Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – After the fish incident, God told Jonah again to go call Ninevah to repentance. He did. They believe him. The king called a fast and told the people to turn from evil and violent ways. God changed his mind about destroying Ninevah.
Psalm 62:5-12 – For God alone my soul waits in silence… Steadfast love belongs to the Lord, who repays all according to their work.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – The appointed time has grown short. Don’t get married, grieve, rejoice, shop or deal with the world. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Mark 1:14-20 – Jesus preaches in Galilee and calls disciples: The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good news. Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to fish for people. Jesus calls James and John.
Some traditions recognize the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25.
January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Since January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we will be having an ecumenical prayer service at Lakewood Church on Friday night, January 23 at 7:30 PM. I am preaching. I hope you’ll join us!
The text for this coming Sunday is 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 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.
Last week we had the story of Philip and Nathaniel from John 1. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel asks. Philip response, “Come and see.”
This week we have a call of Simon and Andrew and James and John, sons of Zebedee, as recorded in Mark 1.
The first thing is to observe the content of Jesus’ preaching according to Mark.
- The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.
- Believe the good news.
It strikes me that the first is indicative and the second is imperative. My New Testament professor pointed out that Paul does the same in his letters. Indicative, followed by the imperative. First what God has done or is doing, then what we need to do. After 11 chapters about what Christ has done and is doing, in his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, be transformed by the renewal of your mind, don’t think too highly of yourselves, be devoted to one another, bless those who curse you,” and so on. Imperative.
It seems to me our preaching is vapid if we don’t have both the indicative and the imperative. If we have the imperative without the indicative (do this, don’t do that), then the sermon is all law and no gospel. If we have just the indicative and no imperative, no instructions on how to live, then we have cheap grace, grace without the cross, grace without a call.
In Mark, Jesus begins with good news. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Marcus Borg points out that Jesus’ use of kingdom language is political. The Roman Empire did not call itself an “empire.” That’s our word. Their word was “kingdom,” η βασιλεια (basileia). It was the Kingdom of Rome. Jesus juxtaposes the Kingdom of Rome with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Rome was a system of domination. Wealth and power flowed to the few. You did what you were told or you were crucified. Jesus proposes an alternative, in the prophetic tradition. It’s probably what got him crucified. He’s very political. If he had wanted to avoid politics, he could have found another way of saying this.
This Kingdom of God coexists with the Kingdom of Rome, but transcends it. The Kingdom of God is breaking in, because the time is right. The many healings that follow in Mark’s gospel are a sign that this is so.
The second part of Jesus’ preaching is, “Repent and believe the good news.” Borg points out that we often think of “repenting” as “feeling bad for our sins.” But repentance actually means turning around, or changing our minds. Repent (μετανοειτε), means to change, or transform your mind.
Back to Romans 12. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The gospel is about something that happens in our minds. It’s thinking about the world differently. It’s a different world view, mindset. It requires a transformation, a change of mind, almost like being born all over again. In Philippians, Paul says, “Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus…” He goes on to talk about Jesus’ emptying of himself for God. Being “in Christ” is about having a mindset.
We are called to change our minds, to see the world differently, and believe the good news. What good news in Jesus telling us to believe? The good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus? Probably not, since it hadn’t happened yet. Jesus was not asking people to believe any doctrines. He was asking them to believe the good news just stated: It’s time; the Kingdom of God is breaking in.
Gordon Lathrop’s’book, “The Four Gospels on Sunday,” is a terrific read. Lathrop points out that the genre of gospel was invented by the evangelists. He presumes Mark invented the gospel, since Mark is generally accepted as the oldest gospel. (Some might argue for Thomas.) The gospels conveyed the good news of Christ. The literary genre was new, but the idea of good news was not.
“Good news” (τω ευαγγελιω in today’s text) was what the Emperor brought back from a military battle. The good news was the good news of victory. More subjects. More power. More slaves. More revenues. Less taxes (none for those in Rome). Once again the gospel writers juxtapose Caesar’s good news with Jesus’ good news, the latter which they present as better news. For Caesar, the good news was that Rome wins. For the gospel writers, the good news is God wins, the poor win, the marginalized of the world win.
The preacher has the joyful challenge of bringing home this good news. We create a bubble where our cultural worldviews, the capitalistic worldview, the military worldview and all our other worldviews give way to the gospel’s worldview. We begin to see what is important to God, through Jesus – through his life and ministry. If we do our job well, with story and vision, our listeners say, “Ahhhhh. Yes. It’s true! I get it! I see it! That’s what really matters.”
