Out of that boat! - A Sermon based on Mark 1: 14-20
It is that Kairos moment in Mark’s gospel - the appointed time when God acts. The preludes are over and now Jesus marches back into Galilee with an urgent message to proclaim.
And what is that message? Well it is about the kingdom or as some would prefer to put it the Kingship of God. A message that will bring with it great division.
Even the concept of a Kingdom of God is enough to make some mutter. Back a thousand year before God alone was seen as king. But a movement for a monarchy had taken roots and although the prophet Samuel had warned of the downside of such a root, eventually the people got their King. Saul had started well but gone badly wrong. David though flawed was seen as the greatest of Israel’s Kings even if the extent of his kingdom is hotly debated. After that Solomon had brought division and the two kingdoms had been ruled by what in the main was a pretty rum collection of Kings before their ultimate downfalls. After that Israel had beeen ruled by outsiders with even the Herodian dynasty itself being despised and ultimately dependent on Rome.
Now Jesus begins to point to a Kingdom of God whose values will be so very different to those that had held sway for a thousand years. Now he says God is going to break through. And the beginning of this transformation will take place in Galilee - a relatively multi cultural area linked to trade routes in a way Jerusalem was not, Galilee whose land and resources had long been treated as spoils of war to be given to soldiers and politicians who rarely bothered to live there and who certainly bore no allegiance there, Galilee where the indigenous population who mainly worked in agriculture and fishing lived at little more than bare subsistence level.
And this Kingdom says Jesus is good news. But good news with a difference. For the Greek word (Evaggelion) had traditionally linked with the victories and successes of Caesar. But now it is transformed. For this good news has nothing to do with Caesar or any of our rulers. On the contrary instead it has everything to do with Jesus. A different type of good news is now unleashed!
But wait a moment! Our gospel reading began on a note of darkness. It told of the arrest of John the Baptist who will later be executed at a drunken party/ Why? For speaking truth to authority. You see the background of his arrest was his speaking out about King Herod Antipas replacing his wife with that of his brother. An act not just of personal immorality but an act with appalling political effects. For thanks to the actions of Antipas, the father of his disposed of wife would in AD36 launch a war on Antipas inflicting considerable damage.
So take note, the Kingdom of God is not presented by Mark as emerging at a holiness convention. Far from it Mark is keen that we should see it breaking through against a background of violence and the misuse of power.
And what is the message of Jesus to those who will listen? It is to repent and believe. Now let’s be clear that in this he is not speaking of a one off action. The Greek tensing implies that what Jesus is saying is that his hearers should keep on repenting and keep on believing. But what does this mean? Well repenting is about moving in a new direction. But keeping on moving in new directions is not something we can just do for ourselves. To suggest such would imply that we don’t need God’s grace but instead can make do with God’s patience as we keep on trying and failing. No, repentance takes us from our failings to God being where we place our trust. And this fits what Jesus says for the Greek word pestered is not so much about intellectual agreement as it is about radical trust. So when Jesus speaks here about repenting and believing what he is urging us to do is to be prepared continually to change our direction through exercising a radical trust in him as our guide.
But right as we expect big action on the part of this new Kingdom we get a surprise. For to our astonishment Jesus begins to call working people to be his followers. The men he chooses are fishermen at a time when fishing was in a state of unrest. An overtaxed occupation that depended on licences from Caesar who owned the Sea of Galilee. Their lives are tough but now at a time when such men could be expected to hold on to their livelihoods like grim death, Jesus calls on them to change direction and to embrace uncertainty by exercising radical trust in becoming his followers. It’s a crazy suggestion we might protest and yet two sets of brothers leave the world they know and allow Jesus to re orientate their lives. Now says Jesus they will become “fishers of men.” What does this mean? Well it doesn’t seem to be so much about evangelism as we know it - not that there is anything wrong with such evangelism as a concept. In the Old Testament scriptures fishing is often used as a metaphor for bringing the practitioners of injustices to justice as well as as a metaphor for teaching people to move from ignorance to wisdom. Whatever, this calling marks a radical departure for Simon and Andrew, for James and John. And it is a departure that shows Jesus working in community to bring in this new Kingdom.
So where does this leave us today. Are we content with business as usual? Or are we prepared to be moved by Jesus into places where we are vulnerable and in need of his help? I invite each of you to review where you are at at this moment. Don’t focus on your inadequacies. After all the followers picked by Jesus had bucket fulls of inadequacies. With Jesus we all have a part to play. Not one person here is without gifting. So I ask again is God calling you to exercise radical trust by responding to a calling of Jesus that takes you where you have never been or expected to be before?
And as I invite you to ponder this, I remind you that many of the Gods we have built up have failed. In the West we face a crisis of confidence at a time when markets have failed disastrously reeking havoc with many peoples’ lives. Our trust has been destroyed just as the trust of people in a very different system in East Europe collapsed two decades ago. For whatever the philosphies and idolatries that have been proclaimed, they have alike placed too much belief in themselves and too little respect for the people they have lorded it over. Jesus bids us to look at his domination free kingdom that offers respect and dignity to all. Now surely is another kairos moment when we are invited to let go of that which holds us in chains and time to get out of them boats so that we might embark on a journey with Jesus