Here’s my sermon from 2 Sundays ago…. Getting caught up!
“Now when John was arrested,” comma, “Jesus came….” So Mark begins the telling of Jesus’ ministry in the world, and then he dives right into it. These beginning words are often overlooked for the seemingly better ones to follow, the ones about Jesus telling about God’s kingdom coming, about Simon Peter and Andrew being told how their fishing will change. But Mark is always intentional in his writing. He doesn’t include any word, any detail, that doesn’t play an important part in his narrative. His is the shortest of the gospels, the one whose story feels like a sprint. And so this phrase, this mention of John the Baptizer commands our attention for a moment.
Here is John, Jesus’ cousin, the forerunner to the Messiah, the one who proclaimed that the ways needed to be made straight, and he has been tossed in the slammer. We know why from other gospels—he told Herod he was wrong for having an affair with and then marrying his brother’s wife—but Mark just tells us that John was arrested. There is a sense of foreboding of course for the hearers of this gospel, because they know the details of some of what is to come—as do we—we all know it won’t be long before John is beheaded because of his prophetic voice. And even for those participating in the unfolding of this story, there must be a permeating sense of fear. John says God’s kingdom is coming, and then he is thrown in prison. Surely some of his followers were wondering about their own skin, if they too were in danger.
And it is at this moment, in this time of fear, that hope emerges. Jesus comes to Galilee and declares that the time has come and God’s kingdom is now here. He proclaims to those who have gathered to hear him that they should repent and change their lives and believe the good news, the “euangellion” as it is in the Greek, from which our word evangelism comes. Jesus holds out this beacon of hope.
Fear pervades many of our lives right now. The economy continues to be rough. People are losing jobs and making difficult choices. Some are dealing with difficult health issues either in their own lives or those of loved ones. Various members wait for the resolution of situations and conflicts over which they have little control. And in the face of such things, fear reigns down.
“Now when John was arrested,” Mark writes, but he could just have easily written, “Now when the economy went belly-up,” or “Now when conflict and strife had their claws deep within,” or “Now when the doctor diagnosed it cancer” comma, “Jesus came…” Hope came. And the spark of light that he brought with him began melting fear’s icy grasp on our lives.
“God’s kingdom is here,” Jesus announces. “Repent and believe the good news.” Or as Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation puts it, “Change your life and believe the Message.” This language of God’s kingdom has been difficult to decipher for many of us, and we end up thinking of it as some far off place in heaven, where our souls will find eternal rest. And yet that is certainly not what Jesus is proclaiming. Bishop N.T. Wright describes it this way. “Faced with his beautiful and powerful creation in rebellion, God longed to set it right, to rescue it from continuing corruption and impending chaos and to bring it back into order and fruitfulness. God longed, in other words, to reestablish his wise sovereignty over the whole creation which would mean a great act of healing and rescue. He did not want to rescue human beings from creation… he wanted… to rescue humans in order that humans may be his rescuing stewards over creation.”
If we are to be a part of God’s kingdom, then we need to be about the business of rescuing creation, we need to participate in God’s redeeming love and forgiveness. We need to live as disciples.
And Mark tells us exactly how to do this. Jesus makes his annunciation of God’s kingdom, then he finds Simon and Andrew and says, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” (Message Bible Mark 1:17). In other words, the good news is about people, it’s about changing lives, it’s about evangelism and rescuing this world. It’s about discipleship.
Jeffrey Jones describes the three necessary elements in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ: deepening, equipping, and ministering—or simply put Connect, Grow and Serve.  Connecting in our relationships with, first and foremost, Jesus Christ, and also with one another and with ourselves. Growing in our understanding of faith and in the recognition of the gifts given to us by God. Serving by “becoming more like Jesus by becoming more fully engaged in God’s work in creation.” We are to be active participants with God in the rescuing of the world.
Let me put it clearly: God needs you to share your gifts for the redemption of creation. God’s kingdom is here, and you are to be an instrument bringing God’s reconciling peace and hope to this world. You may not think that you are equipped, but that is the evil one whispering words of doubt and fear into your ear. God calls each of us just as we are, and Jesus tells us we will fish for people. We will do his kingdom work.
As we move into our 150th year, your vestry has made a bold step, spurring us toward more engaged kingdom work. Beginning today and continuing throughout each month, we will be giving away our loose plate offerings—that is, the non-designated cash or checks that come in the plate each Sunday. Those who pledge will continue to see their pledge contributions come to St. Mark’s, and we would also strongly encourage those who pledge to make additional gifts to outreach programs that speak to their hearts as well, and you can easily label that in the memo line if you’d like.
Each month or so, the outreach team will designate a charitable organization that is doing kingdom work to give this money too. In addition, either someone from our parish involved in that ministry or some one from the organization will come and speak to us about the work being done. Finally, there will be an invitation for you to join in that activity yourself, so that our connection to outreach is more than just financial, but hands-on as well. For the rest of January and February that charity is Our Father’s Table, and we’ll hear about them at the announcement time.
Some people here may not want to give of themselves for God’s work, either because they feel they do not have the time or because they feel under-equipped. Even my saying that aloud will cause anxiety and fear to grow in some, and others of you may well be feeling a tad self-righteous because you feel that you give enough to God. My response to both is simply this: Jesus says the same thing to all of us, “Follow me.” And he says that he will give us what we need in order to fish for women and men and to be about his work of redemption in the world.
As we prepare for our annual meeting next week, I’d like you to think about those three words of discipleship: Connect, grow and serve. How might St. Mark’s do that work this year and into the future? How might we live more expectantly into Jesus’ call on each of us to fish for people, to spread the joy of his kingdom? In what ways are you being called to connect, grow and serve? I hope you will ponder those things, and seek to be engaged in conversation next week.
I am hopeful for the work Jesus will do in and through St. Mark’s in the coming months. I am expectant, knowing that the road toward God’s kingdom is filled with promise and opportunity. And, while fear lurks even on this path, in the end God’s kingdom will fully come. Ultimately, the redeeming work of Jesus Christ will be fully realized and we, his followers, will be honored to have been a small part in creation’s healing and rescue, and in the restoration of God’s peace and love. Amen.