Two Words that Changed the World

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Two Words that Changed the World
Mark 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


When it snows like it did last week, I love going on facebook to see people post about deploying what I have dubbed the Welker Snow Removal System—built on tarps. My Dad was always using tarps for everything in Florida and a few years ago, it occurred to me that placing tarps on the driveway before a snow would save a lot of shoveling. And they do! You lay down tarps, after the snow, you remove the tarps and you have a clear driveway or sidewalk. It saves a lot of time and energy. Over the years I have modified the system based on experience. I posted it on facebook. But I am glad to share it with any of you if you ask!

Over the years I have enjoyed seeing the pictures people have posted as they have deployed the Welker Snow Removal system… and seeing the results. Makes me happy. This year, Jim Leonard took the post to a new step… he posted a video of how you deploy them and the result. I replied, “Excellent” – To which he said, “I am a student of the master”. Needless to say, I loved it.

As I think about the life of the disciples… and all they accomplished by the time their lives were over… and how we remember all that was done by Peter, Andrew, James and John—simple fishermen who accomplished so much with their lives… If we were to praise them, I think they would say, “We are but students of the master”. Because that’s what they were: students, disciples.

Then, if we asked, they might tell us how it all began… one day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee… The day they were simply going about their business, feeding their families, running the business… doing what they had done every day for years… and Jesus who was a wise rabbi and teacher, came by and said two words to them:
“Follow me”. And it turns out those were two words that would change the world.
Follow me… learn from me… become my disciple… my student… And they did. And the world has never been the same.
That they dropped everything to follow him is part of the miracle of this story to me. Mark makes it sound so simple, but we know it was not. These are not simple decisions for most of us. Following a call like this always feels more complicated to me. When I was considering a call to be a minister… I weighed all sorts of things before jumping in. People told me to think and pray about it. I met with my minister. No immediate following here! In fact we encourage people to think before answering calls: : If you are asked by the nominating committee, we ask you to think about it, pray about it, and then answer. No immediate answer required. If you are feeling called to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament… we will put you through at least 2 years of a process to make sure …

But here… Jesus calls, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”… and immediately they say “yes”… Immediately.

Of course, for the first three years, they weren’t really asked to DO much. All they were asked to do was to become his students. All they were asked to do was to follow Jesus and to watch Jesus, listen to Jesus, learn from Jesus… let Jesus teach them about the ways of this thing he called the kingdom or reign of God.

They would hear stories that we read in the gospels… they would watch him demonstrate by example who God is: a God of love… a God whose deepest desire is to heal people, forgive people, bring them life and joy. God desires to help the poorest of the poor… to feed people. God desires to help those who seem to have it all (like a certain rich young ruler) but whose life still seems to miss something… this God wants to offer them what they missing in order to find peace in their lives. This God will have little patience with hypocrisy and self-righteousness – especially when it hurts others. God is hardest on those who are hard hearted and simply follow rules for the sake of following rules. Jesus will stand up for those who are the least, the last, the lonely, the left out and the lost. Don’t believe me? Read the gospels!

Perhaps the first thing a person should do when becoming a disciple is to make it a priority to learn from Jesus. That is why Christian education and nurture are so important in the life of the disciple and it shouldn’t stop when you graduate from High School. The reason we are urged to read the gospels is that they are the primary place where we learn what Jesus tries to teach us about his gospel and the kingdom he proclaims. How are we to follow and do if we do not know what it is the master wants us to be and do?

So if you are a Christian, I would urge you to read the gospels and learn as much as possible about Jesus… learn as much a possible about the lessons he teaches…?
How about setting this out as a goal? Read a Gospel, or even better- all the gospels once a year. They really aren’t that long. Perhaps pick one gospel and try to master it. And if you tell me they are too confusing, I won’t buy it. If you can read the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings or other books, you can do this. If your version doesn’t work for you, find another like “The Message”.

Faithful following of Jesus begins with listening and learning. This should come as no surprise to anyone here. This is so true in all other areas of life, why should it not be true in the life of faith. If you want to be a player on a state or national championship team of any sport… it all begins months earlier with listening to the coach teach you what it takes to get there. If you want to be faithful, good or great at anything: business, school, music… the first work is to listen and learn from those who know more than you do.

So why should it be different in the life of a disciple? The first thing Jesus wants us to do is to listen and learn… Then we are called to go and do based on what we have learned

It was after Jesus was gone and the spirit came, they would go and do.
With the help of the Spirit, they would take what they learned and share it one person, one village, one church at a time. And people learned from them… and taught others… and here we are today. All because Jesus said, “Follow me” and they did.

This is what the church is still doing you know. And if you don’t think it makes a difference when you say yes, you are wrong. I see lives transformed and changed all the time… I see it here at the Kirk among those who teach and lead our youth, children and adults… I see it in all of the missions and ministries that take place here… and the reason there are so many, is that so many of you say “yes” when you are asked to “follow”…

The impact disciples make was so very clear to me last week in Guatemala. We’ve been there for more than a decade now and as one person said, “the harvest is coming in”… Their lives are so different, filled with hope, just because people keep answering a call to follow Jesus to that little, remote, mountain top village.
So much progress. I see things I could never have imagined a dozen years ago… Almost like a mustard seek growing into a big tree—and if you don’t get that reference, I refer you to the gospels.

