Near and New

Mark 1:14–20, preached by Rev. Jane McBride on January 21, 2024

“Mom, you have to watch this film, Fantastic Fungi!” So I did, and wow, it was a consciousness-raising experience. The film captures the odd yet captivating beauty of a dazzling array of mushrooms, all shapes, colors, and textures—unfurling and blooming in slow motion. It also portrays how these visible beings are only the tip of the iceberg, how they are the fruit of a mind-bogglingly vast below-ground fungal network known as the mycelium.

The beginning frames of the film are narrated by the voice of mushrooms themselves:

There’s a feeling, the pulse of eternal knowledge. When you sense the oneness, you are with us. We brought life to Earth. You can’t see us, but we flourish all around you. Everywhere, in everything, and even inside you, whether you believe in us or not. From your first breath, to your last. In darkness, and in the light. We are the oldest, and youngest. We are the largest, and smallest. We are the wisdom of a billion years. We are creation. We are resurrection, condemnation, and regeneration. We are mushrooms.[1]

Epiphany is a season of revelation. The life and ministry of Jesus sheds light on hidden truth: all creation is beloved. So Fantastic Fungi came to my mind during Epiphany, because it unveiled to me the belovedness of mushrooms and their pivotal role in the well-being of earth. This film enlarged and deepened my view of our planet as a beloved community, a sacred network of mutually interdependent beings. Watching this film was one moment in my life when I heard the voice of Jesus proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and God’s beloved community has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

Today’s Gospel passage is an iconic scene. Jesus walking beside the Sea of Galilee, calling to the fishermen in their boats, casting their nets: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And yet despite this scene’s familiarity, I am aware of our distance from it. Maybe this story feels irrelevant to those who don’t fish with nets, don’t identify as male, and don’t intend to leave their jobs, homes, and families to wander around the countryside with a nomadic preacher and healer. The teaching of the church over centuries has focused on the twelve male disciples, but the fact is, Jesus had many followers with diverse life stories: the man with demons living among the tombs; the synagogue leader Jairus with a dying daughter; the bleeding woman reaching for just the hem of Jesus’ robe; the foreign woman who argued him out of his prejudices; Bartimaeus, the blind man; the children who were drawn to him; and oh, by the way, the women who provided for Jesus throughout his ministry, the ones Mark doesn’t mention until the final crucifixion scene.

All these folks were called to be disciples in the midst of their ordinary lives. And so are all of us. The story of the fishermen immediately leaving their boats and dropping their nets might seem to imply that answering the call of Jesus means abandoning our present occupations. And yet, I think the way Jesus used the language of fishing in his invitation tells a different story. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” I hear this as an invitation to shift perspective, more than to jump ship. Follow me and I will show you how your everyday life can be a ministry. Follow me and I will bless you with the ability to be an instrument of divine love and healing right where you are. Follow me and you will know God’s beloved community is near. Sure, the fishermen left their homes and families for a time, maybe even for years, to roam around the countryside with Jesus. Those who are called need training, formation, inspiration. We need time away, time to reflect; time, as I’ve heard it said, to “get up on the balcony” and gain a different view. And yet at the end of Mark’s Gospel, the angel at the tomb instructed the fishermen to go back to their former lives. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Mark 16:7)

Watching Fantastic Fungi was an epiphany for me, revealing something new, yet strangely familiar. I felt that I was being called to reunite with a part of myself that had long been disconnected. I was aware, at least temporarily, of the limitations of my human-centered perspective on the world. I saw how the humble, quiet, invisible presence of the mycelium network beneath the earth is central to the well-being of us all. I glimpsed the ancient wisdom and potent gifts of fungi. I understood how mushrooms can be our teachers in this moment of planetary crisis, how they can show us the way to recycle and renew, to heal and communicate and share resources. When I first heard about the use of psilocybin (or magic mushrooms) to treat mental health conditions, I was curious yet skeptical. And yet, the people interviewed in the film testify that these treatments have offered them a precious gift: a profound and lasting experience of connection and communion. Their consciousness is larger, their awareness of earth’s unity greater, their sense of hope and purpose renewed.  

When Jesus calls us to “fish for people” he’s inviting us to experience something like what folks feel when dosed with magic mushrooms. He’s summoning us to recognize that beloved community is near, making all things new. Now, we have to pause and acknowledge that “fishing for people” is a strange and unsettling metaphor. The fish are taken out of the water, in which they can breathe, and transferred to the air, which will suffocate them. They are going to their death. It’s a metaphor, and I receive it with trust that even as we’re called into a change so profound it is a kind of death, we are also called into good news, into life and liberation. 

It’s important to recognize that this change goes beyond the personal and individual; we are being drawn toward a collective transformation. In the 1980s, Biblical theologian Ched Myers wrote a groundbreaking bookabout the Gospel of Mark titled Binding the Strong Man. He argued that the central vision at the heart of Jesus’ ministry was about confronting the systems of oppression that diminish our lives. Myers links Jesus’ call to the fishermen to passages in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel, fishing metaphors express God’s judgement of the powerful who oppress the poor. In calling his disciples to “fish for people,” Myers argues, “Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”

Our callings come to us in the midst of our ordinary lives, and they generally send us back into those very same lives—with a changed view. In all the places we live and work, rest and play, we are called to be nothing less than agents of revolution resisting the forces of domination and disconnection, while partnering with God to reveal and nurture beloved community. So, friends, how is your everyday life a ministry? In what ways are you an instrument of divine love and healing right where you are? When and where and through whom are you hearing the call to experience the nearness and newness of God’s beloved community? Amen.