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“Who Would Follow Jesus? Anyone Who Longs for the World to Change” (January 21, 2018)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth as recorded in Mark are in this text, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” His first words are also his first “sermon” and is pretty short. If I was Jesus, maybe I could be that short, too. But since I’m not . . .

I’m kind of caught by two things in this text that I’ve not really paid attention to before. One is a phrase from Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near.” Come near. When the Kingdom of God comes, it means that God’s life and peace and justice are established in the world. It means an end of poverty and injustice. It means no fear of enemies and enough food for everyone. And Jesus says it’s nearby. Not actually here, just kind of in the neighborhood. What does that mean? If you go two blocks west you’ll find God’s peace? Or it’s just a little bit late, but if you wait fifteen or twenty minutes, our enemies will put down their weapons? What does it mean that the Kingdom of God has come near?

He says it’s close, but there’s no evidence of it. Too many people are still poor, Israel is still occupied by a foreign oppressive government, Herod, although a Jewish king in Judea, was doing whatever Rome told him. Life is still extremely hard and unjust. Nothing is different. Apparently, the Kingdom of God coming “near” doesn’t really change anything.

That’s one thing. The nearness of the kingdom of God.

The other thing that is grabbing my attention is that all four of these fishermen that Jesus calls to follow him left real and significant lives behind in order to do so. They had jobs, families, friends, and homes. They were settled in a lifestyle and a routine that had been part of their lives their whole lives. They knew who they were and what they were about. Yet they left everything they knew behind to follow Jesus. Why?

It’s even more fascinating when you put both of these things together. These fishermen dropped their familiar, comfortable lives to follow Jesus when there’s no evidence at all of this Kingdom of God he talks about.

It seems like a huge risk. For them to give up everything for this so-called Kingdom of God when there’s no evidence of it. Why take that kind of a chance?

Not to mention that Jesus give no instructions to these fishermen at all. They are called away from the familiarity of their lives into an uncertain future with no guarantees whatsoever. Who would do that?

Yes, who would do that?

I’ll tell you who. These four fishermen would. And when you really think about it, so would anyone who hopes for a better world. Anyone who believes that greed and selfishness are not the way to real life. Anyone who has seen that humanity hasn’t been able to bring about peace and justice on our own. Anyone who is willing to work with God to make this world a place where all are valued, all are respected, all have a place. Anyone willing to give love a chance. Anyone who has longed for the world to change. Anyone who feels this just may be bigger than humanity can do on our own. Anyone who has the imagination to consider that perhaps in this Christ, this Kingdom of God’s peace and compassion really has come near.

Just think what it would be like if fear and death and violence were finally put to an end. Think about a world where anyone can go anywhere without worrying about safety. Think what life would be like if anything that opposed God’s peace and life and sharing were put away forever. Think what it would be like if there was a God who was committed to doing this among us.

Wouldn’t you follow one in whom this was possible? Wouldn’t you leave behind those things that work against God’s work? Wouldn’t you lay down the parts of your own life that aren’t helping God’s vision? Even if those pieces of your life are familiar or even comfortable? Wouldn’t you be willing to walk away from prejudices, political views, family dysfunctions, or fears? Wouldn’t you put all that away to follow one who brings that hope so close we can taste it?

That, I believe, is what Simon and Andrew, James and John did. It’s not that there was no evidence of this Kingdom of God; it’s that in this Christ there was a real and present hope for it.

You see, God has not given up. In the midst of the violence and the threats and the racism and the misogyny and clamoring for power in our culture, God still comes. And the good news Jesus brings is a real hope that God is still here, that God’s peace will still come in fullness, that the kingdom of God comes along side of us especially when it doesn’t look that way.

Jesus brings hope. When all evidence points away from peace and away from compassion and away from justice for the vulnerable among us, Jesus brings those very things right in front of us.

We are called to be part of this hope. We are called to leave all else behind. We are called to follow. Because in Christ, the good news of God’s kingdom is here.

