"The Emerging World" - Epiphany 3B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
January 21, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 1:14-20

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: January 21, 2018 – Epiphany 3B

1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20


The Emerging World


            I have a friend – let’s call him Johnny – who joined the Navy right out of high school. Part of his basic training involved jumping off a towering high dive into an olympic-size swimming pool. Johnny knew how to swim, but hadn’t gone off a diving board that high before. When it was his turn, he climbed up the ladder, to where the Master Chief was at the side,  got to the end of the board, and froze.

            “Jump!” the Chief ordered.

            “I can’t, Master Chief!” Johnny whimpered.

            “I said, JUMP!” An iron hand came down on Johnny’s back, sending him flailing into the water. As Johnny floated to the surface, he could hear the Chief roar through water-logged ears, “GET OUT OF MY POOL! AND GET YOUR (BLANKETY-BLANK) BACK UP HERE!”


            Johnny passed his pool training, eventually. He also managed to complete basic training. I even got to see him graduate. I mention this little anecdote because it reminds me of how we often react when we are presented with a new opportunity or a new way of living. We often freeze like Johnny on the diving board, afraid to take that leap. All we can see is the huge drop below us. We can’t see what good can possibly come out of it. It seems so much safer to stay where we are; to stick with what we know.


            Which is why Mark’s account of the call of the first disciples seems so unbelievable. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and the disciples go. They don’t ask questions. They don’t ask for a little time to set their affairs in order. They don’t even take the time to say goodbye to their families. They just get up and leave. Mark even tells us that James and John leave their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired help to follow Jesus, which sounds like a clear-cut violation of the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother”. How is it possible that these fishermen could just drop everything and go?


            Unlike Johnny’s Chief at basic training, Jesus did not “shove them into the pool”. He did not force them to follow him. They followed of their own choice. Granted, it was a choice that had been primed by God’s grace, but they still had a choice. They could have ignored Jesus. They could have gone back to their livelihoods and passed into a comfortable obscurity. Nor do I think that Jesus’ call contained an implicit threat of fire and brimstone if they refused him. They simply would have missed out on the wonders and sorrows, the joys and pains of seeing God’s Kingdom emerge before their eyes. God’s grace paved the way, but they still had the freedom to willingly follow – or not.


            So why did they willingly follow Jesus? What did they think their future held?


            If later chapters in Mark are any indication, they probably thought that their future held promises of glory and power, despite a lack of any promise from Jesus on that score. In Mark 9:33-37, the disciples argue over which one of them is the greatest. Jesus settles the argument (for the time being) by putting a child in their midst and declaring the the greatest one must be like that vulnerable child. In the next chapter, James and John make an audacious, arrogant request to “sit at (Jesus’) right and left hand when (he comes) in (his) glory”. This request causes great sound and fury among the other disciples when they hear about it. Except, Jesus reminds them, they don’t know what they’re asking for. Greatness, Jesus says, only comes through being “servant of all”. The path they are on is totally counterintuitive. Just as the path to lordship for Jesus goes through the cross, the path to greatness for the disciples goes through servitude.


            But there must have been something else pulling at them other than the thought of glory. Jesus, remember, never promises such a thing. He does promise Peter and Andrew that they will be fishers of people. Something in this little phrase speaks deeply to their souls. They probably had heard of Jesus before he called to them at the lake that day. They had heard something of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. And something drew them to him – the power, call, and grace of the Holy Spirit – leads them to leave everything they know behind and follow this strange, captivating man.


            And follow they did. And it went down paths they did not expect, as I’ve already said. Instead of power and glory, their journey with Jesus led to a garden, a cross, and humiliation. It would have been the most natural thing for these disciples to have returned to their homes and their livelihoods; to pick up where they left off.


            But God’s Kingdom could not be destroyed with the death of God’s Anointed. Death could not hold him. Soon after Jesus’ shameful death, his disciples were making an even more outlandish claim, something outside the bounds of even 1st-century superstition. They claimed to have seen him alive. Not just a ghost or a shadow, but really, physically alive. And because of that, the call to follow him had not ceased. Jesus was still calling new followers to live into the coming reality of God’s Kingdom in the current form of this world. Hence Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians, which sound so confusing to us. “Let those who have wives live as if they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.” Why would Paul counsel such non-attachment to the world, even to beloved spouses? Because the old form of the world was passing away. For Paul, the Kingdom in its fullness was coming soon. The less we feel like we need to hold onto the world as it is, the better we can welcome the coming Kingdom, which will be more glorious, more awesome, more REAL than we can imagine. If we can just loosen our iron grip on how things ought to be, we can live into how things will be.


            Of course, the Kingdom did not come in the time frame that Paul and the early church expected. However, the Kingdom is still present, lurking over, under, and beside these fleeting shadows we call the “real world”. It is still present for us to sense with the God-given faith each of us has. Jesus is not a dead Christ, but a living Christ, calling us to follow him into the new reality of the Kingdom. That is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Repent and believe in the good news.” Come follow Jesus, not into what we think church and faith and the world ought to be, but how it will be. Every day, Jesus calls us again to follow, to get out of our self-constructed boats (or are they fortresses?), to see where the path leads. God help us to say “Yes!”


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, each day you call us to follow you. Give us the courage to say yes to your summons. Help us to remember that through baptism, you have joined us with you in a bond that is stronger than death. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.