From Monotony to Meaning

Dr. Robert R. Ball

       From: M O N O T O N Y

            To: M E A N I N G

Sermon from February 28, 1971


Block 3                      

From: M o n o t o n y

To: M e a n i n g

Scripture: Mark 1:16-20; 10:32

A Sermon by
Dr. Robert R. Ball
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
Houston, Texas  February 28, 1971

Where Charity and Love abide, There is God.
The love of Christ has gathered us together;
Let us be gay in him and cheerful.
Let us love and be in awe of the living God,
And love each other with honest hearts.
Where Charity and Love abide, there is God.
So now that we are gathered together,
Let us take care not to be isolated in ourselves.
Let ill will, quarrels and disagreements stop,
And Christ, our God be among us.
Where Charity and Love abide, there is God.

Jesus didn’t argue with these men. He just called them and
they followed. The chances are they had met Jesus before.
Probably they had heard him speak, and some of the things he
said were at work in them before he came along that day.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole
world and loses his own real self?”

It’s not the kind of question a person enjoys thinking about. It’s
tough enough just getting along in this world and finding a little
time for some fun. When you get all caught up in questions about
being your “real self” you’re just asking for some long nights of
frustration. Besides, nobody has any final answers anyway.

But sometimes, as they sat there trying to get those damnable
knots out of their fishing nets, those haunting words would come
creeping back into their minds.

“When you look at your life, what is the profit
and what is the loss?”

Does all this frantic activity have any meaning? So I struggle
and suffer so that my kids can struggle and suffer so that their
kids can struggle and suffer after them. And where does it get
us? Years of labor and monotony and pain, for what? What does
it profit a man to gain the whole world and never really live?

Simon and Andrew and James and John used to walk home
after hearing one of Jesus’ sermons, saying nothing.
Occasionally, one of them might pick up a pebble and throw it as
far as his strength would allow. Then more silence. But inside,
their minds were whirling. “He’s talking about something more,
something that ties it all together so it has meaning. O, God, if
only I had the courage to do it!”

Then that morning they were down by their boats just as always
when a shadow fell across their nets. They looked up and there
He was. He just said,

“Follow me and I will make you messengers of
life and hope to men.”

They dropped their nets and followed. It was just as simple and
complicated as that.


It may seem incredible to us that men would make such an
overwhelming decision so instantaneously, but that’s the way
most all of us make our most significant decisions. It’s the little
decisions that turn us inside out.

Do we go to the show or stay home and watch TV? We weigh
one side against the other, tussle back and forth with our wives,
flip a coin a few times, and then – with something less than
burning conviction – we go to the movies, but not without several
backward glances in the direction of the television.

But when the truly crucial decisions come along, we make a
crucial choice, one way or the other. Either we get up and go, or
we turn our backs and stay put. There’s no way we can be sure
we are right, though we try to  make it appear so. EVERY
BEFORE ALL THE FACTS ARE IN. “Can I marry her and know
that it will work out?” “Do I look for another job or let them move
me to Timbuktu?” “Is that really the vocation for me to follow?”
The world is full of people who are waiting around to be
absolutely certain before they make their move. They will spend
the rest of their lives waiting.

Discipleship to Christ is the most significant choice a person
ever makes, and it must be made before all the facts are in. It
requires commitment before belief. Christian faith, for all its
historical roots, has never been primarily concerned with getting
people to agree that certain events took place some 2,000 years
ago. It is a call to a particular style of life, a way of living in the

The Church has been strongest not when men look backward
and say, “Oh, yes, I believe it,” but when it has been a community
of people walking out into the world, supported by a power in their
midst, living in the face of life’s pain and peril with triumphant
hope. Christianity has made its greatest impact on the world when
the world saw people who were free to love and to laugh, to be
crushed and go on living, to be knocked down without responding
with vengence – people who committed their lives to follow the
love of Jesus Christ.

Understanding our faith is not important, but understanding
happens along the way. We really don’t understand anything until
we have committed ourselves to it and gotten into it – not
marriage, not football, not piano lessons – certainly not the
Christian life. Either we get up and follow, or we stay behind
making excuses.


When the disciples got up and left their boats, they were
leaving something familiar and moving to something completely
unknown and uncertain.

It has always been so. A way back in the Old Testament, God
called Abraham to leave the security of his father’s herds and
grazing land to go to a land he knew not. Abraham went with
nothing more than God’s promise to use as collateral. For many
long years it must have seemed to Abraham that God had either
reneged on his promise, or God was dead. Finally, however, the
promise was fulfilled. Abraham became the father of a great
people and the model for faith even in the New Testament.