“The time is fulfilled, “Jesus tells us. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Come, follow me.”

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Withdraw to Galilee and Discover Who You Are (January 22, 2017)

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What would you say is God’s mission? What is God trying to accomplish? . . .

How should the church be helping with that? What is the role of the church?

At LCM, does anyone know our congregational purpose within the church as part of God’s mission? Strengthening Relationships, Serving the World: –with God, –through the worshiping community, –for the world.

We arrived at an understanding of that purpose with a good amount of time, prayer, discussion, and discernment. We didn’t invent it or create it, we discovered it! Before we could discern what our purpose is, we had to acknowledge that we are called by God into one.

We just had a team of people reassess this purpose and come to the conclusion that this is still what we are called to be about.

Do you have any doubts as to whether we as a congregation of Christ’s church have been called by God for a purpose?

A call by God gives meaning to everything. It has to come before anything being done in God’s name. The text today is one that bears that out.

John the Baptist has just been arrested by king Herod. Jesus, when he heard about it, needed to take a step back and assess what to do. He moved from Nazareth to Galilee, and only then began to speak publicly that the reign of God is nearby.

He saw two fishermen and invited them to follow him. He saw two more, and invited them too. Then he went traveling and teaching in the synagogues about God’s good news, and healing people.

What’s interesting about all this is that Jesus had to take some time to consider what to do after John was arrested. Apparently, you could get arrested for speaking God’s truth to power. John wouldn’t leave prison alive, and Jesus needed to be sure about how he was going to move forward.

In other words, Jesus needed to discern his call by God, his purpose. Just going out and talking about God may get you arrested, and you should probably know whether that’s worth it or not. If you’re going to run the risk of getting arrested, you ought to be pretty sure what you’re being arrested for is that important—that high a calling.

I love that Jesus had to take some time to figure all this out. Even Jesus had to be clear about his call, his purpose. And once he felt OK about it, then he could move forward deliberately. And it turns out that for Jesus, he was so certain that he was willing to die for it.

If Jesus had to take the time to become clear about this, doesn’t it make sense that we should too? Before we can live a life of purpose as people of God, we have to trust first that we actually are called to a purpose. We have to believe that we are created in love, deliberately, with a unique collection of gifts and abilities no one else in all of history has ever had. You are more than individuals who work, have friends, save money, retire, and die. You are ever so much more. You are called. You have been given a purpose. And once you begin to grasp it, you have a meaning for your life and a direction.

Jesus called four fishermen for a purpose. Notice he didn’t tell them that as fishermen they would have to first become preschool teachers or attorneys before God could use them. He called them to be who they are, use their experience, their lives, their talents and skills as they followed Jesus. Fish for people. Their purpose was found in their truest selves and deepest identity.

Then, knowing they were called specifically for a purpose, it made sense that following Jesus was a necessary part of that call. Without a sense of purpose, it would be foolish for them to leave their nets and their father and follow him. First you spend time knowing who you are and that you are called, only then do you put it into action.

I think we too often are so concerned with action that we skip the essential part of understanding what the action is for. But simply “getting stuff done” without first understanding what you’re called to be about means we could simply be wasting our time. Just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean we ought to do it. Maybe someone should, but someone for whom that good idea fits as part of their purpose.

It starts with knowing who you are. First of all, you are loved. You are worthwhile. You are forgiven. You are valuable. You are holy. You are made in the very image of the creator of love. That’s first and foremost who you are. That comes first. Admit that to yourself before anything else. That may take some time. That’s OK.

Then consider what it is that keeps you up at night. What gets your heart pumping and your adrenalin flowing? What do you love doing? What gives you contentment and satisfaction?

Use some imagination to think about how your identity as a holy, cherished, child of God overlaps with what you are passionate about. Again, it might take some time. But if Jesus needed time to do it, I guess it’s OK for us, too. You are called for a purpose. Discover that, and your life-direction takes care of itself.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

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