DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
A sermon for 25 January 2015 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Click here to read scripture first: Mark 1:14-20 (NRS)
So: the title for this sermon came to me on Monday morning when I first began planning our worship experience for today and the experience of urgency was fresh on my mind. Urgent. And we might even add an exclamation point! You know what I mean. Urgent! As in the time is ticking off the clock. And though you’ve been ahead the entire game, the defense dominating and effectively shutting them down. One lackadaisical play during their two-point conversion attempt. One bobbled on-side kick. And the next thing you know you’re about to blow your big, one-in-a-million chance. 60 or so seconds left on the clock, urgent! Except this time #12 decides the future of his left calf is more important than playing in one last game this season and instead of going for the first down. Well, you might know the rest of the story. There was an urgency – a very important urgency, if you ask me – needed last Sunday afternoon. And just a tip from my days as a team captain: you NEVER call tails – anytime and especially not for overtime in an NFL division championship game! Heads is heavier and somehow comes up something like 90% more times. (Sigh!) Enough said. It’s still a little too sore to talk about yet. . . . But I hope you understand what I mean about urgency.
We’re going to hear about it a lot in the gospel according to Mark. Here Jesus is doing this and going there and saying that immediately almost always. One commentator writes that “Mark begins like an alarm clock, persistently declaring the time and demanding some response” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1; Ted A. Smith, p. 285). We might understand why. Fresh from baptismal waters and his wrestling match in the wilderness, Jesus comes back to his home district in Galilee shouting to any who might be near to hear: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent. Believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Like when the ball drops in Time’s Square at new year’s, time is at its fullness. A new clock begins. This precious, precious moment. Urgent! Get on board because you do not want to miss out on this chance to turn to a whole new way of living.
It’s not like those billboards at the side of the road shouting: “Don’t make me come down there. Signed, God.” And “If you died today” – presumably in a car accident from taking your eyes off the road to read their sign – “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity.” It’s not like that for Jesus, though much of the tradition has tried to scare us into some sort of better living. As if fear is ever going to make us become our best, made-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God, selves. Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us into taking on the same consciousness as his own, which is a part of the process of repentance. He’s telling all who have ears to hear to get excited and get on board with the best news ever. Good news: now the ways of God are going to be clearly seen in him and can be replicated by following him. That’s God’s kingdom in our midst.
This is his invitation.
One scholar lifts up a more literal translation than our favored “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17) to remind us that he wasn’t asking people to add another thing to their to-do list. It wasn’t like: get up, brush your teeth, get more gas before heading out for your meals on wheels route, and don’t forget to fish for people today. We can tell, can’t we, when we’re in the presence of that? Rather, as commentator Ted Smith writes: “. . . ‘I will make you fish for people’ . . . sounds as if fishing for people were a task. The better translation receives fishing for people as a new identity.” Which I should say is probably why the gospel records that they immediately left their livelihoods, their homes, and their set daily patterns. They literally opened themselves to a whole new way of living. Smith continues: “A literal translation might read, ‘Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers for people.’ There is a world of difference between ‘I will make you fish’ and ‘I will make you to become fishers.’ ‘I will make you fish’ gives us one more activity to work into our datebooks . . . But ‘I will make you to become fishers’? That promises a whole new life” (Ibid., p. 289). It takes what we’re about out of the realm of just in here once a week and, like a blanket, lays it over our entire life – our entire being. Not to walk away from everything that has become of our own lives, but to be transformed to live as a reflection of Christ right there in the middle of them. . . . Follow me into this new way of living, Jesus immediately tells four fishers that he meets. And though they do not know just where they’ll be going or what exactly they’ll be doing as those who become fishers for people, immediately they follow. Talk about a master recruiter! He knows how to get folks onto his team and he doesn’t have to pay a bit of attention to the established salary caps.
It’s a lifestyle into which Jesus calls us. One that is quite counter-cultural. A way of living wherever we are each day. Catching people with God’s wide net of love. And it demands our attention now. Today. In this present moment. Jesus is so adamant about it because, like him embodied in our flesh, he knows that from the time we enter this world, drawing in for the very first time, until the time we exhale at our last, we have a limited number of breaths in-between. He doesn’t want us experiencing the joy, peace, mercy, and healing of God’s kingdom just one day a week for one hour. Jesus invites us to live it daily. Almost like you’d soak a good piece of meat in a delicious marinade, he wants us to be steeped in his kind of living. In every little way embodying God’s desire for wholeness. God’s love for every creature made in the Divine image and likeness. God’s generous Spirit and always-bringing-new-life power. Like urgently calling your beloved dog when he runs from you towards a busy street; Jesus wants us to hear, turn, and come back sprinting for the most amazing treat. That’s repentance. That’s: come live the ways of the kingdom of God each day!
More than ever the time is urgent. We know as Christians we’ve lost the grip of defining the culture of the United States of America. . . . We may not all agree with President O’Bama’s leadership, but I really appreciated what he said to his comrades in D.C. towards the end of his State of the Union address Tuesday night. He reminded them of something I think their mommas should have sat them down and told them a long time ago: that they are there to serve our needs best – not their own, nor the multi-billion dollar corporations. To stop giving the American people demonizing discourse. And dig-up-whatever-you-can-on-them to win. To rise to the level worthy of their office. . . . His words reflect what has become so prevalent in our world – perhaps, in part, because we’re not seeing any better examples. So that vicious words turn to fatal bullets turn to human massacres we need to be tired of seeing. . . . We Christians know a better way – we learned it right from Jesus. We know a way that isn’t about winners and losers but about one family living together for the good of all. Treating our neighbors as we’d like to be treated, and going the miles further that Jesus commanded by even loving our enemies. It doesn’t mean we have no rights as human beings. God has placed in us all that Divine Spark that we responsibly must protect. We deserve our basic needs. And so does the other. That’s the good news Jesus invites us to live. The way we’ll be fashioned as we follow faithfully behind him. Rising to the level worthy of our names for the sake of every last person needing yet to be caught in God’s great net of love. Not doing one more thing because we have to add the task of being Christian to our calendars. But living 24/7 in a way that gives witness to God’s presence among us.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. And immediately we adopt his lifestyle to live . . . here and now and forevermore.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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