Words of Faith
Rev. Rita S. Platt
January 25, 2015
“It’s Only the First Step”
What would make you drop everything and pursue an entirely new life? A great job offer? A marriage proposal? The chance to make a huge difference in another part of the world? What do you think — what would prompt you to take off from everything you know for something entirely different?
That’s essentially the scene that Mark describes and, truth be told, most of us have a hard time imagining doing what the future disciples do.
Time plays a significant role in the Gospel of Mark, the key word throughout his account is “immediately!” Things happen fast in his tale…and if you blink, you just might miss a crucial detail.
It all begins with those first words Jesus utters, words of invitation and challenge: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” It is a bold proclamation! Notice, he did not say, “Keep doing what you’re doing, the kingdom of God is a ways off yet” or “the kingdom of God is what you will experience after you die.” “No,” Jesus says, “you don’t have to wait until you die to experience a whole different kind of life. Now is the time.”
The kingdom of God is not a place separate from this place. It is God’s reign–God’s presence and power and peace–and is quite near.
When Jesus encounters those four fishermen, he finds them, like us, working hard, earning a living, fulfilling their family obligations. And like some of us, perhaps he also finds them struggling to hold it all together, looking forward with worry, looking back with regret. For the sons of Zebedee, there is a father who relies on them. For Simon Peter, there is a mother-in-law with health concerns. Whatever the case, his call to follow him is a call to recognize the time of God-with-us, to welcome God’s reign in our lives, to “repent, and believe in the good news.”
Far too often we read such words in a strictly religious context, separate from the rest of life; but what would it look like if today we quit doing that?
The first step would be to live fully in the present. Embrace the Now.
When our focus is on the past, with all that we have done or not done…when our focus is on the future, with all that we must do or will never be able to do…then we have little room in the ever-shrinking space of our heart to experience God’s presence and God’s power; but when we take
the first step: to bring the past with its regrets AND the future with its worries, and lay it all before God; it all becomes so real.
We all know that church attendance is on the slide. It has been for about 40 years or so in mainline congregations and is now declining in Evangelical congregations over the last decade as well. There have been lots of studies on what is causing this, and of all the suggested reasons that I’ve come across, two in particular have made the most sense to me.
First, we’ve moved from the age of duty — where you do things because you know you’re supposed to –, to the age of discretion — where nearly overwhelmed with choices about how to spend your time, you exercise discretion based on how it helps you make sense of and get the most out of your life. To boil it down to just one sentence: attending church isn’t a cultural given anymore and there are a whole lot more options on how you might profitably spend your Sunday morning.
It is about a choice – taking that step – “Follow me.”
The fact that we know from the perspective of faith just who Jesus is and what he calls us to do seems to make little difference. In some sense, our challenge and task is perhaps even greater than that of those impulsive young followers of Jesus. Most of us are called to follow our Lord at the very same time we are challenged to remain where we are – at the side of family and friends; at the same time, accepting our Lord’s gospel imperative invariably leads us to others, to “fish for people,” even if we never leave home.
What the early disciples must have instinctively known is what we must not forget: that in following Jesus we leave everything but lose nothing. That is “the good news of God” that Jesus and his disciples proclaim with great joy throughout Galilee – and through us across our world today as well. And probably even the disciples’ own father, Zebedee, could find joy in that.