How do you turn an explosion into a movement?
We heard the explosion last week: “The heavens were torn apart and a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my Son.”
We heard it again this morning. This time it’s Jesus who speaks: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.”
It’s time. The fullness of time has come. The key moment, the key moment in the story of the universe, the turning point in human history. The day that people had been dreaming of, longing for, prophesying, praying for, at long last it’s here. God has arrived. This is the incursion, the breaking in, the explosion.
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.
Where is this kingdom of God?
It’s wherever the presence of God is making a difference. It’s when and where the ways of God are taking hold. It’s drawing near. It’s standing right in front of you in the person of Jesus. What does the kingdom of God look like? Watch him. Listen to him. Come and see. It’s a new reality exploding into our midst, right in front of our eyes.
And how do you turn this explosion into a movement?
Repent. Believe. Follow me.
We’re being faced here with a new reality. To repent is to wrap your mind around it. It’s a new way of seeing, an epiphany, a revelation with profound implications for how you think – and for how you live. Repent.
But can you trust this new reality? This earth-shaking, mind-bending incursion - is it really good news? Yes it is. Trust it, have faith, believe that it’s good news. Put your trust in God. This may be disturbing, but it is good.
It’s time. The very presence of God is right in front of you, making a difference. God’s ways are taking hold, right here in the person of Jesus. A new reality is breaking into our world. Wrap your mind around it. Change how you see the world. And trust God. Trust that this is good news. Go with it. Right now. Because it’s urgent.
Everything about the way Mark tells this story is urgent. The heavens are torn apart. The voice speaks. Jesus is driven into the wilderness. Jesus’ proclamation wastes no words. It all happens with urgency and immediacy. In fact that’s Mark’s favourite word: immediately, immediately, immediately. . .
But then there is the briefest of pauses. Time slows for just a moment. Jesus takes a walk by the sea, and he sees two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, casting their net into the lake. And Jesus says to them, “Follow me.”
Tell me, how did we let our belief systems become the most important thing about the gospel? When did it become all about our structures and institutions? The core of the gospel was, is and always will be this: “Follow me.”
The call to follow Jesus. The vocation of a Christian is not to recite a creed, or to belong to a church. The vocation of a Christian is to follow Jesus. Because that’s how the explosion becomes a movement. We are called to be part of a movement. Follow Jesus. The rest, doctrines, structures, whatever it is, is secondary. We see the kingdom of God, we enter into the kingdom of God, we become the place where God’s presence is making a difference, the place where God’s ways are taking hold, when we follow Jesus. This is a movement, and for reasons that perhaps only God knows, God wants us to be a part of Jesus’ movement. You can’t be a disinterested observer, it doesn’t work that way. This is a movement that we are called to be a part of, to participate in. God’s new reality is something that reveals itself to us as we live into it. Trust it, be part of it, and you will see it.
Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me”, and immediately they left their nets and followed him. And then Jesus went a little further, and he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boats mending their nets. And he said to them, “Follow me”, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat, and followed Jesus.
Now this is totally disruptive. Picture if you would, poor old Zebedee, sitting in his fishing boat. He has worked himself to the bone all his life to feed his family, to get to the point where he could have his own boat, so that one day he could pass that boat on to his boys, whom he’d raised to be fishermen. But James and John have gone, they’ve left to follow Jesus, and Zebedee is still in the boat. The fishing nets are wet; but Zebedee has been hung out to dry.
The call to follow Jesus is disruptive. God’s new reality explodes into the world in the person of Jesus and it will change things. If you answer the call to follow Jesus, your life will get re-ordered.
So when God taps you on the shoulder and says “It’s time, follow me”, what will you do? Will you immediately follow like Simon, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen?
Or will you be more like Jonah, and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction?
Do you know the story of Jonah? We only heard a bit of it this morning. God said to Jonah, “Go the great city of Ninevah and cry against it, because I have seen their wickedness.” Now I can understand why Jonah wouldn’t want to go to Ninevah. Ninevah was the enemy, the capital of Assyria, the empire that had cruelly crushed the northern kingdom of Israel. Ninevah would strike fear into Jonah’s heart. He hated Ninevah. And Jonah had this nagging suspicion that Ninevah just might change its ways, and that God would forgive those scumbags. And that would be awful. So Jonah runs as fast as he can the other way. He gets on a ship, and there is a storm and he’s thrown overboard and he’s swallowed by a whale. God saves Jonah by speaking to the whale and the whale obliges by vomiting Jonah out onto dry land. At which point the word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time, saying, “Jonah, get up and go to Ninevah.”
And this time, still dripping with whale vomit, Jonah goes to Ninevah.
He enters the great city and gives the worst sermon ever: “Forty days more and Ninevah will be overthrown.” And to Jonah’s astonishment, the people of Ninevah believe him, and they repent, and proclaim a fast, and put on sackcloth, every one of them, great and small, and even the animals too. And when God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
And Jonah, who some might say had done pretty well as a prophet, Jonah is thoroughly pissed.
“I knew it, I knew it,” says Jonah angrily to God. “That’s why I fled in the first place. I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
You see, Jonah wanted to see those people from Ninevah punished, after all they were the enemy, and they deserved it. There are certain boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.
But our God, the God revealed in Jesus, is a boundary-crossing God, a God whose grace will exceed our wildest and widest expectations and will even be extended to our enemies.
It will be disruptive to follow this God. It will re-order our lives. It will leave poor Zebedee in the boat, wondering what just happened.
When Jesus called to the fishers, “Follow me”, immediately they left their nets and followed him. Their doubts and questions, their mistakes and misconceptions, all these would come later. There would be resistance. Their lives would be disrupted. There would be betrayal and abandonment, there would be death, there would be forgiveness and second chances, there will be resurrection. And eventually there will be creeds and doctrines, there will be structures and organizations.
But we start by following Jesus. The core of the Christian life is Jesus’ call to “Follow me.” We are called to become part of a movement, the movement to bring about a new reality, to bring about God’s kingdom, to follow a boundary crossing, gracious God, abounding in steadfast love, wherever that will take us.
Follow him. It’s time.
Homily: Yr B Proper 3, January 21 2018, St. Albans Church
Readings: Jonah 3.1-5,10; Ps 62.6-14; 1 Cor 7.29-31; Mark 1.1-14
Image by Hamed Saber, Creative Commons