Sermon on Genesis 12:1-3 & Mark 1:14-20 for 3rd Epiphany, B, January 25, 2014
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and 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.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, of the world’s population, as of 2010 people who self-identify as Christians comprise 32%, Muslims 23%, and Jews 0.2%. So, these three major monotheistic religions account for over half of the world’s population.
They all have a the same foundational narrative. All three faiths tell the story of Abraham and Sarah who are called to leave home and to go on a journey. God says,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
If the three monotheistic religions are doing their job well, half the world should already know that the spiritual journey beings with leaving behind the safety nets that, up to that point, had defined us. The journey towards spiritual maturity begins when we respond to the call to move on from one kind of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness, which always involves a leaving.
So, Jesus begins his ministry, just after his baptism and following his period of wilderness temptations, by calling followers to leave home. Simon and Andrew, James and John, all fishermen, hear the call and respond.
Mark could have told us this story without any mention of nets, boats or parents. He could have just said that Jesus met them, called them, and they followed. But he draws our attention to nets, boats, and parents, to make the point: the call to follow Jesus involved leaving behind things that had been essential to their lives.
They were fishermen; that was their identity. Their nets and boats defined them. So did their families. They had names, first names and tribal names inherited from their fathers. And Jesus was calling them to leave these behind, just as Abraham and Sarah had done so long ago. Mark tells us:
The Two Halves of Life
What does this leaving look like? In his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr unfolds the spiritual journey using Carl Jung’s paradigm of the two halves of life.
In the first half of life, we all needed to work on forming a sense of who we are, and of course, we did that by reference first to our families of origin. If that process went well, we developed a good sense of self-worth and resilience.
Later, we established ourselves as adults. We identified with our roles and titles. Many of us took on the role of being fathers or mothers. We identified with our jobs – we became stay-at-home parents, or engineers, teachers, or business people, maybe even fishermen.
We defined ourselves by our permanent features like our race, gender, and sexual-orientation. We identified with the groups that we were part of, like our nation, our religion, our political party and so on.
“the task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?” “How can I support myself?” and “Who will go with me?”
(Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, p. 1).
So what is the task of the second half of life? He says “It is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.”
Once we have completed the task of building the container in the first half of life, we are ready to answer the call to the task of the second half of life.
The call to the spiritual life is a call to a journey that will require leaving behind the well-built container with its iron-clad certainties, its rules for how things have to go in order to be acceptable to us, and its notion that following the leaders we like makes us the good guys.
In short, the journey of the spiritual life is always a risk. It is, like Abraham and Sarah learned, a call to an unknown land that lacks map boarders. Like the disciples, it is a call to leave behind what used to work so well in order to take the next step towards spiritual maturity.
I love the way Mark describes the process for us. Jesus comes, Mark says,
“proclaiming the good news of God”.
Remember, the people he is “proclaiming” to are Jewish – they know all about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
“The time is fulfilled.”
The moment has come. The moment is now. The present moment is where it starts. It begins with the mindful awareness that this moment now is the only moment we ever get to live in. In this moment, we live our lives. The past is gone and cannot be altered. The future is always in the future, whether we long for it or dread it. The only moment we have is now.
I just saw a Facebook post from the philosopher Winnie the Pooh. Winnie and Piglet are out for a walk. “What day is it?” Pooh asked. “It’s today” squeaked Piglet.” “My favorite day.” said Pooh. Exactly, since today is the only day we ever get to live.
So today, in this moment, we are called to “repent” which literally means to change our thinking. This means letting go of an old way of imagining the world and my place in it, and becoming open to a new way of understanding, a new consciousness. Leaving the nets and the boats and the nest behind.
In a moment we will run through some of Jesus’ central perspectives, and this is what we are going to see. Jesus constantly called people to a higher level of conscious, to an awakening.
Here is the way it looks: The old consciousness was literalistic. In the first half of life we had either-or, black or white, all or nothing, in or out, for-me or against-me kinds of categories. This is called dualistic thinking.
There is no room for paradox or mystery. All the coloring must be within the lines; the music permits no improvisation. The call is to move on to a higher level of non-dual consciousness.
So, here is the question: if the time is fulfilled, the present moment is the moment in which we are living, and the call is to repentance, to a change of thinking, to a new non-dual consciousness, on what basis do we take the risk to follow?
“the kingdom of God has come near”
Jesus’ Kingdom Project
Jesus will spend all of his short life inviting people to accept the good news that the kingdom of God has actually come near. Listen to all of these challenges to a higher level of non-dual consciousness:
He will heal people and announce that their sins are forgiven without recourse to a temple, a sacrifice or a priest. He will turn the concept of Sabbath upside down and teach that people are not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the benefit of people.
He will teach the parables of the kingdom, explaining that it is not a physical kingdom to kill and die for, but a present reality, like seed sown on four kinds of soils; like an illuminating lamp on a stand, like invisibly growing seeds that suddenly sprout, or like a huge plant bursting up from a tiny mustard seed.
Through all of these, Jesus will be inviting people to abandon their old dualistic thinking and embrace a new consciousness. He will coax and bemuse and sometimes irritate people, calling them to embrace a reality that is present, but present only to those who are open to receiving its presence.
The good news is that the kingdom of God has indeed come near. Forgiveness is a fact. Healing of old wounds and cancers of the soul like bitterness and envy is possible. We can be forgiven forgivers who turn the other cheek.
Guilt and shame are categories that can now be abandoned, in favor of grace and liberation. God can be known as Jesus knew him, as Abba-Father instead of as the rigid score-keeper.
Us-and-them dualistic thinking can be left behind, back at the shore with the old nets and the boat, and a new openness to others who are different, but equally loved by God can blossom.
Lost sheep and prodigal sons and daughters are welcome. Sinners and tax collectors are welcome. Samaritans and Gentiles are welcome, lepers, the sick and the lame are all invited to live into their true identities as sons and daughters of God. When a person can accept that, then the kingdom of God has come near for them.
This call is for all of us. Jesus comes to us inviting us to journey into the second half of life. “Follow me” he calls.
Leave the nets and the boats. Leave the nest. Let go of the group-think, the herd mentality, the devotion to the status quo, the dualistic either-or consciousness. The moment is now, the present. There is a much richer, more satisfying, holistic and open way to live. It is life lived fully aware and connected with God, and compassionately involved in the real world.
“Follow me” Jesus calls all of us. Follow me out to the place of solitude and silence. Follow me to the practice of prayer and contemplation where the ego can be ignored and contemplative consciousness can grow.
“Follow me” to the crowds that need food. Follow me to the sick who need healing compassion. Because the good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand!
“Come; follow me” Jesus invites us. Find the contents of your container – your true self, in God. Know that you are loved. Believe that you are forgiven. Come to recognize the presence of God in everything. Learn what the great spiritual teachers know, that:
“God comes to you disguised as your life” (source: Paula D’Arcy, in Falling Upward, p. 66, by Richard Rohr.)
Yes, there will be suffering and pain. Life is difficult. But God will be there for us. There will be obstacles and even enemies, but even these can be redeemed for good. There will be deaths, but resurrections will follow. This is the pattern built into the universe.
“Come” Jesus calls us, “the time is the present moment, the kingdom of God has come near, change your consciousness; follow me.”