I love to travel, but truth be told, by the time the day of my departure on nearly any trip rolls around, I am usually seriously questioning whether this trip or any trip is ever really worth all the trouble that it takes to actually leave. Can my vacation possibly live up to its promise, and actually be worth all the time, work and stress that goes into its preparation?
After many hours of research done to discover the best, most cost-effective option for travel – after answering questions like which airport we should depart from, and which airline we should use; after searching out all available car rental discounts and options; and, after deciding on the lodgings we will stay in – I am usually exhausted.
Perhaps you have felt the same way.
Then, of course, there are all the details that need to be settled around the house - making sure all the bases are covered; that the people and animals in our lives are cared for; that the mail is stopped and likewise the newspaper; that the plants are watered and someone is looking out for the house – ensuring that someone knows where we are and how to reach us.
Finally, after also tying up all those loose ends here at the church – after checking each detail off the list, there are times I don’t even want to go anymore.
Suddenly, a “staycation” looks really attractive.
I am struck, therefore, in this gospel of Mark, by the immediate nature of the response of these first disciples, to the call of Christ; by the immediate answer of these four fishermen who were in the middle of their work, who, we can assume, were in the middle of lives in which they had connections and a multitude of responsibilities and ties to other people.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Did they even know what that meant? “I will make you fish for people.” I doubt it.
But, just like that, each of them – Simon, Andrew, James and John dropped what they were doing, and went to follow Jesus. Immediately. We don’t read of them making plans or checking off “to-do” lists. They just went.
What made these fisher-people do such a crazy, radical thing? Did they consider answering “no”? What made them answer “yes”?
Jesus was calling. Perhaps they had simply taken to heart things that Jesus had proclaimed about the good news of God.
In fact, here, at the start of Mark’s story, and already by verse 15 Mark has told us three times about this good news that is our gospel. The gospel of Mark opens, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God….”
Then, only 13 verses later, today, we heard, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” What Jesus has just proclaimed is profound, and we need to spend a little time there.
The words which our lectionary translates here as, “the time is fulfilled” and “the kingdom of God has come near” are both, in the Greek, verbs written in the perfect tense. English has no equivalent tense, so it is sometimes difficult for us to grasp the full meaning and import of this passage as it is rendered in English.
The perfect tense describes action that has happened or has been inaugurated in the past which continues to have ongoing effect in the present. But the importance of this tense for this text is this: God has already acted and we live under the effect of God’s action. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not only has God acted to fulfill God’s promise of redemption, but God has brought the kingdom of God to earth. To us. Did you hear that?
God’s kingdom has come.
It is already here, in Jesus, and we participate in it every single day. We are recipients of the grace and ongoing benefit of God’s grace that has come in Christ.
Belief and trust in this truth make a difference in the believer’s life. Jesus proclaiming this good news brings change for all who believe. Therefore, Jesus invites those who follow to do these things:
Believe the Good News.
Believe that God’s promises are true.
Believe that God is here present and that God is at work in the world.
Believe that the kingdom of God has broken into this world!
And in believing, turn from the darkness to the Epiphany light. Turn from blindness into sight. Turn from death to life.
This good news comes from the person who now stands on the seashore, calling, “Come, follow me.”
Jesus, in fact, is the gospel, is the good news of which Mark and the other evangelists write. Today’s text demonstrates what the call of discipleship is like and what the appropriate response to it might look like.
Response involves repentance. Repentance involves turning. Following Jesus means turning away from our fear and our doubt, from all those things that call to us and distract us and keep us from embracing the good news. Following Jesus involves foregoing all the “nos” we have lined up and like to hide behind, instead journeying with Christ. As disciples, we forego the
“No, I can’t.”
“No, I’m not good enough.”
“No, I don’t know enough; I’m not smart enough.”
“No, this is not a good time.”
“No, I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Responding to God’s grace is an immediate response. Yet we know that it is simply not that easy.
Part of the effect of this gospel good news, is that it makes clear that it is not by our power that repentance comes about. It is by God’s abundant grace. On our own, we are unable to repent, on our own we are unable to believe. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we can do these things.
Martin Luther said that through our Baptism we die each day to sin. In our creeds we acknowledge that we are in bondage from sin and cannot free ourselves; therefore, this Gospel is good news to us: It is not up to us. God is in charge. And God has already acted, once and for all, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And now God, in Christ, is calling us all to discipleship.
I’m not going to lie to you. This is complex stuff. Even as I say these words, my head begins to spin. But the simple truth is this:
God is already at work in us, calling us, saying, “Come, follow me.” Jesus is already inviting us to leave our baggage behind, leave our fanatical need for control and embrace true repentance as a gift. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus helps us to believe and to trust in the power of God to heal us, to forgive our unbelief and make repentance possible!
James R Edwards (The Gospel according to Mark) comments:
Repentance properly understood is an "I can't" experience, rather than an "I can" experience. If repentance is promising God, "I can do better," then we are trying to keep ourselves in control of our lives.
If we can do better, we don't need a gracious God, only a patient one, who will wait long enough for us to do better.
When we come before God confessing, "I can't do better," then we are dying to self. We are giving up control of our lives. We are throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God. We are inviting God to do what we can't do ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us.
Mark shows us how Jesus called his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John - ordinary people from unremarkable backgrounds, ordinary men called to be companions to Jesus, to be witnesses to the earliest parts of Jesus’ ministry, called to learn the ways of discipleship.
They may not always have illustrated brilliance and understanding, in fact, as we will see as we read through the gospel of Mark this year, they often demonstrated a lack of understanding and willpower. And yet, it was the immediacy of their response that teaches us something about discipleship and the nature of following Jesus. There was no, “wait a few minutes, let me pack my bag, I have a few more arrangements to make, loose ends to tie up.”
Discipleship takes a lot of work. It doesn’t always go smoothly. But God is continually at work, forgiving us when we don’t get it or when we fail, lifting us up when we fear or when we despair that “it is just not worth it”, encouraging us when we feel overwhelmed by our own “yes.” Jesus is calling each of us, calling each to “come and follow.”
May God bless you as you answer your own call to discipleship. As Jesus beckons to us, “come, follow,” may we behold God’s power to call us, save us, use us and bless us in the name of the one who redeems us, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.