The Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
Message: Recently I received a book in the mail. It was a gift. One of the organizations I draw resources from sent the book out as a thank you for my participation with them.
I have to admit I found the whole idea a little amusing. I donate; they send me information and resources. Then the book arrived and as I started to read it I became aware that it really was a promotion of the work that they do. I thought, well this is great they have sent me this book to get me engaged in some of their other resources. But as read a little further it became clear that it was really a book written to explain the founder's philosophy behind their work.
The author, Matthew Warner, in his book "Why They Follow" spends some time explaining that he had a life changing "moment" which led him to begin this company and to dedicate his life to its work and development. It is a communications company and is designed to help the church reach people on the fringe or those who are interested in tech and communication.
His "moment" happened on a snowboarding trip. He was at a meal when a friend asked him a question down the length of a long table of friends and acquaintances. Apparently the friend asked the question loudly above the din of the restaurant and in front of all those seated around the table. "what's keeping you in church?"
Matt admits he was flustered by the question and that his answer was very inadequate. He admits he was embarrassed and wasn't ready with a good answer.
That question made him stop and ask himself, over and over, that question and even more questions. Through that process, in the following months, he discovered, what he describes as a rich treasure in the church, that he wanted to share.
But at the same time, he found, that many of his friends were being asked that same question, or asking themselves that question, and were drifting away from the church.
Matt says in his book: "Christianity offers infinite joy and the only way to overcome death. It is a smart religion, with tremendous intellectual and spiritual richness and depth. It offers helpful and genius insights into every aspect of life, both personal and societal. It is literally the greatest treasure fathomable. But the world increasingly rejects it anyway. Why do people to drift away in record numbers? Why don't they know what they are leaving? Because it hasn't been communicated to them. Our message, quite simply hasn't gotten through. It is not enough to simply possess valuable treasure and smart ideas. We must also communicate what we have to others in smart ways. And we must learn to so amidst a noisy and quickly evolving media landscape that is increasingly working against us. At the core of the Christian mission is the need to communicate."
I have to admit that question: "what's keeping you in church?" has come back to me several times since I first read it. It challenges me because it is a heart question. I realized that I could answer it superficially and then move on with my life. But somehow I can't do that. It comes back and scratches at an itch; it demands an answer, a heart answer. Then it demands something else as well. It challenges me to think about how ready I am to share my answer?
As I read the Scriptures for today I found myself reminded of that question. I was also reminded of the need to be able to share what I know.
Our readings from Scripture are short this morning. But they are rich with what Matt describes as treasure. How does he describe Christianity: "tremendous intellectual and spiritual richness and depth. It offers helpful and genius insights into every aspect of life, both personal and societal. It is literally the greatest treasure fathomable."
In the reading from 1 Corinthians I find myself identifying with Paul in his assessment of the motivation we have to share what we know to be true for ourselves. "I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short..."
It seems to me that the time we are living in, the world is one of the times when there is a lot doubt, a lot of questions and people are feeling uncertain. Perhaps it seems, to many people, that Pau l has got it right when he says: "For the present form of this world is passing away."
It is interesting that he say "the present form of the world" and not the "world is passing away." We live in time when many of the things that we have held to be certainties in the way that world works are undergoing change. Some people might even say "seismic" change.
Historically it has been at times like this that the church's message of hope, joy, love and peace, have been seen as the answer that, those with questions, were looking for. But, it means that those of us who have the certainty of those things in our own lives need to be ready to acknowledge that and then be ready to share them.
We need to ask ourselves the question Matt's friend asked him. Then we need to develop an answer for ourselves. "What is keeping you in church?" is a great question for us all to grapple with. It is a great question to spend time coming up with our own answer.
Last week I talked about how the Lord will keep calling to us. We looked at Samuel and how he lived in a time when there was little heard from the Lord. Samuel, and even Eli, was not expecting to hear from the Lord. I talked about how the Lord continued to call Samuel. It wasn't until Eli helped him to understand it was the Lord calling that Samuel heard. Samuel went on to become a trusted and wise prophet in his time.
Unfortunately I think many of us, myself included, are more like Jonah. The Lord called Jonah and instructed him to speak. Now, we know, because we are familiar with the whole story of Jonah, that the Lord called Jonah to speak to one of the most corrupt and Godless society's of the time. Jonah responds like I suspect many of us would respond. He packs his bags and heads as far as he can in the opposite direction.
But finally, in the short fragment from Jonah, this morning, we see Jonah finally submit to the Lord's assignment and to go into the city of Nineveh to proclaim God's judgment. Jonah the reluctant prophet speaks what the Lord has asked him to say and the city responds.
That in turn means that God can act: "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."
In the Gospel reading this morning we see a very different response from Simon, Andrew, James and John. Jesus calls them and they respond "immediately." Here in Mark's Gospel we see Jesus begin his ministry. The account is different from the one we heard last week from John. But the result is essentially the same. Those he calls follow him.
Mark records Jesus setting the stage for the call to the first four disciples with Jesus coming to Galilee and proclaiming the good news of God and saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Now, most us would have good and acceptable reasons why we would not be able to do that. But perhaps we could find places and times when we could share our spiritual truth or personal conviction about our faith with others around us.
Imagine if we took the words from Psalm 62: 6-14 that we heard this morning and made them our own? That would be a great place to start when someone asks us why we have peace in a world that is crying out for it.
Perhaps we could hear the Collect for this morning one more time: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike