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January 21, 2024

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm 62:5-12

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Mark 1:14-20


Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you

 from the one who calls us disciples. Amen

 

Jesus is calling disciples again this week,

this time we have Mark’s version.

 The practical side of me

 always rebels a bit at how quickly and impractically

 the first disciples respond to Jesus.

 

Jesus sees Simon and Andrew,

 tells them “follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

 and Mark tells us that immediately they left their nets and followed him.

 

 Immediately is one of Mark’s favorite words by the way,

 the action in his gospel is always happening immediately,

as we see when Jesus moves down the shore

and sees James and John,

 “Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

 

and just like that

Jesus has four of his twelve disciples,

who have literally dropped what they are doing

 to follow this stranger who has called them.

It seems like utter foolishness

 

Though I supposed I shouldn’t be too surprised,

I seem to remember another verse about the foolishness of the gospel

 but this seems really extreme

In my experience

 people usually react to the call of God more like Jonah.

 

We have a brief passage from Jonah today as our first reading,

 and in it Jonah is obedient to the call of the Lord.

 But note that it is the second time

 the word of the Lord comes to Jonah.

 

 The first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah

 he ran away hitching a ride on a boat

 that would get him as far away from where God wanted him to go as possible,

 

and you know the rest of the story,

 God sends a great storm,

Jonah realizes it’s his fault for disobeying God

and tells the sailors to throw him overboard

 and their lives will be spared,

 

and when they do

God is merciful and sends a big fish

 to save Jonah by swallowing him

and after three days and nights in the belly of the fish

Jonah repents, praying words from the psalms

 calling upon the Lord for deliverance.

“Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”

 

And then the word of the Lord comes to Jonah again,

and it is this Jonah,

 fish spewed Jonah,

that listens and follows the instructions of the Lord,

 and even then he does so half-heartedly.

And all God wanted Jonah to do was deliver a message.

 

Jesus calls the first disciples to follow him

 and they drop everything and follow him immediately.

Are they really that faithful?

Are they better than the rest of us Jonahs? 

 

No,

as we will see later in the gospel,

 the disciples, perhaps especially these first disciples,

 are imperfect,

they will fail to understand Jesus,

they will try to take matters into their own hands

 and even faced with the miraculous

they will fail to believe,

 

 and when push comes to shove

they will abandon Jesus as he hangs on the cross.

They are not any better than the rest of us.

 

So what is going on here at the beginning?

 I think where I get confused

is that I focus too much on the disciples,

when really this story is about Jesus. 

 

Jesus upon whom the spirit descends

as he is baptized by John,

 the spirit that drives him out into the wilderness to be tempted by satan.

 

 Jesus, who with the arrest of John,

is ready to start his public ministry

 and does so arriving on the scene

 proclaiming the good news of God,

saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

and with this proclamation,

 Jesus the Son of the God who spoke the world into being,

 speaks this good news into reality.

 

Jesus not only talks about the reign of God

but he enacts it,

beginning by calling disciples,

 and so powerful is his call

 that they leave everything.

 

Simon, Andrew, James and John are disciples

 because Jesus has declared them disciples.

 

In Jesus they encounter the transformative power of God in the flesh

and they respond[1] 

 

 Jesus hasn’t done any miracles yet,

 or even started teaching,

there is no time to think about it,

or question whether it is a good idea

(that will come later)

 

 but in this moment they experience in Jesus

 the inbreaking of the kingdom of God,

and when Jesus invites them to be a part of it,

they respond,

 

and not only do they follow Jesus

 but they become fishers of people as well,

once again because Jesus has declared that this is what he will make them,

 it is what he has just done with them,

they are the first fish in Jesus’ net

and Jesus will send them out to do likewise,

 

 to proclaim the good news of the kingdom,

 to help others experience the transformative power of God,

 to invite them into the community that Jesus has created

for living into the kingdom that has come near

but it not yet complete.

 

It reminds me of the passage from 1 John 3:1 “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

 

We are children of God because God has said so.

 

We are disciples of God because Jesus has called us.

 

We have followed and continued to follow

because at some point

we have experienced the transformative power of God

and we want to be part of it.

 

We don’t follow because we’re particularly faithful,

or that we’re better than others.

 There are times when we fail to believe,

when we abandon Jesus on the cross,

 

but none of that changes who we are

 because our identity comes from God,

God who has said that we are God’s children,

God who offers forgiveness when we turn away,

God who calls us to repent- to turn around-

because God wants to share this amazing kingdom with us,

God who continually calls out the good news to us.

God who has made us who we are.

 

We have been called children of God.

We have been called disciples.

 This is who we are. Thanks be to God. Amen

 


[1] Barrett, Lee. “Theological Perspective on Mark 1:14-20.” Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, KY. 2008. 284-288.

 

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