I see small businesses popping up: a family setting up a French fries and fried chicken stand… you can get French fries for 2 quetzals… about a quarter. Much better than McDonald’s or Wendy’s French fries. For about 10 qs or $1.25 you can have a drumstick. Far better than Bojangle’s.
I see the youth fundraising for their projects by selling fruit cups.

I watch all of those students you are sponsoring… from middle school to university… education changes lives… I doubt those of you who sponsor students really know how you have lifted people out of poverty and hopelessness to a much better future.

Sharon, Felicity Klintworth and I have a new middle school youth we are sponsoring: Rosa. Rosa comes from a village that is 30 minutes away by pick up. When I asked to meet with Rosa, she came along with her mother Katarina (who speaks no Spanish or English)… and her younger brother Ricardo, whose clothes reveal they are literally dirt poor. Her father Lorenzo couldn’t come because he was too busy trying to feed his family: working the fields for someone else. They live in an Adobe home made of mud. Like another student, I’m guessing Rosa and her family do not have much to eat. There is one student being sponsored who said that for breakfast she has herbs, for lunch and piece of bread and for supper beans. No meat. Just beans. Rosa was born into that kind of home.

So I meet with Rosa, her mother and her brother and say… I look forward to the day she graduates from High School… in four years. That is she keeps up her grades this last year of middle school, and the committee approves, we will sponsor her in High School. I told Rosa to work hard because I want to stand by her on the day of her graduation… Her Mom speaks to me in K’che’ and says, “don’t worry”, I’ll make her study… she will make good grades. And I look at the Mom and realize, this woman means business. She and her husband are going to make sure Rosa has a better future. And then the Mother and Rosa thank me again and again and again.
I tell you this story because it is a story that is repeated with different variations again and again. And years later, I can hold out hope to Rosa because I look at the lives of the other kids you have sponsored… their lives are transformed by your support. Sometimes it takes more than a village… it takes a world to raise a child from such desperation.

Ask Barney and he will tell you about one of his former students Samuel, who has returned to Pala to contribute to the community.

When you follow Jesus, learn from Jesus and then follow his teachings, lives are changed. There are more stories of transformed lives than I can share in one sermon… Women are being empowered. The Pastor and the Session are almost begging women to accept leadership on the Session. Friendships are deepened reminding us how relationships are treasured above all else. They love having us come… they love seeing us… and we love seeing them because they are friends. A dozen years ago there was suspicion and fear when we arrived… today there is love and grace. Following Jesus got us there. Following his way of love and grace got us there. Commitment got us there.

One of the most touching moments of the trip came when Virginia and I had a final meeting with the elders. It can be a little stiff sometimes. But they have a new group of young elders who represent the future. Three of them were scholarship students. But the most moving moment came from Pastor Francisco. You have to understand that Pastor Francisco is a complicated character and has not always been exactly “warm and fuzzy”… But at this meeting, he wanted to close with prayer… but before he prayed, he had us mix it up… Instead of the Consistory on one side and Virginia, me and our translator on the other… He told the consistory to stand between us… then he had us hold hands and pray. That has never happened. It is was an intimacy that was different.

I could tell you more… of Ingrid from another community who sees a sign about the Brenda Armstrong library… and Ingrid contacts the facebook page and before you know it, she is helping find scholarship students in her community! I could tell you about how excited the students were to talk with their sponsors as they lined the hallway of the library… some had wait for hours to talk with you. I could tell you more, but instead, ask the participant on this trip about their stories…
I say all of this just to make sure you know that because you are here… because you follow Jesus, you are changing lives… lives of individuals, lives of a church, lives in Pala, and lives in many other communities in the region.

And for those of you who are active in so ministries here, know you are also changing lives.

All because there are people here who heard Jesus say, “Follow me” and they have. They, listen, they learn and then they take those lessons of God’s love and grace to the world. They are following in the footsteps of Andrew, Peter, James and John… whose lives were transformed when they dropped everything to follow Jesus.

Because Peter, Andrew, James and John said yes, they ended up doing more than making a living which is all they would have done had they said no… If they had said no… they would have gone on fishing… made a living… fed their families and died. Perhaps passed down the business to their kids. And that would have been a good enough life. But Jesus invited them to more… so much more… Jesus invited them to fish for people. To be a part of something bigger.

I’m so glad they followed… and I’m so glad others followed them… my life is different because they said yes… my life is different because of so many others who said “yes”… I think of those who were my teachers and leaders and pastors who taught me the ways of Jesus… and I’m so glad there are so many here who are saying “yes” when Christ asks you to follow. For with the Spirits help and guidance, the rule, the reign, the kingdom of God draws just a little bit closer to earth when people say yes. And the kingdom grows just a little more… one follower at a time. Amen.