A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Epiphany 3 ~ Mark 1:14-20
Welcome to the shortest sermon in history!
Don’t get your hopes up. I’m not talking about my sermon – I’m talking about the first one Jesus preached in Mark’s gospel. And even though it’s only one verse long (Mark 1:15) it is jam-packed with massively important theological stuff. Enough stuff to last, oh I don’t know, 18-22 minutes!
Let me set the stage. We’ve been looking at the first chapter of the first gospel, Mark, for the past few weeks. We know that Mark’s gospel is short, matter-of-fact, and that everything happens in a hurry in this telling. Mark’s favourite word is immediately – a word we get twice in this short passage today.
We’re only at chapter 1 verse 14 and already Jesus has been baptized and spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted. And now we learn about the beginning of his public ministry. We learn that John the baptizer was arrested and that Jesus had made his way back to his home province of Galilee. Mark is so sparse on details that you have to read between the lines a lot – and sometimes that can lead to interesting questions.
For example, some scholars speculate that Jesus not going back to Galilee until John was arrested suggests that Jesus hung out with John for a while, perhaps doing ministry together, maybe even being John’s disciple! In Galilee Jesus began preaching, and his first sermon – verse 15 – sounds a lot like something John might have said!
Here’s the sermon: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The time is fulfilled.
There are two words for time in Greek – chronos which means clock time, the passing of minutes and hours, and kairos which means a special, opportune, unique, meaningful time. Chronos is an amount of time – Kairos is a quality of time. A kairos moment is one that feels spiritual and energized and holy. This kairos time is full and complete, says Jesus.
And the kingdom of God has come near.
We had proof of that a few verses earlier when during his baptism the heavens were torn open and the supposed barrier between God and humanity was obliterated.
The word translated as near suggests closeness, immediate imminence, and presence.
So, where is God’s kingdom? Right here, all around us, we’re in it.
And when is God’s kingdom? Now! It has drawn near – it doesn’t wait until everything is perfect, or until you die, God’s kingdom has drawn near – right here, right now!
So how does one access or interact with this drawn near kingdom? Repent! Same word John the baptizer used, and it means the same thing. It literally means to go beyond the mind you have, to change the way you understand and perceive the world, to turn from your former way and embrace a new way, Jesus’ Way, God’s kingdom.
It just makes sense. If you feel like you don’t have access to the kingdom now then you need to make a change, turn around, learn to perceive differently.
And believe in the good news.
Too many church people don’t understand the word believe. We think it means to use our heads and agree to a certain list of theological spiritual concepts.
That’s wrong. That’s not what believe is supposed to mean.
Believe actually means to trust, to have faith in – like you’d say to someone who was about to do something big and you wanted to encourage them – you’d say, “I believe in you!” That’s not about intellect – it’s about love, heart, trust.
So to believe in the good news actually means to trust with your heart, to see with your heart. And good news literally translates as gospel.
So that was Jesus’ first sermon. Awesome! A man of few words but every word was epic!
Ok, time for some more speculation into the gaps that Mark leaves. It says that Jesus came into Galilee preaching this good news message.
Where did he preach it? How many times? Who heard it?
Was he becoming known for it?
Were people talking about it at the water cooler at work?
Did the video of him preaching it go viral?
We have to fill in the gap, and we have to imagine that there was a big buzz about Jesus because if we don’t then the next few verses are really hard to believe. Jesus starts to call potential disciples.
1:16 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.
1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Imagine you’re Simon or Andrew. You’re at work, doing your thing. Out of nowhere some guy walks up to you and says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people!”
What’s your reaction? Be honest!
You’d think the guy was nuts!
You’d probably roll your eyes and laugh at the ridiculousness of it.
“I don’t even know you buddy, and you think I’m going to walk away from my livelihood and just blindly follow you? As if!”
But that’s how the story reads in Mark. Immediately they left their world behind and followed him. Immediately!
That’s why our brains desperately try to fill in the gaps and make up a story that they’d already heard him preach, and they were already familiar with him, and intrigued by him, and they were just itching for a chance to be asked! I don’t know – maybe that’s all true.
Maybe Jesus just had such spiritual presence, such charisma, such a holy glow about him that one look and one invitation was all it took?
Have you ever left everything behind and followed someone?
Have you ever been so absolutely bowled over by someone’s presence that you were compelled to join their team?
We live in a pretty cynical age. The idea of giving yourself over to someone and their vision for the world feels more than a bit dodgy to us. Maybe things were different back in those ancient days and people more readily dropped everything and became disciples of charismatic people. But I doubt it. Human nature is what it is. I think we yearn to believe in someone like that, but we’re reluctant to risk so much.
It would take someone astoundingly remarkable with a message and a vision that was so soul-stirring that it overwhelmed our cautiousness and enflamed our passion to be part of something so utterly wonderful.
Is Jesus that for you? Is his message sufficiently life-changing for you?
Is that why you’re here?
Are you part of something amazing that really makes a difference in the world?
There was a TV miniseries about the bible a few years ago and the way it portrayed this call scene was fantastic. They had Jesus wade out into the water and climb into Simon-Peter’s boat. Out of nowhere! Simon was flabbergasted but Jesus certainly got his attention.
And Jesus says, “Come with me.”
And Simon says, “What would we do?”
And Jesus says, “Change the world!”
And the gleam in his eye pierces Simon’s heart and soul and he follows.
1:19 As Jesus went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
It’s all really quite shocking! Four disciples are now called.
What were their qualifications? What was their job interview like?
Did Jesus ask other people who said no? Maybe we only hear about the successful ones?
If Jesus popped into your workplace, or knocked on your front door, how would you respond?
Do you think he’d call someone like you? Absolutely! Someone exactly like you!
That’s the whole point.
He didn’t go to the temple to recruit people. He didn’t try to persuade the Pharisees to join his radical revolutionary renewal movement.
He went to ordinary workaday people.
People just like us! People just like you!
And the interview is one question. Will you live the sermon Jesus preached?
“The time is now! God’s kingdom is right here, right now. Change your perception and have an epiphany and awaken to it. Trust me, this is awesome news! Join me, and we can change the world into people who can see it too.”
The fishing for people metaphor is interesting, but like any metaphor it breaks down after pushing it for a while. I mean, it made total sense for Jesus to say “Follow me and I will make you fish for people!” to a bunch of people who literally fished for a living.
He was saying he’d transform their life’s work into helping people.
And the metaphor is fun to play with. What kind of bait should we use?
Joy, peace, hope, abundant life, love. That kind of stuff can really “hook” a person.
And when we catch the person what do we do? Gut them, cook them, and eat them!
Nope, too literal. We teach them to “fish for people” too.
Ok, so that metaphor doesn’t work so well for us today. How about this: Follow me and together we will epiphanize people!
We’ll become epiphanizers – we’ll show people the light and love we’ve discovered and help them to see the kingdom we see and embrace God’s Presence that enfold us.
We’ll do whatever we can to help them have an epiphany like we have had, and are having!
The invitation is to join Team Jesus – to be an epiphanizer!
And to do that one has to hear and follow that first sermon Jesus preached. One has to “get on board” so to speak.
And that means realizing that you are signing up for an adventure that cannot be fully understood, a future that cannot be fully known, a journey of love on a road less travelled.
When we gather here, and hear the call of Jesus, and choose to give our lives to his Way, we are saying that we want to help change the world.
Jesus calls us to become fishers of people.
Jesus calls us to become epiphanizers.
“The time is now! God’s kingdom is right here, right now. Change your perception and have an epiphany and awaken to it. Trust me, this is awesome news! Join me, and we can change the world into people who can see it too. All aboard!”