin said: “It is terribly important to realize that the leap of faith is not so much a leap of thought as of action . . .  One must, in short, dare to act wholeheartedly without absolute certainty.”3  There’s a song that says, “We can believe, and not change a thing / But following will change our whole life.”4

          So if you don’t go anywhere, what might it mean to follow Jesus, to take the discipleship adventure, to take a leap of faith in action?  Well, let me suggest a few things and see where it leads your heart:

  • Perhaps to follow Jesus means to commit to never engaging in retribution, but to always forgiveness—that would be a fresh start. 
  • Perhaps following Jesus means deciding to do something to serve others, not occasionally but every single day—that would be a fresh start.
  • Or following Jesus might mean making every decision based not primarily—or at least not only--on your own self-interest, but on how it affects others—that would be a fresh start. 
  • Or it might mean to pray like Jesus, to pray for mercy and justice, for God’s kingdom to come, that is, for real and fundamental change.  That would be a fresh start. 


          Here’s how I’ve come to think about it.  Jesus comes along and offers you a fresh start, a changed life.  He says, “Follow me.”  Now you can think about it.  You can ask him to get back to you.  And both of those responses can be faithful for a time.  But sooner or later, you either follow or you don’t. 

          Please don’t tell the bishop, but I sometimes watch poker tourna-ments on TV--Texas Holdem is what they play.  The most exciting times are when one player, usually someone down on their luck, gets a hand they feel so confident about that they go “all in.”  That is, they take everything they have, all their chips, and push them into the middle of the table. They risk it all on that hand and that hand alone.

          That’s what it means when Jesus says, “Follow me.”  He wants you to be all in for him, to put it all in the middle of the table.  Not to hold anything back, but to risk it all because Jesus is worth the risk.  There are examples of this throughout the Bible.  Through Moses God invited the people of Israel to cross the Red Sea into whatever was on the other side.  And they went across.  Sometimes they doubted and sometimes they regretted ever having come.  But there wasn’t any going back.  They were all in. 

          The rich young ruler asked Jesus, “How can I inherit eternal life?”  Jesus tried to take it easy on him.  He said, “Just keep the commandments.”  But the man sensed there was something more, something deeper.  So Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you own and give the money to the poor; then, come follow me.”  And the man went away sad; he wasn’t ready to be all in. 

          In Galatians the apostle Paul criticizes Peter for trying to have it both ways—for preaching salvation through faith in Christ but also at the same time insisting on certain Jewish rituals.  No, no, Paul taught, you can’t have it both ways.  A fresh start comes from being ‘all in’ for Jesus. 

          This truth shows up outside the Bible as well.  In the Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, “Try not.  Do or do not; there is no try.”  Change comes not from trying, but from being all in. 

          I read an interview of a woman who competed in equestrian events, where they jump horses over seemingly impossibly high walls and fences.  The interviewer asked her how they did it.  She replied, “Well, you take your heart and you throw it over the fence.  When your heart’s already over there, the rest of you just has to come along.”  You’ve got to be all in; otherwise the obstacles in life are just too high.

          And in marriage, we forsake all others and be loyal to just one person so long as we both shall live. I know it doesn’t always work, but when it does, there is something holy and beautiful about being all in. 


               So if I haven’t found my fresh start yet, perhaps it’s because I haven’t committed to that fresh start yet—I’m not all in.  If I haven’t got over that obstacle yet, perhaps it’s because I haven’t thrown my heart to the other side.  If my life isn’t changed yet, perhaps it’s because I’m keeping some of my chips back, playing it safe--I’m not all in. 

          Are you looking for a fresh start?  Do you need a changed life, a new or renewed relationship with God?  Well, the next time Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me,” here’s what you say:  “Sure, okay.”  Actually, scratch that.  The next time Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me,” here’s what you do:  take all your chips and put them in the middle of his table, take your heart and throw it over his fence.  Here’s what you do:  You get up, and follow. 


1 Rueben P. Job, “Being Led,” from A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God. Quoted in Alive Now (May/June 2012), 34.

2 Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 133.

3 William Sloane Coffin, Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 7.

4 Bryan Sirchio, “Follow Me.” http://sirchio.com/songs/justice/Justice_And_Love/115.

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