27 Jan Caught Up in the Kingdom
Last week we deviated from reading through the gospel of Mark, when we heard the story of Jesus calling two disciples as recorded in the gospel of John. Today we’re back in Mark’s gospel, which we will read at worship throughout this year of 2021. As of today, we’re still in Chapter 1 (Mark 1:14-20).
Mark isn’t heavy on details, but each story that he records about Jesus gives we Christians of today a lot to consider.
Within the first verses of chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel, you’ll remember we were told that Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist. At that very moment of his baptism, the heavens ripped open and the voice of God spoke, declaring Jesus as God’s Son with whom God is pleased.
Immediately after his baptism, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan, lived with wild animals and was ministered to by angels for 40 days.
Can you hear from the start, that Mark is clearly telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is from God and is God? The heavens tearing open. Ministered to by angels. Jesus has come to be God’s kingdom breaking in – in person. Jesus will BE the kingdom of God coming near to all people and Jesus will proclaim the kingdom of God coming near to all people.
So, after this brief, other-worldly introduction, you’d think Jesus would take a big next step into the world!
Instead, Mark tells us, immediately, Jesus goes to Galilee.
An Ordinary Place
Jesus immediately goes to this place up north, by the sea, where ordinary men – fish. Now these guys don’t fish for relaxation or fun. They fish because it’s the hard way they survive to make a living. They fish because Galilee is this little “no place” location where everyone works hard just to eke out a lower class living to meet the supply chain for fish in the area.
It’s here, in this ordinary place, to ordinary hard-working people, that Jesus proclaims, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.
Jesus’ sermon sounds short, but its themes are remarkable!
Think about this: The time is right now! The kingdom of God is right here, coming to you! Because God is near, repent – in other words, turn your life in a new direction! And believe – trust and give your life over to discipleship with God!
Additionally, Jesus says to four fishermen, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”.
And immediately these four men drop everything and follow Jesus. (Can you already tell that our gospel writer Mark likes the word “immediately”? We’re going to hear that word a lot this coming year.)
Now we could try to analyze and speculate about the lives of these 4 ordinary guys. But Mark tells us next to nothing.
Here’s all that we know about these first disciples:
There are two sets of brothers.
They are fishermen.
Two are casting nets into the sea.
Two are mending their nets.
One pair of brothers literally leaves their father in the boat to take off with Jesus.
We could make up all sorts of background stories about these guys. Maybe that would give us a better understanding of how four grown men drop everything and just leave it all to follow Jesus.
Caught by the Call of God
But what if the focus isn’t to be on these four guys themselves? What if the greater message is—that when Jesus preaches, and when the Son of God comes close—the call of God catches us up.
The good news is that God is coming toward us. With this proclamation, Jesus’ call grabs people in a way that won’t let us go! It moves us into the nearness of God. It moves us to follow God.
Mark’s gospel gives us no further details. Something about Jesus and his message just struck these men! Once they heard that the kingdom of God was near to them and once they received a personal invitation from Jesus to follow him, they did just that!
And it changed everything! Faith and everything else came to them—because they stumbled after Jesus. That’s the rest of the story for these guys in the gospel. They will come to understand some things about God’s kingdom breaking into the world and they won’t understand other things.
They will help Jesus do some amazing things and they will doubt some other amazing things Jesus will say and do. But no matter what, they will all stay followers. They will participate in God’s, coming kingdom—where the hungry are fed, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised all because of Jesus.
“This is news good enough to believe in, good enough to stake one’s life on. And that’s what Jesus enables us to do.” (Sundays and Seasons Preaching, 2018, p 68)
This is your story. This is my story. Jesus’ call and presence are irresistible. And here we are. We’re following. It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it, why this call of Jesus has touched us and taken hold of us? But actually, this call means everything to us, doesn’t it?
One Christian writer put it this way: “Jesus’ call itself is what creates the immediate effect. The disciples do not choose; they are caught. Caught by the one who is dead set on breaking into their lives…..There is something about that voice (of Jesus). It appears as if God’s invitation to participate in a divine mission alongside Jesus is more like an irresistible command and less of a choice we can make. God insists on our partnership with God in God’s mission.” (Shauna Hannan, Sundays and Seasons, Jan 24, 2021, p 71)
I am a follower of Jesus because I am called. So are you. You are here because you are called.
You didn’t decide to follow Jesus like you’ll decide what type of Starbucks beverage you’re going to order today, or you’ll decide what you’ll have for supper or you’ll decide what you’ll watch on Netflix tonight. All those things are up to you to decide alone. They aren’t a response to any intriguing invitation that’s come your way and caught you up.
Answering the Call
We’ve each received a call from God in our own lives. All we can say about the call is that ‘the kingdom of God’ has broken into our lives through Jesus. This is why we can identify with today’s gospel story. Long ago Martin Luther described our own experience beautifully as he explained the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism.
He wrote: ‘I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”
These are words of grace that lay claim to our lives. We’ve been invited by the Son of God himself, to participate in the coming near of God’s kingdom. We’ve been invited by the Son of God to experience this kingdom. So, we follow. We follow Jesus, the Son of God. This thing is a by invitation only. And you and I have been invited.
Our call may not have come from along the ordinary shores of Galilee. Yet it came in an ordinary way. “Every time we baptize, no matter what age a person is who is being baptized, we initiate that person into the Christian life. In effect, we say to that person, ‘the life you live (from now on) is not your own. You are named, claimed and commandeered. God has plans for you. God has a job for you…. Now, (come) live out your calling.” (Revolution! William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, 2006 p18,)
And with that invitation, we’re caught up in God’s work. We’re caught up in the work of God that’s unfolding every day. God has chosen to come to you and me and has gathered us into this endeavor with him. What an honor. What a joy. What a mystery. What a journey.
And we may not be completely sure where this journey will take us, but when we keep remembering that God is near us in Jesus, that knowledge, that call, in and of itself, informs how we follow as disciples.
Where will the kingdom of God take us?
So, hold that thought this week. We’re caught up in the call of the kingdom of God. Where will that take us? We aren’t quite sure. I can tell you one thing though. We’re just in chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel when Jesus, the Son of God, goes to Galilee declaring that the kingdom of God is coming near. We’re only in chapter 1 when he invites some ordinary people saying, “follow me.”
When we get to the final chapter of Mark’s gospel, chapter 16, an angel will appear to a few women, ordinary women who are also Jesus’ disciples. After they discover that Jesus’ dead body is no longer in a tomb, the angel will say this, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen; he is not here. …But go, tell his disciples … that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”(16:6-7)
Isn’t that something! Those who believe in Jesus are called back to ordinary Galilee and there they will receive the promise of eternal life. Sounds like we’re headed to resurrection and new life, if you ask me.
So, stay caught up in your call from Jesus—and keep following—cause it sounds like there is even more good news ahead.
Thanks be to God. Amen.