Third Sunday After Epiphany

Jeremiah 3:19-4:4; Psalm 130; I Corinthians 7:17-24; Mark 1:14-20

We stand at the precipice of enormous change as a church. We are a small, young church plant. We have and are weathering the many challenges this last year threw at us. Our minds are cluttered and confused by the ever-changing social landscape, regulations, worries and fears, hopes and dreams. It is all too easy, so easy, to lose focus and to forget what is central. 

Today, the Scriptures speak to us about the nature of God’s call and our response to be disciples of Jesus Christ. This call cuts through the noise of our world, and draws us to this simple but inexpressibly deep truth: Wherever we are in life, Jesus calls us to Follow Him.

Mark is understated, but the reading today began with the imprisonment of John the Baptist. This would have been a stressful and confusing event to his disciples. But what it marks is a change, a massive change: Jesus goes north to Galilee, likely to avoid a similar fate to John, who ministered near Jerusalem, and says “the time is fulfilled.” What time? The time before the Messiah, the time of the Old Covenant, of the Prophets, of waiting. That time is past, and the “the kingdom of God has come near.” The great plan of God, which God had been unfolding for millenia, has come to its conclusion: In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has arrived!

The Kingdom is established in God’s timing, at God’s initiation. In God’s wisdom, events lead inexorably to the advent of Jesus Christ, and at the end of John the Baptist’s ministry, his begins. The Kingdom begins there, and grows, slowly but inevitably, by the power of Holy Spirit and through the Church. It is so tempting for us to see the Kingdom as built by our hands, and throughout history many mistakes have been made in thinking so. We do not build the Kingdom under our own power and through our own planning. God builds God’s Kingdom. And this is a grace to us, knowing that the Kingdom, introduced 2000 years ago but still being built today, does not fall on our shoulders alone. 

So what is our role in this kingdom, or in its being built? This is answered in the call to Simon, Andrew, James, and John; “Follow me.” We are in the role of disciples, of students, those who follow a teacher, king, savior. Jesus calls to them, and says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The fishing motif in the Old Testament is always speaking of God, most often in the context of judgment, and so we see here Jesus calling them to follow him and to proclaim the message he proclaims, the message that The Kingdom is here, repent and believe the Good News that God is redeeming his people from their fate of death. Faith is simply believing that God will do what God has said, and following (like a student on a field trip)

These men illustrate what repentance and belief are in their actions. They turn from their tasks; that is what repentance means, to turn from one thing and towards another, from the temptations of the world and to the holy Lord Jesus Christ. And they follow him, he who IS the good news, embodied. Our faith is not just doctrine, or emotional experience, or community, or ethical practices; it is all those things, but first and foremost it is the relationship between the Church, those called by God, to Jesus Christ, our Savior. Jesus leads, and we follow. All of those things are important parts of our faith, but fundamentally, it is a whole-hearted, whole-person following. The earliest Christians rightly referred to the faith as “The Way.”

And this makes sense, doesn’t it? We learn primarily not by intellectual exercise alone, or emotional experiences, etc. No, we learn by doing. Moby Dick; art; music; math; chess; construction. We learn by doing, by following. And what that means is that our part in God’s Kingdom is to do the things that Jesus did, to follow his example, to live as he taught us. (Kids: Start simple: Forgive someone who hurt you, and pray the Lord’s prayer!) We do not do this thinking “oh I’m building the Kingdom by my good works”; no, but God is doing so by the Holy Spirit through you, beginning with repentance and faith.

Finally, it bears reflecting upon what becoming a disciple of Jesus will do to your life. The Gospel passage shows a radical departure, the fishermen dropping their vocations and up they go. But that is actually in an interesting tension with the passage from 1 Corinthians, where it says in 7:17, “let each of you live the life that the Lord has assigned.”  Which is it? Radical departure or stay where you are? It is both.

If you choose to follow Jesus, then you are committing to following his ways, of living a life that is radically changed. You cannot live a life in pursuit of comfort and consumption with no purpose other than your own security, and be a consistent follower of Jesus; you can’t support violence and live in continual anger towards this person or that and be a follower of Jesus; you cannot say “This person in church with me thinks differently than me and I really don’t like them, so forget them” and follow Jesus, because Jesus did none of those things and he says to Follow Him.

Yet, to follow Jesus does not mean you are not you, and that you cannot be faithful followers no matter where you are. If you answer phones, clean houses, swing a hammer, sit with the sick, stay at home, are a student, or any other state of life, you can follow Jesus faithfully right where you are. As one commentator put it, “a person is not called to a new occupation; their old occupation is given new significance,” because now it is done for the Lord. Like yeast that is worked into a lump of dough, God the Holy Spirit is working the yeast of the Good News into the whole world through God’s people, who are in every part of the world. You matter, and where you are in life matters, because the Holy Spirit in you is at work transforming all things for God’s glory. You, in other words, will become by God’s grace a transformed version of You.

To Sum Up:The world is full of disorder and chaos, but we can see with clarity three things:

God is the one who builds the Kingdom, and it is not reliant on any human.

We are called to take part in that Kingdom by repenting, turning from our old way of life, and believing the Gospel: Jesus is Lord. Follow Him!

When we follow Jesus, we will find our lives transformed by the Spirit, wherever we are and whatever we do. The Kingdom is here, and God is at work; our place in it as the Church is to Follow.

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