3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 21, 2018
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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” This is Jesus ‘manifesto,’ the first words he speaks in Mark’s Gospel. In it we hear the echoes of the prophet Isaiah’s assertions that God will always gather God’s people, no matter how desperate the times or how often the people turn their backs on God. We hear the message of John the Baptizer, preaching that the time for Messiah is at hand and that it is time to prepare hearts to be ready for it. We hear Mark, Evangelist, call out our attention by putting this at the head of his narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus, whose ministry and death and resurrection he will show us is the good news for all who have waiting for God to come and save us.
So, Jesus says, this is the pivot point in time, the perfect time, the opportune time, in the history of the world God has created for people. Kairos is the word – that time that is not defined by minutes and seconds, by years and centuries – but that time in which the world opens up to something expected, longed-for, that creates possibilities only dreamt of. Fulfilled means that what was only dreamt of has come to perfection, to its completeness. “The time that changes everything has dawned on us,” he says, “we need wait no longer for our dreams to come true. This is it; have faith that the Kingdom of God is right here, turn your attention to what happens now.”
People like Simon and Andrew, James and John, chafed under the heavy hand of Roman occupation, and Jewish communities were restless and rebellious. These fishermen heard Jesus’ manifesto and believed it. When he offered them the opportunity to join him in his efforts to restore God’s kingdom, they jumped at the chanced. As we read further into Mark’s narrative, we can see their struggles to believe that the Kingdom Jesus was about to bring in was not a worldly political change but a change in the way God works in the world to bring justice and peace to all people.
Jesus will transfigure the fishing of these workers from catching dinner to inviting others into connection with the Most High – the God who creates and calls us to another way to live with each other in a world informed by God’s grace. It’s hard for us to believe that Jesus could just be walking along the shore and asking these fishermen to drop everything and come with him in his new venture. We think of ways to explain, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Perhaps they heard John’s message and recognized the rhetoric of this man. Maybe what the Evangelist gives us as Jesus’ declaration was part of a larger conversation with them. Jesus’ manifesto sounds a political message that may have been exactly what they blue-collar workers were just waiting to hear, and they were readyto take up the challenge with him.
But I think that many of us have also heard an invitation to follow Jesus, to repent of our carelessness for our spiritual health and the health of our world. We have responded to Jesus’ message of connection to God and a relationship that grounds us in the world that suddenly opened up to us. Many of us have found that God is present for us at the worst times of our lives, and that the ‘good news’ is that we are not alone in a universe that often seems so hostile. In responding to God’s invitation through Jesus, we have found a community that lives by faith, that shares the good news not particularly in what they say, but especially in what they do.
I see the caring things people do for each other here and in the world. People are used to thinking of the pastor as someone who dispenses prayer when needed and encouragement in the faith. What people might not realize is how much their own faith and how they live that faith ministers to their pastor. People’s confidence in God’s promises when their world is falling apart is a witness to how the Good News of God’s presence and power is live and active. It shows me every time that Jesus does save us. Every time I see people drive others to procedures and follow ups; every time I hear that someone goes to planning meetings with older people in our congregation whose family is not here with them, I see people living the Good News of Jesus love for us as a fact that invites them to be part of that care for others. It encourages my own faith and inspires me to believe that God’s promises for all of us are real and achievable.
You see, faith is personal, but it is not private. It starts with our hearts being transformed by trusting that the good news of Jesus is good news for us, but not only for us. Faith is personal, but we live it in public as we begin to understand that everything we do as Christians embodies the ‘good news’ as we know it. Our life of faith builds a community of sharing God’s love within these walls, and then spills out into every kindness we offer, every community project we get involved in, every ethical move we make to make the world more honest, more livable, and more hopeful. Our lives of faith inspire each other, especially when it doesn’t look as if God’s Kingdom is among us. Our witness to our trust that God is still at work to bring something good out of what is so scary is how we, too, fish for people. And like Peter and Andrew, James and John, we follow as best we can to trust the Good News.