It's time. A sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: Mark 1:14-20
Last week I filled out my COVID-19 vaccine interest form with the local health department. I hope you have done the same if you are eligible.
And now I am waiting, as you are, to get a text or an email from the health department declaring that it is time for me to book my appointment. Because when I get that message saying, “It’s time,” I’m going to drop what I’m doing and answer it. Like you I’m suffering from pandemic fatigue and I’m worn down from worrying every time I feel a twinge or urge to cough or hear about another friend who is sick or whose parent has died. I watch the numbers continue to rise and hear the news that the new strain of the virus may be more contagious and more deadly. I want to get the message that says OK, now it is time. How welcome that message will be in this time of distress.
When Jesus walked along the shore and saw some fishermen, he called out to them and said, it’s time. And they dropped their nets, left their poor dad in the boat, and followed him.
Folks often ask, why did they do that? What was it about Jesus that made them do such a thing? Did they already know him? Or was he just such a compelling charismatic figure that they couldn’t resist?
Maybe they did, maybe he was.
But I think that it was also that they were well aware what was happening in their world, that so much was wrong and so much needed to be addressed, that there was so much need and distress, the political turmoil of Roman occupation of Jewish lands and the social conflicts between groups and religious issues within groups, and here was someone walking into their life and saying, It’s time, now it’s time to act and I’m calling you to join me. It’s time for a new kind of work.
So they answered the call. They went.
Many of us, and I include myself here, were brought up to think of practicing our religion as a thing separate from the rest of the world. We went to church on Sundays, and perhaps on Wednesday evenings, and perhaps to a weeklong revival in the summer, and we sang songs and read the Bible and professed our faith in Jesus and our hope for salvation, which meant that when we died we’d go to heaven.
At some point in my late teens/early adulthood, that way of thinking about Christianity began to grow thin. I needed my faith to be connected to the world around me. I needed it to have something to say to me in response to the what was going on in the world. I needed it to help me live my life in times of trouble instead of as a means of escaping the world.
And just as urgently, I needed my faith to have something to say to the world.
Eventually I came to understand that if my faith is going to have something to say to the world, it would need to be revealed through my actions. I would have to answer a call to act in the world, and I would have to develop the skill of listening - listening to the world and listening to God - to guide me toward those actions. If I am going to be a Christian then I am going to have to live in the world as a Christian. And periodically God is going to say to me, it’s time to act.
As is true for me as an individual Christian, this is also true for the church, for our church, for our particular community of Christians who are this beloved community. It is our duty to listen for God’s call to act in the world. We are not removed from the world. We are to be the force of reconciliation in the world. We are to work with God to be the source of healing and peace, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and all those things Jesus said and actually meant.
We do not come together either in person or over Zoom or Facebook or YouTube just for ourselves, but for the sake of the world around us, a world that is hurting and distressed and waiting for good news. As William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940’s, a time of great distress and upheaval, put it, the church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. He heard in the Gospel of Jesus the call to be in the world for others, to follow Jesus even into national and international conflict, and certainly into the distress of those at home. And German theologian Karl Barth of that same generation said that we should keep the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, using the Bible to interpret the news. And not so much for the purpose of judging, but as a means for listening for how God is calling us into engagement and action in the world.
So, when Jesus comes along and calls Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, he is not calling them into seclusion or membership in a club but calling them out into a world full of trouble and calling them to address the trouble with him.
We are in a world of trouble, too. And this story from our sacred Scripture is reminding us today that it is our work to be out in the places of trouble to bring healing and reconciliation right now. It is our work to be the church in the world right now.
And we are doing that work particularly through our food pantry - both in donations of food and provision of volunteers for Monday night distributions - and also in our assistance of families in local schools who are being especially hit with illness and economic uncertainties. Our outreach folks are looking to expand and build on these connections in our neighborhood right now to broaden our mission and ministry.
But of course we are hampered by the trouble as well. Not all of us can go out into the world because we are too vulnerable. Which is why we look to find what we can do, rather than throwing up our hands and being angry about what we can’t do. We can donate food and we can donate money without exposing ourselves to the virus. We can invest in our efforts to strengthen those who are providing services. We can support the mission and ministry of this church through our prayers and through our pledges of financial support not just to keep the lights on in the building but to spread the light of the Gospel into the world around us. Jesus is calling us into the world’s troubles and each of us has a part to play in meeting the world’s needs.
So perhaps it is not a coincidence that in this week that has seen the highest numbers of COVID cases ever and record high unemployment claims and some serious hiccups in the distribution of the COVID vaccine, here comes Jesus into our lives to say, It’s time. There’s work to be done. Come with me into the world with intention to look around and see the need and do what we can to meet it.
Because there are people out there waiting for good news.