So it was for the disciples. There must have been times when
the best they could say, as people sometimes do after many
years of marriage, was, “Well, at least there’s never been a dull
moment!” And, frankly, that’s saying quite a lot. No one whose life
makes a difference finds it to be a casual stroll through daisies.
What we’re promised is life, and life just isn’t mediocre or
monotonous. Life always involves a risk; but what have you got if
you stay put, safe and secure?

Certainly anyone who is determined to avoid pain and
heartache should never get married. Most of us don’t think about
that; but those who do and want to stay in charge don’t marry. To
love someone, anyone, is to invite tears and grief upon grief. If
you love, you will hurt when they hurt, and you will hurt when they
disappoint you. If you don’t commit yourself to love, you don’t
have all that hurt. Neither do you have the joy and meaning only
love can give. As it turns out, life without love is life without
meaning or purpose or hope. The uncommitted life is a relatively
safe life, but the uncommitted life isn’t worth living.

To commit ourselves to Christ means leaving the security and
monotony of the familiar to go out into a threatening and uncertain
world with no other weapon but love. It means trusting that God
who calls us knows what he’s doing, even when all we can see is
agony and loss. And all we are promised is life – to be all that we
really are. The only way a person ever finds his life is by giving it


You can’t always expect to be comforted when you read the
Bible. Last Tuesday morning, I was reading this passage and I
began to feel terribly depressed. I took a look at my life and its
commitments. It made me think of the man who said, “I blush in
the trivialities in which I spend my days.”

The scripture says that Jesus was leaving the relative security
of Galilee to go down to Jerusalem to certain animosity and death
– going because that was where the need was, and he was
committed to relieving human need. This is the Jesus who asks
me to follow him. There’s a war going on, but I figure, what can I
do about it? So I allow myself to get all involved in deciding where
we should go on vacation this summer. Hundreds of people in
Houston stand in line all day to buy food stamps, but what can I do
about it? So I worry about finding time in my schedule for
handball. Sixty percent of the world’s population exists on less
than the required 2200 calories a day, and we have a family crisis
if our meat is burned. Houston teenagers are destroying their
minds, some of them forever, with drugs, desperately searching
for relief from their boredom; and I feel cheated if I miss the big
game on television.

Why should Christ want a shallow, selfish person like me in his
service anyway? I can’t answer that, but I know that he calls me;
and that, finally, is the only thing that keeps me going. That, I
suspect, is the main reason why those fishermen got up and
followed. It was not so much the strength of their faith in him as it
was the wonder and hopefulness of his faith in them. He
considered them useful.

Our lives get filled up with trivialities because we don’t really
believe we can do anything of great significance anyway, but
Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. Christ says that
your home would be a different place if you committed yourself to
accept and understand and encourage the people in it who vex
you the most. Christ says that class of young people you are
asked to teach will have new hope for their lives if you would share
your doubts and hopes with them. Christ says that your stand for
the equality of all people and the dignity of all human personality
will hasten the day of peace. It is Christ who gives life. It is in
commitment to Him that we find ours.

Jesus began the walk from Galilee to Jerusalem, from friends
and safety to enemies and death. His disciples followed behind
him but they were afraid.

Of course they were afraid! It was unfamiliar country,  a road
they had never traveled before; and they didn’t know how it was
going to turn out. BUT THEY FOLLOWED! They had been
through a lot during those months since they had left their fishing
nets to follow Him. They still didn’t understand it all or even most
of it. But somehow they had experienced a meaning, a reality, a
vitality they had never known before. It was the closest they had
ever come to feeling alive. Now things were really tight. Jesus told
them that he would be killed. They could hardly believe it. The
power and love they had seen in him and experienced from him
seemed deatless, but he said he would die. And they were afraid.

Perhaps it was all a mistake. perhaps they should have stayed
home in the first place. Life was certainly simpler there. And yet,
in spite of it all, they followed.

Kaj Munk, a Danish pastor who was executed by the Nazis for
giving aid to some Jews, wrote these words before he died.

“Yes, perhaps it is all a mistake, this business
about Christianity. Sometimes it really looks to
me like that. Perhaps all this talk of God and
Jesus Christ and the salvation of men is just a
collection of fairy tales. And I am a minister.
Perhaps this is a mistake too. Perhaps a mistake
to preach love and forgiveness in a hate-torn
world, to rescue those who are in need, to teach
the children, to comfort the lonely and the dying.
But if it is, after all, a mistake, then it is a beautiful
mistake. If Christianity should turn out, after all,
to be true, then unbelief will have been a very
ugly mistake.”

On this commitment Sunday we are called to commit ourselves
anew – to Christ and to his ministry among men – without knowing
for sure that we are right, without knowing just where his call to
discipleship will lead us, but trusting that his faith in us will make
us able for whatever task is set before us.

Christ calls us to walk out of what is past into the meaning of
whatever God’s future may be. To refuse, I suspect, would be a
very ugly mistake.