The Rev. Joseph P. Mathews
22 January 2012
Epiphany 3+, B
Christ Church, Portola Valley, CA
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Amen.
Our gospel text today is full of movement. John is arrested. Jesus goes to Galilee. Although John had been preaching in Judea, Herod – the ruler of Galilee – has him arrested. Jesus goes right into the midst of this area and continues preaching that John had started. Simon and Andrew are at work casting nets, doing physical labor. Jesus calls them and they leave their nets and follow him. James and John are casting their nets, Jesus calls out to them, and they leave their livelihood and their family to follow this rabbi from Nazareth who is always on the move.
Not only is he on the move, he’s on the move in a place where he could easily be overtaken with trouble. Can you imagine being at work, knowing that someone has been taken away because of their message, and someone saying very similar things comes along and tells you to come with them. Might their nerve impress you? Might you roll your eyes at their calls, knowing how dangerous it might be? Might you just think them crazy? Last week we heard Nathaniel question Jesus’ call on his life because of where Jesus was from. This week we have four men who leave home, income, and family because of Jesus’ audacity.
Mark makes no mention of these four disciples weighing their bags before getting on the road. The follow Jesus on his journey. They just go. The temptation here is to say that we should just drop everything and follow Jesus, too. If we give in to that temptation we may also judge ourselves harshly for failing to not give up so much so quickly. Rather than taking these four as the absolute example of discipleship, let’s keep Nathaniel in mind: slow to follow and waiting for something more concrete than a shout from beside a lake.
Rather than offering us an absolute example for how to answer Jesus’ call, this passage – along with our First Corinthians reading – offers us an example for how we are to live. The specifics of the First Corinthians letter are particular to the church at Corinth, but the rationale of all those commands is timeless: the time is short, and the present form of this world is passing away. Things are being changed and we’re on a journey. The forms of the lives that James, John, Peter and Andrew had come to their end. In their encounter with Jesus their lives were changed, and Jesus told them how their lives would be changed: instead of catching fish, they would become fishers of people.
Those who Jesus has called to follow him have changed lives that they cannot help but share with others. In Jesus the Kingdom of God has drawn near. While Jesus is particularly calling some disciples in Mark’s gospel, he’s directing our fisherfolk today to cast their nets broadly: to invite all into relationship with Jesus. Rather than fishing for food for a living in one place, they’re called on a journey of following Christ and learning from him. As they learn from him and grow to be like him, they go preaching on their own in various journeys near to their homes and far away.
The Christian life is not a series of moments: baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and so on. As the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods says, “O if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one, but if life were made of moments then you’d never know you had one.” Rather than being a series of moments good and bad, the Christian life – all of life – is a journey from cradle to grave, from baptism to burial. Whether our answers to Jesus’ calls are immediate or with more hesitancy, we are a people on the move. Always.
On the move, Jesus’ call on our lives should affect how we live. The way we treat all people is influenced by our faith – we’ve promised to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. That promise was made expecting God’s help, and we will fail in keeping it. We’ve also promised to admit when we’re wrong and work to be reconciled to those we’ve wronged. While Episcopalians tend to not like the idea of “evangelism” it is a tenet of the gospel. Part of our objection to it, however, tends to be based not on the idea itself inasmuch as how others have done evangelism.
In lives on the move, we meet other people. We smile at people on public transportation, or we curse at other drivers. We offer support through Facebook comments or say hateful things anonymously on YoutTube. We encounter Christ here assembled as Christ’s body, and at the Table in bread broken and wine poured. We also encounter Christ in the other and we recall the self-giving love of God who came to dwell among us as humans all the way to death. We evangelize by taking good news to those in need. Shouting “repent or burn” on a corner doesn’t sound like very good news to me.
Following Jesus on the journey means we need to pack lightly and be adaptive. But our journeys are not always as light as we might hope. Adapting and changing are scary things for individuals and institutions. As I move into my last semester I’m starting to feel as though things are tumultuous considering all the changes that are coming to my life. I will not be in school for the first time in twenty years. I am leaving friends in New York City with whom I have been building good relationships for three years. I am leaving classmates about whom I care deeply and who have provided comfort and challenge to me when I have needed each of those things. I may be moving to the other side of the country from anyone in my family. Before all of that I have to do all my schoolwork and other projects about which I am excited but will be a lot of work.
But it’s over the tumult Jesus calls for us to follow him, to leave those things which may be holding us back from being closer to him, helping others come to know him, or seeing the Kingdom of God as it has drawn near. While we’re giving James, John, Peter, and Andrew’s quick and enthusiastic reply to Jesus’ call, we aren’t given their thought process or how they felt after leaving their toil and kindred to follow Jesus on the Way.
The Kingdom of God has drawn near, and all of creation has access to it. In order to see and experience, though we have to evaluate what things hold us back from being closer to God, what things we love more than Christ, what idols we have. These things may be live-giving and good for us, but we cannot hold them so close that they block our ears from hearing Christ’s call to adapt and be ready to move. For me this means moving away from my beloved General Seminary and my boys off campus. We will stay in touch, and there will be ongoing support, but I must adapt as my call changes.
I must adapt, and you must adapt. Always. The Church must adapt as it moves forward and discerns Christ’s call for it in the new realities of society it finds itself. Jesus’ call to us and to all of humanity is relentless, though. When we don’t hear or we can’t hear, Jesus keeps calling. When we hear and don’t listen Jesus keeps calling, no matter how many times we say to stop. Jesus’ call to us is as relentless as his love for us. In knowing this love we are called to share it with others as we build relationships with them and care about them, traveling lightly on the journey and adapting as we go. Amen.