“What’s Left” sermon for January 22, 2012, Third Sunday after Epiphany Year B, on Mark 1:14-20

 What’s Left

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and

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the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 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. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The way Mark tells the story of Jesus is fascinating.  He skips right past Mary and Joseph, the donkey and the Inn Keeper.  No mention of Jesus’ birth or early years.  As Mark lifts up the curtain, the Jesus we see on stage is a full grown adult.

Mark’s Action Adventure

He is in action.  And it is, as they say, “a total God-thing.”  He goes down to where John is baptizing and is baptized and immediately heaven opens, God’s Spirit descends on him and God’s voice proclaims him as the beloved Son.  The imagery is startling and dramatic.  It’s apocalyptic.

Immediately that same Spirit of God drives him into the wilderness where he is tempted for 40 days and confronts the forces of evil, the Satan himself who is there, along with wild beasts and angels.  The way Mark tells it, almost makes it seem like a dream or vision.

But immediately we are given a scene of Jesus as a man walking beside a lake  in Galilee, meeting ordinary fishermen doing normal fishermen things like net-tending as if it were a normal day – but Mark shows us that it isn’t normal at all.

As he is walking in Galilee he is saying – actually Mark says he is “proclaiming” – “the Good News of God.”

 “Good News” – says the Emperor 

This is strange if you miss the code word(s) “good news”.  If you don’t know the code, you might think Jesus was just proclaiming God – as if God was news to a Palestinian Jewish person!

No, the word(s) “good news” is code for “Public Propaganda Announcement” from the Roman Emperor – like the “O my, how lucky we are to know it” good news of the Roman army conquering yet another pagan European tribe.

If the code for “good news” means public propaganda, Mark shows us Jesus “proclaiming” a message that some people might think is being intentionally provocative, if not subversive, calling it the Propaganda, not of Rome, but of God; the “good news of God.

 Times Up!

Something has happened; events are now in motion in a new way as never before.  The very first words we hear Jesus say are, “The time is

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fulfilled”.  Does this mean “Time’s up”?  Game over?  or does it mean “Time to begin!” “Gentlemen, start your engines?” Or is it a bit of both?  Actually, it’s both.

What event had started the countdown clock?  Mark has just told us John the baptizer had been arrested.  The authorities are getting nervous.  There is tension in this story from the start.

So if the time is fulfilled and the clock is ticking, what should the people who hear the proclamation of the Propaganda of God do now, and why should they do it?

Jesus says,

 “The reign of God has arrived; change your thinking.”  

This is the way it would have sounded like to those Galilean Jewish people to hear:

“The kingdom of God has come near, repent.”

 Josephus says, “Repent and believe in me” 

Change your thinking” is what “repent” literally means.  One time, shortly after Jesus’ days, a man named Josephus who was a Jewish military leader found some troops that were in a plot against him and said to them nearly the same words, “Change your minds!  Trust me.” Meaning change sides and join my unit – the fight’s on. (NT WRight, JVG, 250 cites Jos. Life 110 in LCL)

“Change your thinking” about what?  About everything, because everything is changing now. The time has come; God is doing something new!  The Kingdom of God has come!  “Believe it.”

Now, to a Jewish person, this is a shocking announcement.  To say the word “kingdom” out loud, in public, where you could be heard and reported was risky, to say the least.  To Jewish ears at that time, this sounds like an announcement that the climax to the whole story of Israel has started.  Israel’s dream is coming true right now.” (NT Wright, JVG, 228)

The arrest of John was the catalyst, like the death of that poor man in Tunisia who set himself on fire – the event which started the whole Arab Spring of uprisings.  Now the Propaganda is from God and about God: the Story of Israel has reached its climax.  The Kingdom of God has arrived.  Believe it – rely on it!

 The call is simple

Mark leaves as much out of his story as he puts in.  He shows us Jesus simply walking by the water, coming upon normal fishermen, and,

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in the context of proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come, simply says to them,

 “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

The word “immediately” keeps popping up, giving this story a sense of urgency.    “immediately they left their nets and followed… immediately he called them…”.  The pace is fast.  “John’s been arrested: time is up.  Here we go.  Fall-in. Move out.”

We don’t hear any explanation.  Mark does not tell us anything – not the look on their faces, not their own personal reasons for being so willing to drop everything and fall-in behind Jesus, not what they said to the people they left, almost nothing.

All Mark wants us to know is that they left behind things, important things, and important people, and followed Jesus.  They left their nets, they left their father and his boat and his hired men, and they followed.

