This is the manuscript from my sermon on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany. As I’ve said before, this is more or less what the congregation heard because I preach from the aisle without notes. If you’d like to read the lectionary, you’ll find it here.
Though it may sound odd, what first captured my attention when I was reading and praying with the Gospel earlier in the week, is not what you might expect. It was a small, and I’d guess, often overlooked detail – the word immediately. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Immediately they left the boat, and their father, and followed him.” I realized that if you were to ask me to place the word on a continuum from positive to negative, I’d probably put it closer to the negative end. As a child, I’d hear it when I was in trouble – “Paula Jean, come here…immediately!” In work situations, report to the boss “immediately” most often is not about congratulations. In medical settings, “stat”, which is never something a patient or family member wants to hear, comes from the Latin statum, which means immediately. Even the colloquial “immediate gratification” has negative connotations, doesn’t it?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Andrew and Simon Peter, and then James and John, and they drop what they are doing and follow him “immediately.” There is an urgency to Jesus’ call that they seem to understand. They give up their livelihood. And, in the case of James and John, the Gospel is explicit that they walk away from the father and their obligations to him. There is something about their understanding of what is necessary to their well-being – to their very survival -that compels them to move before they even know for sure what they have gotten into. It is tempting to explain this by saying, “Of course they did, they knew who Jesus was – the Messiah. Of course they would accept his call. Wouldn’t every one?” And, yet, according to Mark, this was happening was early in Jesus’ public ministry. It follows his baptism by John, the temptation in the wilderness, and John’s arrest. Not much had been said, at least as far as Mark tells us, and what had been said did not scream “Messiah.” They hadn’t yet heard the beatitudes or witnessed the miracles or any of those things that help us to understand who Jesus is. I’m thinking that had they heard about John the Baptist’s arrest, after he had been public about his belief in who Jesus was, could have thrown a damper on their enthusiasm.
No doubt Jesus was a charismatic guy, but he sure didn’t look or act in the ways they expected the prophesied Messiah to look or act. Whether because of something they felt from Jesus or had heard about or it was a more amorphous “gut instinct,” these disciples responded with a sense of urgency. They lived their faith in ways that extend beyond a catchy “Living Our Faith” banner above the bulletin boards in the parish hall. They literally changed their lives and the lives of those around them to follow where Jesus would lead. They clearly understood that their well-being -their salvation -required them to act differently than they usually did. And they made the change without taking the time to get all their ducks in a row or to call in the boy next door to help their father with the family business.
Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum or which particular issue or issues capture your attention and heart, it is nigh on impossible to look at the current state of things in this country and around the world and not sense that there is an urgent need for change. This is, remarkably, one place in which folks of different political persuasions, with different policy priorities, find agreement. Things have gone wrong and need fixing now. People need to take action now. If we are going to take our part in co-creating with God the vision for God’s people and the world, we need to do it now. And that is hard to do. It can be tremendously inconvenient. It can make us less popular with some people than we might want to be. It can take it’s toll on relationships. It reminds us of the message from today’s reading from 1 Corinthians to stop our bickering and in-fighting and get down to the work God has given us to do.
The work of following Jesus now might have tremendous impact or it might be on a smaller scale. It could be along the lines of Mother Teresa leaving behind all she had known in Albania to eventually settle in the slums of India, or it could be something as simple as making small changes in our daily lives to reduce the human impact on the environment. For example, Kathleen and I use stainless steel straws because of our concern about the impact of the plastic ones on wildlife and the environment. This change is surprisingly challenging at times and is not always convenient. (We have to remember to bring a straw with us wherever we might buy a cold drink and then we have to remember to bring it home to clean it, which is surprisingly more difficult than it seems it should be.) Realistically, our action has a negligible impact on the overall problem but it is something we can do now. It is just one example of how we can respond right away to the urgency we feel about the future of our planet.
Whether large scale like founding hospitals and hospices for the destitute poor or making a small change in daily living to respond to environmental concerns, it is crucial that we do some of what we can to live our faith in such a way that we close the gap between the urgency we recognize in the world around us and our willingness to give up some of what we have or take for granted to be a part of realizing God’s dream for God’s world. Acting immediately -accepting Jesus’ call to live our faith in the here and now, rather than at some point in the future or when we think we are fully prepared- is a positive step. It is empowering, and it brings us closer to the heart of God. If we act now in whatever ways we can and with whatever resources we have, we can be a part of “changing the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it: (to paraphrase Presiding Bishop Michael Curry). And that is good news, indeed!