Third Sunday After Epiphany
Third Sunday After Epiphany : 1-22-12
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia
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.
How do you engage the Gospel reading you heard it a few minutes ago? What images were formed in your mind as you heard this short passage found at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel?
Did the opening line about John’s arrest capture your attention?
Did you find yourself wondering how “the time could be fulfilled, and the kingdom of God could be near”, knowing that these words were spoken and then written over two thousand years ago?
Perhaps you visualized the scene on the Sea of Galilee with the wind coming off of the water, the smells associated with a fishing boat and well-used nets, Simon, Andrew, John, James, Zebedee and the hired men going about their daily lives and what happened when Jesus passed by?
However we engage it upon initial hearing, further exploration of this text reveals much. In the simple and clear language characteristic of Mark’s Gospel, we are given the context of the story – “after John was arrested”, the message - "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” and the action – Jesus calling the first four of his disciples.
In this story we can see a pattern for living the Christian life. By that I mean, Being and becoming all God has created and called us to be for this life and the next. God is our creator, sustainer and lover. God wants abundant and authentic life for each one of us. God wants this for all of humanity and creation and wants us to join in this endeavor. That is what I mean by living the Christian life.
In this Gospel text we can see the pattern of – repent, believe, follow and become people who participate with God in God’s work in the world.
Simple words describing simple actions.
Repent - The Confession we pray together in worship teaches us about repenting. Note where it takes place in this service. We confess and repent after we have engaged God’s word in the Scripture and the sermon and after we have prayed in the prayers of the people but before the peace and before we come together to God’s table. It is as though hearing God’s word and considering the needs of the world and of ourselves, we must repent in order to move on. The word of the Lord and the needs of the world reveal to us how repentance is needed before we can offer and receive the peace of the Lord and gather as a community to receive the body and blood of Christ. Repentance is needed for us to leave this place with the “strength and courage to Love and Serve the Lord”
In our confession we identify the nature of our sins – that we have not loved God with our whole heart and that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. That covers it all. We identify the expression of our sins – in thought, word and deed – what has been internal, what has been expressed verbally and what has been expressed in action. Then we repent and say that we are sorry and we acknowledge that the reason we repent is so that we may delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways because it brings Joy to God and because of the goodness of God.
Then we hear the response to our confession – Forgiveness of sins, strengthening in goodness and the promise of continued sustenance in the journey through God’s power now and forever.
Repentance is about re-orienting ourselves, centering in God’s mercy and goodness and calibrating our course of Love and Service. I don’t know about you but in a very short time, I can get off course and off center, forgetting who I am and Whose I am. Repentance brings me back and opens the pathway for believing.
Believing is an act of the mind and will that is akin to knowing but is not certain.
Believing is grounded in hope.
Believing involves that which is not yet seen. Knowing is certain while believing involves at least a shadow and sometimes a panorama of uncertainty.
Believing engages the “not-yetness” in light of the Goodness of the Lord.
So today’s passage invites us to believe the good news. The Good News that God is with the world- and us even when it seems that God is absent. The Good News that God loves us and the whole world and that God is about liberation, restoration and reconciliation of all. The Good News that authorities and structures and institutions that oppress do not have the final word and that everyone is included and welcomed and loved. The Good News that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God. The Good News that suffering may endure for the night but that joy comes in the morning. The Good News that now is only a part of the picture, a part of the story and that all is well and that all will be well. That is the Good News that Jesus proclaimed by the Sea of Galilee and that is the Good News that we are to believe.
The next two parts of the pattern are separate but closely related. I will make you fish for people” is more completely translated as “I will make you become fishers of people.” The fishers of people part can’t happen without the following part and the following part seems to be pointless without the becoming fishers of people part.
The first four disciples left their work and family to follow Jesus. They could not have known where it would lead them. In their following Jesus, they would cast out demons, heal the sick and feed the hungry. They would hear Jesus teach and they would ask a hundred questions to try to understand. They would be familiar with Jesus’ ways and yet would be often perplexed. They would be a part of something that would literally change the world and along the way they would know joy, wonder and suffering. But always, even to the cross and after, they would be with Jesus. They would not be alone. In following Jesus, Jesus would always with them.
What the disciples left behind was loss, for sure, but what they gained, the presence of the Word made flesh, God being human and knowing from the inside out what it is like to be human, the reality of being with Jesus, made them keep following and not go back.
For following Jesus does not mean a casual and distant acquaintance. To follow, one must be close -- close enough to see, hear, touch, smell or taste. Following ends up being intimate, out of sheer familiarity if nothing else. And following means handing over the reins of control. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of people” and they did.
Jesus said to four fishermen, be who you are with the skills and experience you have, come follow me and I will show you how to become ones who participate with God in God’s work in the world. That is what being fishers of people means. It means casting the net wide wherever following Jesus takes us and using and being who we are to share the love of God. It means learning some new skills and some new language and perhaps being open to some new ways but ultimately, it means that God works with who we are to bring about God’s kingdom. Following Jesus and becoming fishers of people means, give the reins of control to God, be who you are and be transformed into a way of sharing and being God’s love wherever you go.
So friends, what people, places and circumstances now fill your minds as you consider the story. The call to the disciples is the same call that comes to us too. Jesus says to us today, repent, believe, follow and become fishers of people? It is already happening in so many ways.
May God’s grace give us the strength and courage to receive this word of the Lord.