And then, like a one-two punch, while they’re still fully in the Kingdom of God bubble, we hit them with the imperative. Therefore, here’s what we have to do! Before they walk out those doors and the other worldviews begin to push out the Kingdom of God, we invite them to commit to acting on that Kingdom. We invite them to eat bread and drink wine, and to become what they eat: the body of Christ.
It might be like this: Yes, hurting people matter to God! And if so, they matter to me too. God promises to be present when we serve the least of these. Therefore, I need to arrange my life so that I bump into these folks, for their sake and for mine. What opportunities are available to me? Where do I sign?
Ultimately, the gospel is about the transformation of our minds, so that we are part of God’s transformation of the world that God loves so much. It’s not about growing churches. It’s about making disciples that serve the world in Jesus’ name. As Reggie McNeal pointed out, Jesus did not say, “I have come that you might have church, and have it more abundantly.” Our product is not church. It is transformed lives that transform the world in Jesus’ name. “Church” is simply the community of those who have been baptized into this vision, God’s vision for the world.
This preaching leads, irrevocably, to the calling of disciples, those who will live out this gospel as the body of Christ. Jesus goes hunting or, rather, fishing for those who will be caught up in this vision of the kingdom of God. Simon, Andrew, James and John, drop their nets, leaving their family businesses behind, in order to devote themselves full-time to the kingdom of God. Not everyone is called to do this. We are all called to devote ourselves full time to the gospel, but not everyone has to leave their business to do so. Jesus’ call to Simon, Andrew, James and John to drop their nets and follow Jesus on his itinerant ministry of healing and exorcism is not for everyone. We ministers of the gospel are challenged to this calling, while the vast majority of Christians are called to a baptismal vocation serving out in the world, in their life situations.
Jesus says that he is going to teach them a new vocation, a different kind of fishing: fishing for people. Instead of gathering fish, they will be gathering people into the Kingdom of God. He will spend the next couple of years training them to do so, on the job, through ministries of compassion and healing, through preaching, teaching and baptizing. This is what we are called to do as well. We are fishers of people.
I love it that James and John are mending the nets. There’s a certain amount of net mending that has to take place if the fishing is going to get done. The nets are the tools of the trade. If you told a fisherman, “Don’t worry, God provides the fish”, s/he would say, “Of course, but we’ll still need nets, right?” And as the net technology advances, we will want to keep up. When new kinds of nets become available that don’t break as easily or rot as quickly, we will want to keep up on our game.
It might be worth our time as a church to think about how much time we spend fishing, and how much time we spend mending nets. If James and John sat in the boat all day mending nets, there would be no fish. If, however, they spend the whole time fishing, and don’t take care of their nets, they’ll eventually have problems. Both are important.
I once read an article that said stable/declining churches spent 80% of their time and committee meetings and 20% of their time doing ministry. Their research showed that growing churches spend 80% of their time in ministry, and 20% of their time in meetings. In other words, 80% fishing and 20% net-mending. Sounds right. My years as a pastor lead me to believe that most people would prefer to fish. Most people would rather be actively engaged in ministry than sitting on a team that organizes.
In an article I wrote a few years ago, “Insiders/Outsiders,” I suggested that we need to become obsessed with fishing – reaching the outsider. This is not to the exclusion of the insider. When a church grows, it usually does so because it has taught insiders how to fish. Outsiders become insiders, who then become fishers of more outsiders. We work with the insiders by turning them into evangelists. The whole organization becomes bent on welcoming those not yet present.
This text lends itself to further preaching and conversation on evangelism and outreach. Another direction, however, might be to talk about calling. What’s your calling in life? How do you know? What are some of the signposts along the way? How can we become better at listening for God’s call? How can we find others who have the same calling, with whom we can team up?
This is personal stuff. The preacher cannot stay at a safe distance. It’s important to tell your own call story. Why have you, as a pastor, devoted your own life to this work? How did you personally hear this call, internally in your spirit, and externally from others? What were some of the hiccups along the way? Did you have any Jonah moments?
Those of us who have devoted ourselves full-time as ministers of the gospel have a unique call, but in baptism all are called to a vocation of following Christ and fishing for people, each in our own way. It is a great privilege we share to have the opportunity to help others find their own God-given calling in the context of the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking into our world. When people find their calling, their higher purpose, their ministry, there is great joy. When you help someone find that, they will be eternally grateful. Go. Fish for people. Make disciples.