Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Year B

Mark 1:14-20

The Rev. Denise Vaughn

The Path to the Kingdom of God

Today in Mark’s gospel, we hear his version of the call of the first people who were to hold the same job we hold today. Mark’s version is similar to John’s version of the call that we heard last Sunday where Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow and now to fish. How do you communicate with a fish? You drop it a line, and that’s pretty much all we get about the call in Mark's story which is not very elaborate. It’s pretty short and to the point. After being baptized by John in the Jordan River, Jesus returns to Galilee following his being tempted for forty days in the wilderness, ready to begin his mission to proclaim the “good news.” His message announced that the moment had finally come for God to break into the present world that God had created. We hear Jesus say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The time, or Kairos, which means God’s time, was right, therefore Jesus’ ministry could begin. You see for Mark, it’s all about a new kingdom that Jesus came to announce.

To announce the beginning of this kingdom, Jesus uses a term that appears sixty-six times in the New Testament, “the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ ministry begins a new time and a new kingdom and all of the gospels agree that the heart of Jesus’ mission was the reign of God or the kingdom of God. God’s new kingdom requires a deep and significant change; a repentance from those who would experience it. To describe what this means, Mark moves right into the impact of Jesus’ mission on the ones he called. Those first disciples are fishermen and his call to them embraces who they are and what they do. They are to take their abilities and gifts as fishermen and use their fishing skills in another way to fish for people. I think it is encouraging to know that God’s call embraces our abilities and invites us to offer them for the sake of God’s mission. In the past, we have talked a lot about the Spiritual gifts that each of us have been given by God’s Spirit to commit to the Jesus movement.

Jesus’ simple but demanding invitation to follow him to fish for people causes Simon and Andrew to leave their nets immediately and follow him. Then, another pair of fishermen were also recruited for this new kingdom, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They left behind their boats, nets, responsibilities and family in a culture where no one left home in quite that manner. Jesus called them out of their everyday life into a new way of being to help him and they answered yes by following. Some of us have no doubt dreamed from time to time of dropping everything and heading off on some personal journey of discovery-until reality sets in and we begin to calculate the cost. There are probably few words in all of the scriptures more demanding than these two: Follow me. Jesus gives no explanation for his challenge. Nor does he give his followers a clear business plan of sorts for his ministry. He makes no promise of success and riches either. His vision statement is only that his disciples will come to “fish for people.”

Can there be a future in that? The disciples must have thought so. Perhaps in leaving home and family, they saw a larger family of humankind to which Jesus was calling them. To “fish for people” is most definitely about community and family. We read about this new community of Jesus followers in the Book of Acts. And though it is not always fun, as the disciples will discover, it is about joy-the joy of bringing God’s love to others in need of the Good News of the gospel. The joy of the kingdom casts its net and draws in people and as they follow Jesus to do this they begin to learn what it means to live in a kingdom whose rule is love and service, not might and power. A kingdom whose actions are repenting, believing, following, fishing; these are the actions that lead to salvation.

Our Lord’s challenge to the disciples of so long ago still remains a test for us today because there are those who would not leave their nets to follow in the footsteps of James and John, Peter and Andrew or possibly Jesus himself? Yet, God still comes around us inviting us to live into that gospel of love using our personal skills, abilities and wealth. God keeps inviting us daily to repent and to believe the good news of the kingdom. The journey of faith begins when we say yes to God’s invitation to follow Jesus. For following Jesus is the path to the kingdom of God.

What this story today doesn't tell us is what the future held for those men who gave up everything to become followers of Jesus. As we continue to read the story what we discover is that being a disciple was downright dangerous. Later in Mark we hear Jesus say, "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it." These are hard words because Jesus is saying in effect that the gospel can be a disturbing force in the world which can upset people and nations alike. The powers that ruled the ancient world were upset by the gospel, and they tried to silence its voices. The rest of the Gospel of Mark records the resistance that Jesus experienced to his mission and we know what happened. His message of love of God and love of neighbor so disturbed those in power, that they killed him. Of the four men in this gospel text, three were also executed for their witness.

 We could hope that's all ancient history, but we know it’s not, there are still forces today which oppose the gospel. Mainly, because the gospel brings a counter cultural change to all who hear it. Instead of power and wealth as the goal, we are called to repentance and faith. That requires a reorientation of our life so that we are in a place to accept God’s rule in our lives. This rule makes being his disciple not easy because the task of the disciple is to be the bearer of this revolutionary gospel message of love and service. And Jesus still calls the faithful today to follow the path to the kingdom of God; a path of repenting, believing, following, and fishing.

Yes, there are probably few words in all of the scriptures more demanding than these two: Follow me. The time is still now. God’s reign is still near, and we are called to repent and believe it, which means to offer our gifts for God’s purpose and to learn to participate in this new kingdom of love and service. This call for some of us is an immediate life-changing experience. For most of us, it is a lifelong journey. Yet, in whatever way it happens for us, God’s kingdom come is the greatest treasure we will ever know and being able to hear and act on God’s call in the moment is a precious gift of faith. One we hope to seek and desire because Jesus has called us to join him in proclaiming the coming of God’s reign on earth. This call of Jesus to each one of us should lead us to ponder in our hearts and minds whether we are willing to live God’s hope and dream for this world which is to follow Jesus and “to fish for people.”