Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Mark 1:14-20
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Ole and Sven are from Minnesota. They die in a snowmobiling accident, drunker than skunks and go to Hell. The Devil observes that they are really enjoying themselves. He says to them ‘Doesn’t the heat and smoke bother you?’ Ole replies, ‘Vell, ya know, ve’re from nordern Minnesooota, da land of snow an ice, an ve’re yust happy fer a chance ta varm up a little bit, ya know.’ The devil decides that these two aren’t miserable enough and turns up the heat even more. When he returns to the room of the two from Minnesota, the devil finds them in light jackets and hats, grilling Walleye and drinking beer. The devil is astonished and exclaims, ‘Everyone down here is in misery, and you two seem to be enjoying yourselves?’ Sven replies, ‘Vell, ya know, ve don’t git too much varm veather up dere at da Falls, so ve’ve yust got ta haff a fish fry vhen da veather’s dis nice.’ The devil is absolutely furious. He can hardly see straight. Finally, he comes up with the answer. The two guys love the heat because they have been cold all their lives. The devil decides to turn all the heat off in hell. The next morning, the temperature is 60 below zero, icicles are hanging everywhere, and people are shivering so bad that they are unable to wail, moan or gnash their teeth. The devil smiles and heads for the room with Ole and Sven. He gets there and finds them back in their parkas, bomber hats, and mittens. They are jumping up and down, cheering, yelling and screaming like mad men.
The devil is dumbfounded, ‘I don’t understand, when I turn up the heat you’re happy. Now its freezing cold and you’re still happy. What is wrong with you two?’ They both look at the devil in surprise and say, ‘Vell, don’t ya know, if hell iss froze over, dat must mean da Vikings von da Super Bowl.’
I think hell froze over last Sunday. How many of you watched that game? Did you see that Miracle in Minnesota? That was the most exciting ending I have ever seen in a football game. I want you all to know that this Cheesehead pastor you have is rooting for the Vikings all the way. It’s really true, I do root for the Vikings when they aren’t playing the Packers. And I’m telling you right now that if the Vikings make it to the Superbowl, we are changing colors from green to purple on Feb 4. I think we should change the name of the church for one Sunday from Greenfield Lutheran to Purplefield Lutheran.
How many of you are going to watch the game today? How many of you could care less about football? I know that we have some die hard Vikings football fans here. Some of you follow it very religiously. By that I mean, you follow it passionately with great devotion.
People follow all kinds of things today. They follow the news. They follow social media and podcasts. You can follow tweets on Twitter, or on Facebook you follow your friends and their posts. Did you know that on Facebook you can actually choose to unfollow someone and yet still be friends? That means that you are still friends, even though you don’t see what they post. That has been very helpful for me because some of my Facebook friends post way too much. I mean, they live their lives on Facebook. I don’t want to see what you ate for supper last night. I still love you and I want to be your friend, but I want to choose how much I see about your life.
I wonder if a lot of people don’t have a similar relationship with Jesus. Lots of people say they believe in God, but they don’t really devote much time to the relationship. They love Jesus but they don’t follow him, or they choose how much to follow him when it’s convenient.
I don’t think it was very convenient the day that Jesus invited James and John to follow him. It says, “Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” Can you imagine how their father felt, his two grown sons leaving the family business to go chasing after some Rabbi? And it doesn’t sound like they took much time to think it over. Mark uses the word “immediately.” Immediately, they left everything to follow Jesus. I bet old Zebedee was a bit angry at Jesus and his sons.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means that we are called to love God and love our neighbor. It means that we are called to share God’s love with those we encounter. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Instead of spending our lives trying to catch fish, we try to catch people. And the bait we use is God’s love.
When I was a little boy in Sunday School we used to sing a song called, Fishers of Men. I loved that song. “I will make you fishers of men…if you follow me.” But as an adult, I’m not sure I like the image of fishing for people. The image of fishing is a bit too violent and coercive. I mean you bait a hook so you get a fish to bite. The hook with a barb in it gets lodged in their mouth. You pull them into the boat against their will. And then they die so you can eat them. And this is supposed to be an image of how we share God’s love with people? Fishing for people?
Let me give you an example of a different image for sharing God’s love with others. There was an Episcopal priest who once told the story of a member of his congregation. The member was a physician at a world-famous medical clinic in town. On a regular basis, people would introduce themselves to the pastor as visitors, and say that they had been invited by this man to attend services. After some ten years the physician accepted a position in some other town. The pastor took the physician out to lunch and brought up his intentional evangelism and the fact that a major percentage of the congregation’s new members over the last ten years joined as a direct result of his invitation. The physician was both surprised and embarrassed. He was surprised, because he had not thought of his efforts as all that significant; he was embarrassed, to think that the pastor had been observing his behavior so carefully. He simply said, “I just try to be an open door.” That physician was an open door inviting others to the church.
Fishing for people or being an open door? I like the open-door image a little better. Someone has said that evangelism is not something we go and do, but something we do as we go. This physician did not go anywhere special to invite people to church. In the normal course of his day-to-day life, he shared his faith with those he encountered by inviting them to church. You and I can do that too. At work, in our families, in the community, during times of relaxation, traveling, with friends or neighbors. One of the most loving things you can do for people is simply to take the time to listen to them as they share the concerns of their everyday life. So love them, and then invite them to come to a place where they will hear a message about God’s love for them. I promise you that every week, as long as I am pastor here at Greenfield Lutheran, you will hear a message of God’s love for you and for the whole world. God proved his love for us by sending Jesus Christ to show us that love. And that love has the power to change our hearts and to change our world. So let’s invite people to come gather and celebrate God’s love in Jesus Christ.