 The Vision of the Kingdom

The only reason Mark gives for their motivation to follow Jesus is the vision of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was “proclaiming;” the reign of God; the God-thing; the climax of the story of Israel is happening in Jesus, right now, immediately.

And so they followed.  And so we are called to follow.  We are addressed by Jesus’ words, “Follow me, and I will change what you are fishing for with those nets; I will give you a new quest, one that is profoundly more significant than you have ever been on.”

You’ve been fishermen, in quest of fish; you’ve been after economic security.  You’ve thought your life was defined by family ties and geography.  It’s now going to be about so much more.  It’s going to be about the Kingdom of God.

 The New Fishing Expedition Begins

In other words, Jesus says, You will join me in a whole new fishing expedition; this time, it’s for people.  This is a total God-thing.  This is about God’s quest to find people who desperately need God’s rescue-net.

It will be about lowering the net down for people who are caught up in evil and setting them free from demonic forces.  It will be about lowing down the rescue net for the sick who need health care, and it will even be about holding out a net for untouchable lepers who are being shunned and excluded – and all of this is literally chapter one of Mark’s story of Jesus and the Kingdom.

Follow me” Jesus calls, and I will make you fish for people who are notorious sinners, and even eat at their tables in their homes.

Follow me” and you will see the kind of work that God says is OK to do even on the Sabbath.

All through Mark’s gospel we see Jesus reaching out across boundaries to scoop up people into the net of God’s love.  He crosses gender boundaries, extending God’s healing to women and girls.

He even crosses ethnic boundaries, embracing Romans.  He reaches out to people who are not Jewish, who do not worship Israel’s God, and extending the rescue net to them and their children (for example, the  Gentile woman, of Syrophoenician origin whose daughter had been possessed, Mark 7).

 The New Family

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Do you see what is going on here?  Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God; now it the time: it has started to form.  The Kingdom had formerly been a Jewish thing for the family of Abraham.  Now, however, the definition of the family has been radically expanded.  God has found sons and daughters that he loves and calls his children in places where formerly, we only saw strangers and aliens.

Would it be worth it to leave the safety net of the little world up on the North end of the Lake in Galilee and follow Jesus?  After the disciples who originally left home and followed Jesus had seen Jesus doing all of this for some time, Peter looks around at what he has left and says to Jesus:

 “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mark 10:28 )

Has he not yet made the connection?  Has he not yet seen the point that the family has radically expanded?  Does he not yet understand what all of this fishing for people has been about?  So Jesus answers Peter by saying:

29 “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,  30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  

 The Invitation

There are different kinds of people here today.  It’s possible that some here have not yet come to know that God’s love and grace extends to you.  Maybe for whatever reason you have not thought of yourself as part of the family.

If any of us has made you feel like an outsider to God’s love, we repent; we are sorry.  Please forgive us.  Please don’t let us stand in the way.  God loves you and wants you to know yourself as his child.  “Come,” Jesus says, “Follow me.”

 Taking Family for Granted

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Most of us here have probably understood ourselves as part of the family so long we don’t remember it any differently.  To us, Jesus says, “Follow me” by joining my fishing expedition.  To whom do we need to extend the rescue-net?

From time to time we are reminded how blessed we are to live in this county (excuse me for a moment, friends from other countries), like on the Fourth of July or Memorial Day or Thanksgiving.  We don’t live under tyranny; we live in freedom.  Most of the time, however, we are so used to it that we simply take it for granted.  It’s a typical human failing.

But in the same way, we get used to looking around rooms like this one and seeing each other, and recognizing each other as brother and sister in the family of God, as if it’s normal and expected.

 We were the “them” before we were the “us”

Nothing was further from the truth.  In Jesus’ day, we were those European tribes that the Roman army was going around conquering.  We were the pagans wearing animal skins with bones in our noses about whom the Roman emperor would proclaim his “Good News” – his public propaganda of victory when we were subdued and brought into his “civilized” Empire.

We are Gentiles.  We are the kind of people that even Peter had difficulty eating with.  We were the unclean, the untouchables, the outsiders to the family.  We are that extended family that Jesus told Peter he would get after he had left behind his fishing village in Galilee.

But we have been included!  We have been invited into the family.  We have been scooped up in the net of God’s loving embrace.

Now we are the ones who Jesus calls, “Follow me.”  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Time is up.

Here we go.

Fall-in.

Move out.

The Kingdom of God has arrived.

Grab the nets, head for the boats.

Get fishing.”

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