A Sermon for 28 January 2018
A reading from the gospel of Mark 1:14-28. Listen for God’s word to us as we hear how this gospel begins Jesus’ public ministry.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. 21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
And he’s off! That’s how the gospel of Mark begins! I said last week that John’s gospel begins with signs of the wonderful abundant life God offers. Well, Mark’s gospel seems more like a 100-yard dash for the Olympic gold! No sooner is Jesus baptized in the waters of the Jordan, than he’s driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. Undergoing his own forty-day transformation in the wild, Jesus shows up in Galilee with a message. “The time is fulfilled,” he proclaims. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Like Matthew, this is the gospel in which we have Jesus picking up his first disciples as he walked alongside the sea. Immediate. Immediate. Immediate. Words are heard. Nets are dropped. Lives are changed. Even unclean spirits take their leave as Jesus goes into the synagogue at Capernaum to teach on the sabbath. Without a moment to waste, now that time’s fulfilled; the writer of Mark even keeps from weighing down the story with a lot of details. Lives are at stake. The time for transformation has come.
We know a thing or two about hurry, thanks to our culture today. Everywhere we look, we’re enticed to believe gratification should come instantly. “Now, now, now” life taunts like a two-year-old toddler that will not be denied. We want food fast. Instant credit. And access to whatever anyone is thinking right away! . . . Only, immediate doesn’t prevail in the gospel of Mark because Jesus is impatient. Or even because readers have shorter attention spans than most do today. 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). The urgency in the gospel of Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story is for the purpose of change. Repentance – now. Turn from however else our lives might be wasted. Turn to the ways of God’s kingdom today!
As portrayed in the gospel of Mark, it seems that Jesus understood that change requires urgency. Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter, whose ideas on leading change regularly hit international bestseller lists; writes that “At the very beginning of an effort to make changes of any magnitude, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes much more difficult” (Leading Change, John P. Kotter, chapter 3). It’s inertia. Newton’s laws of motion, that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. And a body in motion, well: watch out! Urgency produces productivity, every great manager knows. Once a body gets going, there’s no stopping it. Be it in business. At the gym after weeks of holiday feasting. Or on the sabbath in the synagogue. Change – the kinds of transformed lives Jesus seeks to create – requires a sense of now! Get going today! Why wait until tomorrow to begin living the ways of the new life? . . . Jesus’ first public words, according to the gospel of Mark indicate: “the time has come!” A major shift has taken place. It’s time to get on board now!
It’s the difference between living lives that simply go through the motions and letting go of the routine to be open to whatever comes. While there most certainly had to be those in Jesus’ ministry who were satisfied with the status quo of their lives, we don’t hear much of them. O, we know of the rich young man of Mark chapter 10. Remember him? He wants to know how to gain life. Only to be told to give what he has away so he might be able to follow freely. The gospel records: “Walking away grieving.” The young man’s complacency was too high. His creature comforts too cherished to heed the call. . . . Contrast him with those men fishing the Sea of Galilee. They had to let it all go too to follow. To gain the new life of being a disciple of Christ. Complacency low, they willingly left. Ready to find new purpose in the daily cast for people.
I read a story once – years ago – about how Spirit works. I think it was in one of my all-time favorite daily devotional books by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It’s about the flash of insight. The great idea that comes. Only we have several excellent excuses why this just cannot be the path for us. We second-guess. And worry. Wondering what everyone else might think. We calculate if it really could work until, too settled in how it already is, we allow the moment to pass. It’s said that Spirit weeps. But does not rest. For if we refuse Spirit’s inspiration, Spirit will move on, looking for the one who senses the importance of the opportunity. The urgency of the call. Searching the world to find who indeed will bring the seed into full-grown, abundant fruit. . . . “Execute or nothing,” an article on the Sense of Urgency reads. “When you create a vision and cook up good ideas,” the article states, “you are left with two choices: execution or nothing.” It goes on to explain that “if you choose to execute, you will be forced to invest your own money with no guaranteed returns, work without pay, and worst of all, sacrifice time spent with family and friends. However, you also will gain something that many people never find in their lifetime: purpose. Purpose . . . that makes you want to wake up in the mornings not because you have to, but rather because you have a purpose to carry out. It’s . . . what fuels your dreams and empowers you to do better daily” (https://www.secretentourage.come/motivation/creating-a-sense-of-urgency/).
Maybe Jesus invited a hundred other men before those four at the Sea said yes. The point is, this One from Nazareth knows the fulcrum has tipped. The time has begun for his ministry of transforming lives for God. As is recorded in the gospel of Luke, the prophets’ words have been fulfilled: that the Spirit of the LORD God rests in him. He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor (paraphrase of Luke 4:18-19). . . . Lives are at stake. Jesus knows. He senses the urgency. He calls his church still, to do something about it now. Not because we sense the urgency of our own survival. After all, in word and deed; this One taught not self-preservation but self-emptying – the only way that leads to Life. This One willingly, urgently gave of himself for the world; for he knows the need. He sensed it in the hearts of ones wearily at work along the water. He noticed it in the faces of wondering synagogue-listeners. He sees it through our eyes everywhere we go today. The time to do something about it – is now!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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