← back to list

Mar 03, 2019

Give Up to Gain More

Passage: Mark 1:16-20

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Lent Sermon Series

Category: Sermon Series

Trivia: What was the first thing Jesus did as he began his ministry?  Turn water into wine?  Walk on water?  Heal the sick?   Anger the religious establishment?  Call people to follow him?  The very first thing he did was to call disciples!  That word “disciple” means “student” or “follower” and though Jesus came to call all of us to follow him, he started with 12 disciples and in our reading today from Mark, we see him calling the first 4 of those 12 (Read Mark 1:16-20).

Simon (whose name was later changed to Peter), Andrew, James and John.  Two sets of brothers.  The first 4 disciples.  All of them fishermen.  And all of them follow Jesus “immediately,” which is interesting, especially given that Jesus gives them only 1 command (“follow me”) and 1 promise (“I will make you fish for people”).  The command is brief and the promise is vague.  No other instructions or guarantees are given.  And still, these 4 fishermen follow “immediately.” 

I’d like for us to think for a moment about all that these 4 disciples gave up in order to follow Jesus that day.  To say “Yes” to Jesus meant letting go of some literal, tangible things – family, friends, home, stuff (material possessions, both necessary and luxurious), job, income, career.  And also some intangible things.  They had to let go of security, comfort and control over their future plans, in order to journey into the unknown.  That’s a pretty full list.  And it’s a great reminder that giving something up is what it means to follow Christ.  To follow him is to learn to let go of something in order to focus our attention on him.  Zacchaeus the tax collector, whom we talked about a few weeks ago, had to give up cheating and extorting people in order to follow Jesus.  The young man with lots of possessions was told by Jesus to let go of those possessions to follow.  And Simon, Andrew, James and John gave up their fishing nets (and all that they represented) to follow Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to learn to let go of something in order to focus our attention on him.

As we grow in our faith, we grow in our comfort with letting go and giving more of our trust in God.  It may never be entirely comfortable.  But it as we grow in faith, it becomes more comfortable.  Last week we focused on the story of the Prodigal Son.  The older brother in that story was still learning to let go.  In order for him to follow the father into the party, he needed to let go of his anger and resentment, which also meant trusting in the father to love both of the brothers and not just one of them.  The more we trust the one who calls us, the more comfortable we get with letting go of whatever it is that is holding us back – whether it is something physical and material or something emotional. 

This is what Jesus modeled for us in his own life.  The night before he died, he prayed to God and said “Not my will but thy will be done.”  In other words, “My will, God, is that this is all a bad dream and I’ll wake up tomorrow and not have to die on the cross.  But I’m willing to let go of that, because I trust in your plans for the world and that if I die it will not be in vain.”  In fact, the whole story of Jesus in the bible is his attempt to help us more from our will to God’s will.  And it starts with these 4 fishermen here, letting go of their personal plans for the future and trusting in the plans Jesus had for them.  And what makes that trust possible is that we know the one we’re following.  We know who calls us.  We’re not just letting go for anyone or anything, but we are doing so for the sake of Jesus; for the one who created us; who calls us into being; who loves us and who promises that all things work together for their greatest fulfillment for those who trust in him.  When we give up our will, we gain more because we trust in God’s will for us.        

This week begins the season of Lent.  Lent always takes place the 7 weeks prior to Easter.  The word “Lent” comes from a word that means the “lengthening of days” which happens in the Springtime.  Spiritually, Lent is a time of refocusing our lives on Christ.  As Jesus walked the road to his death on the cross, his trust in God intensified.  Lent is a time when we seek to intensify our own trust in God’s Word and God’s will, as shown to us by Jesus.  Traditionally, and especially in the Catholic Church, Lent has been about giving something up for these 7 weeks.  The idea is that as Christ sacrificed on the cross, we also sacrifice something so as to connect with him through suffering.  But the danger is that this becomes superficial – I’m giving up sweets for Lent (which is more about a 7-week crash diet than anything else) and then we end up equating the suffering of Christ on the cross to our giving up cookies for dessert.  You may give up something for Lent this year and that’s great.  But if you do, let it be something that is a real stumbling block.  It may have to do with eating and if so, we should address that.  But it may also be that we should focus on giving up things like selfishness, or prejudice, or fear, or arrogance.  And regardless of what we may give up for Lent, reason we give up anything is that we have more time to focus on Christ and his Word.  That will be our focus for the next 7 weeks – we want to Seek the Wisdom of God during Lent this year - and we’ll talk about it more next week.   

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and we will have services this Wednesday at noon and at 6 p.m.  Ash Wednesday is a reminder that without Christ we have no hope, and the only way to have the hope that he provides is by keeping our eyes on him.  The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Mardi Gras (French for “Great Tuesday”).  Where it is celebrated, Mardi Gras is a celebratory send off into Lent.  It is a time for feasting before the fast.  One last chance to indulge in merriment before a time of seriousness sets in.  Today, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, can be thought of as Mardi Gras Sunday!  Now, when we hear words like “Mardi Gras” we may think of things like New Orleans, the French Quarter, debauchery and indecency.  I cannot deny that some things of this nature take place at Mardi Gras.  Yet, Mardi Gras, has a great deal of spiritual symbolism embedded in its traditions.


For example, King Cakes are oval-shaped pastries baked in a ring with a hole in the middle.  They are served beginning with Epiphany (January 6) until Ash Wednesday.  They are traditionally served with icing and covered with sprinkles in the colors of purple, gold, and green.  The cakes are shaped in a ring to represent the circular journey of the wise men who visited baby Jesus.  The kings arrived by traveling one direction but returned to their home by another road, thus signifying that their journey was circular.  A true king cake has a tiny plastic figure of a baby baked somewhere within it to represent the baby Jesus whom the kings were seeking.  And the colors, gold, purple and green represent the three gifts to Jesus – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The colors also signify the values of faith (green), justice (purple) and strength (gold). 

Then there are the beads.  Beads are thrown from floats in Mardi Gras parades and signify the giving of gifts, which the wise men did when they gave gifts to baby Jesus.  Though beads can also signify many different things, it is hard not to associate them with the beads of a rosary, so prevalent in Catholicism.  Though not everyone celebrating Mardi Gras is Catholic, we Protestants can still respect the rosary for its reminder to pray and seek the wisdom of God in all things.

Celebrating Mardi Gras Sunday is a way of remembering that: 1) Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are coming.  Being a follower of Christ is serious business and it asks us to give up those things that prevent us from focusing on him; 2) But there is also joy in this life of faith; there is reason to laugh and smile and be grateful and celebrate – and when we lose sight of that, we do so to our own detriment; 3) Signs of God’s love and salvation can be found all around us – even in such seemingly normal things like a king cake, the colors purple, green and gold, and in beads worn around our necks!  During Mardi Gras, people love to say “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll).  Not exactly, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” but on a day like today, with Lent upcoming, also not entirely inappropriate either.