The Heroes’ Journey

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. - Lao Tzu

Sermon for Sunday 7th November 2021, Third Sunday Before Advent, Year B

Readings: Hebrews 9.24-end; Mark 1.14-20

Some of my favourite type of stories to read are the grand, epic fantasy adventures – the heroes journeys where everyday people are called by fate from their mundane lives to save the world. Things start small – an unexpected visitor, a dash of mystery, an encounter or mishap that draws our everyman (or everywoman) into the plot – the first step of the ‘Hero’s journey’ mono-myth, the common template of story and legend that crops up again and again throughout history and across cultures. 

Folklorist and comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell summarises the story like this:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

And the first step in this journey is the call to adventure.

Now, as I re-read today’s Gospel in preparation for this morning, it occurred to me that this is the set up fo a Hero’s Journey – the call to adventure. But what strikes me the most is that – if we are following this story pattern, Jesus is not our protagonist – instead he is the one calling others to adventure. If you’re familiar with Lord of the Rings, then rather than Frodo, Jesus is more like Gandalf – inviting our band of heroes to gather to fight evil. Or, Nick Fury from the Marvel Movies, assembling our superheroes to become the Avengers. 

If we are following the Hero’s Journey, then our protagonists are the disciples themselves. Which, the more I think about it, seems more and more to align with how I know Jesus to be, and what his priorities were and are. Consistently, throughout the Gospels, Jesus discourages others from building him into a folk hero, and instead calls them to achieve things through their faith.

As humans, we seem programmed to desire these great stories of singular heroes saving the world from great evil. But Jesus shows us that in the Commonwealth of God, we all share in his power and we all have a part to play in helping the Kingdom of God break through into the world.

And so Mark, whose gospel is the shortest and who barely spends time to introduce Jesus’ origins – Mark who gives no birth narrative, jumping straight into John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the briefest description of his time in the wilderness – Mark, in this first chapter, gives us the disciples’ call to adventure.

And the call itself also defies our hero’s journey expectations. 

Firstly, Jesus was unlikely to have been a stranger to these men – they lived in the same community, and in Christian tradition, James and John were Jesus’ cousins. 

So, rather than calling out to strangers, Jesus is calling to people he knows – he knows their strengths and weaknesses, their skills, talents, passions and characters. And this informs his call to them – he calls them as they are, and also to reimagine who they are in the wider context of the Kingdom he is proclaiming. And because they know him, they also trust him enough to take the risk and follow.

“I will make you fishers of men” – you will use everything you know from being fishermen to help serve God and bring others into the fold. Jesus isn’t dismissing their existing profession, snarkily calling them to cast it aside for something “holier”, but is instead celebrating it.

Jesus calls the disciples to join him on his journey, to spread the Good News and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. They will learn at his side, be sent out to do things in his name, and eventually they will return to their hometowns empowered to continue this work. The call is not to change and abandon who they were before, but to deepen their understanding of God and use their skills and interests to do his work. 

So what does that mean for us today? Well, just like those first disciples, Jesus knows each of us by name – he knows our strengths and weaknesses, our skills and talents, our passions and characters – and he is calling us as we are to participate in this hero’s journey, to be part of the world’s salvation, to contribute our part to his mission, and achieve great things through our faith in him.

And although the task is large, it is much easier when we all work together – not one or a small few carrying the weight, but all of us shouldering a little. 

There are larger social issues we can do our part towards: lessening our carbon footprint; speaking out against hatred and challenging ignorance; protecting the most vulnerable in our communities by making little sacrifices such as wearing masks in public places…

But there is also a real, local context we can work together in. 

  • When talking to your neighbours, ask how they’re doing – is there anything they’d like you to hold in prayer? Might they be interested in coming along to church? If transport is a barrier, could you offer it?
  • Perhaps one of your neighbours is isolated and finds it hard to get out and about – if you’re going to the pub or cafe or on an excursion, perhaps you could invite them along? 
  • You could give to Food for Families, or even volunteer to organise collection and drop off
  • If you’re someone who likes to have their finger on the pulse of the village, perhaps you could help co-ordinate pastoral care by making note of who might like/need a visit or additional support
  • If you’re someone who enjoys writing cards/letters, perhaps you could help write cards/messages to people who’ve had baptisms/funerals/weddings
  • Maybe you have professional skills/expertise from your work life which you could share with the community, or maybe you could bring your faith and calling into your work life – what does the kingdom of God look like in the week to you?

I wonder, what gifts and skills are you called to bring to our shared mission?

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