Thursday, January 29, 2009

the adventure of following jesus (mark 1. 14-20)

The time is fulfilled, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is at hand. Two weeks ago in this sanctuary we renewed our baptisms, and connected the baptism of Jesus with our own baptisms. After Jesus is baptized, he is tested in the desert. In our church this is often our focus in Lent---walking with Jesus through the wilderness, through the adversity of this life. And then, after Jesus emerges from the wilderness, he speaks, he preaches his first sermon.

The time is fulfilled, he says, the kingdom of God is at hand. In the Greek language there are two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is ordinary time, chronological time, passing time, killing time, or wasting time. Chronos is the quantity of time. Kairos is the extraordinary, it is time standing still, it is the fullness of time, it is quality time. We know about kairos time. Think about the day you met your husband or wife; or the first day your child went to school; or the day, perhaps, when you were told that you had a chronic disease; or the day something happened that you never thought would happen.

This past week, in our country, we experienced kairos time, and I say this not out of partisan politics, but it was a kairos moment when Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th President and then spoke to our nation, and the great-great-granddaughter of a slave of Georgetown, South Carolina is the First Lady of our nation. More than one African-American friend said to me, “I never thought this would happen”.

The word here is kairos. Something extraordinary is happening. The time is fulfilled. Why? The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom is the glory of the Lord, it is the justice than overcomes unfairness and the peace that overtakes violence. The Old Testament gave us pictures of the kingdom: the lion and the lamb will sit down together, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. In the kingdom of God, the favor and blessing of the Lord rests upon us, smiles upon us.

The kingdom comes at a particular time---when John the Baptist was arrested—and in a particular place---in Galilee. Jesus always enters a particular time and place. And this means something: We do not worship an abstract God or place our trust in a general idea of salvation. He comes to your circumstance and mine.

The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus comes, he stops by, as our Christmas carol says it, “the dear Christ enters in”. But now the baby who has been born, and baptized and tested goes a little further. He makes a claim upon us. He says, “repent”. To repent is to turn, it is to change. And in these short verses of Mark we are given a picture of the change. He encounters four people who are fishing. And he says to them, “follow me”.

It is interesting that in the lectionary for today the gospel is matched with another fish story, the story of Jonah, a story that many people laugh at, or misunderstand, it is so short you could probably not find it in the Old Testament if you tried, but it is a story about change, about our reluctance to change, about the truth that it is not just that other people need to change, it is also the case that we need to change, that we need to repent.

Well, Jesus says to them, “the kingdom is at hand, repent”, and then he says to them, follow me and you will fish for men and women. In each case they listen, and they immediately drop their nets.

Look closely at this scene: four ordinary people, going about their daily work. Like shepherds keeping watch in their fields, or Moses, working the land for his father in law, they turn aside to listen, to notice, to pay attention. If we are going to meet Jesus, it is going to happen for most of us as we go about our daily lives.

The Lord comes to the lakeshore and he says, to them, follow me. Christianity is a way of life, it is a path. Think about the architecture of the space we are in, right now. There is a long aisle through goes from the back door of our church to the altar. I was reading recently about the first Christians and how they worshipped. Most of the early believers worshipped in homes, and then the gatherings grew so large that they needed public spaces.

And so they built houses of worship, sanctuaries. And the long, sometimes narrow path in the middle of the house of worship reminded them of their walk with God, they were on a lifelong path, a long journey of following Jesus toward the throne, like a processional choir, or the ushers placing gifts on the altar, but also, having been in the presence of Jesus, going back into the world, and because they had met Jesus they were transformed, they were different.

That happens here, in these few verses of Mark’s gospel. They meet Jesus. It is an extraordinary moment in the middle of an ordinary day. He says to them, “follow me…I see that you are fisherman. From now on you will fish for men and women”. Do you see it? They have met Jesus, but now he is sending them out to do something different with their lives.

The image of fishers of men and women has always fascinated me. I had the childhood image of a fish, with a hook caught in its mouth. And then I imagined people with hooks in their mouths, being pulled in one direction or another. It was kind of gruesome!

But I want to stay with the image. What does it mean to fish? A fish is swimming in the water, and sees some kind of bait, maybe a worm, or a piece of bread. And the fish swims toward it, thinking it is one thing, and then it is another. The fish bites, and the fish is hooked.

Of course, we all live in a society that hooks us, that entices us in many ways, an addiction to pace, or the abuse of substances, or the allure anything that is new or different, and over time our lives become dis-ordered. We think we are pursuing something—maybe the good life---but it turns out to be something else. This can be destructive. Or, as in the case of the gospel for today, it can be life-giving.

I think about this image and about why we are here. I did not start out coming to church because I wanted to meet Jesus. I went because my family was there, I was a little kid and I had no choice! As Anne Lamott says in her essay “Why I Make Sam Go To Church?”, her short answer is, “because I can. I outweigh him by fifty pounds”. My parents made me go to church!

And then, when I was a teenager, I went because there were girls at church. And then later I went because my friends went. And somewhere along the way, I realized I was hooked. I had swallowed something more than I had expected. I was hooked with the gospel.

And now I was on some kind of adventure, my life connected to the life of Jesus, and it has taken me to places I would never imagined, last weekend with the people of Haiti, or the Tuesday evening before that with a roomful of guests of Room In The Inn, or, I could go on…

The point is….I was caught. But I realize that once I had been caught by Jesus, he wants me to try to connect with others. Jesus is the savior of the world, but it is very clear that he wants to share in his work with others. A very significant change occurred within the United Methodist Church, one that was adopted at the General Conference in May, 2008, to take effect on January 1, 2009. It is not yet reflected in our hymnal, but is nevertheless to be practiced. The membership vows were changed, with the addition of one phrase. As member we promise faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service, and our witness.

We are witnesses to what we have experienced in the encounter with Jesus. We live this witness out through our actions and with our words. Some heal, like the doctors and nurses who have been in Haiti. Some will teach. Some care. Some will preach. Jesus wants us to fish for men and women, he wants you to fish for men and women. He wants you to follow him.

Following Jesus is a lifelong adventure, and you never know where it will take you or what it will mean. The first disciples certainly did not know. But they responded. The scripture makes it clear that they did not deliberate, they did not take hours or days or years to think about it. The left their nets, they dropped their nets on the ground and followed Jesus.

Today, the time is fulfilled, because Jesus is here. The kingdom of God is close by, because God’s people are worshipping together. And if we are open to change, if we want our lives to be different, we will hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us. I thought this week of the words of Albert Schweitzer, who was a musician, a physician and a scholar, and who had a lifelong passion to understand this Galilean teacher, Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us by the same word: “Follow me” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He Is.”

Some of us are here this morning, and we need to meet Jesus, perhaps for the first time.

Some of us are here this morning, and we need to change.

Some of us are here this morning, and we need to make the decision, not only to “believe” in Jesus, but to “follow” Jesus.

And some of us are here this morning, and we need to bear witness to the love of God. We need to fish for men and women.

The evangelism of Jesus was very simple and very clear, and it did not require a great deal of thought.

The time is fulfilled…this is the time.
The kingdom is at hand…God is here, right now.
And believe the good news!

Sources: Albert Schweitzer, The Quest For The Historical Jesus; Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark.


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