3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2012
My sister called the other day to tell me that she’s getting married. It’s been 12 years since my brother-in-law died, and she was sure she was not interested in ever dating or marrying again. She will be 80 this year, and he’s 85. They are in love. It’s going to be complicated – selling two homes and purchasing one together, being sure that their finances are mingled in a way that will benefit their life together, but not interfere with their plans to leave an estate for their children as they had planned. But all of those complications seem minor in the light of this newfound love. They are certain that everything will work out.
In a very real sense, Jesus proclamation of his public ministry that we have before us this morning, tells a similar story. “The time is fulfilled,” he says. Today is the day that God’s promises open before your very eyes. All the waiting of all the believers over time, all the prophesies of God’s appointed messengers is over. Today you have before you the opening of God’s reign on earth. “Repent and believe the good news.”
We are told at the beginning of our reading that John the Bapizer has been arrested. Jesus comes to Galilee. He is suddenly on the move, as if he’s been waiting for the appropriate moment. If you look back at Mark’s Gospel, this is the first public declaration that Jesus makes. It is like his manifesto, and the Gospel writer, Mark, will continue to unfold just what it means that the Kingdom of God has come near, and what the good news is.
Repent, Jesus says, just as the Baptizer has been saying. John was asking for repentance to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus. But Jesus tells us to repent because the kingdom is here. Repent does not mean to be sorry for something we have done or failed to do. Repenting is about change. Repent means to set a new course, to see a new future, to welcome a new love. Repenting is about tearing up old maps, and dumping out that junk drawer full of scraps from old projects.
Believe the good news, Jesus says. Believe doesn’t mean ascribing to certain time-tested doctrines. It doesn’t mean holding fast to a collection of tenets that were drilled into you when you were growing up. Faith is not about what you agree to, it is about who you trust. Do you trust that God is really the creator and bestower of all that you see and have? Do you trust that God’s mercy is for you? Do you trust that God is faithful to all the promises of new life and everlasting life? Do you trust that God walks with you, carries you, bears your burdens just because God loves you? Do you trust that God came in person to erase the effect of your sin and to banish the power of evil over you and the world? If you trust this, you are living the good news because you know that nothing will ever separate you from God’s love and all it can accomplish for you and through you for the world.
Repent and believe, Jesus says. Fall in love with me and trust that our future together is the beginning of life forever. In our reading this morning, Mark, our Gospel, writer is telling us what time it is, so that we can get our life and the life of our community in its proper order. One of my commentators says that this order runs counter to the order we are used to in our church programs and personal devotions. “We do not repent in order to usher in the time for redemption, but because that time is already at hand. We do not become fishers in order to meet the quota that will summon up the reign of God, but because that reign has already come near. And we do not follow Jesus with the hope that one day we might find him, but because he has already come to us and called us. As Mark tells the time, God takes the initiative. The reign of God is not the product of discipleship, but the precondition of it.”
And so Jesus turns to offer the invitation to join him. “I will make you to become fishers for people”, is a better translation. He invites them not to add some new task to what they are already doing, (you can fish for people a couple of times a week as well as your regular job), he invites them into a whole new identity. And what about us 2,000 years later? What is our invitation?
That’s where my sister’s story starts to catch my attention. This new relationship, this new love has turned her life upside down. It has torn up her old roadmaps, and even though it looks complicated and carries plenty of cautions, she is set to do it. All the complications will be worked out in the journey. Can we tear up the old road maps and fall in love all over again with Jesus and his invitation? He has fished for us, and called us into new life. He has brought in the kingdom of God, and asks us to set a new course – repent – and to trust him in our journey together to love each other and love the world. Can you see yourself becoming a fisher for people? What will that look like for you? What will you do? What will you say in this new love and trust as a fisher? Andrew and Peter just put down their nets and followed. So did James and John. It was not the end, it was a beginning. Shall we go too?