Rev. Wilson’s Sermons

For a Lifetime

Mark 1:14-20

21 January 2018

Again, this week we hear about people who drop everything to follow Jesus.  Simon, his brother Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, do not stop to think about anything before they follow.  They just do.  They don’t hesitate. They are committed from the outset.

What sort of commitment are they making?  They decide in just a moment.  But, we know that, because these four are among Jesus’ disciples, they make that commitment for a lifetime.  We also know that from today’s passage.  Mark’s Gospel contains an interesting use of tense.  John has just been arrested.  Jesus enters Galilee saying that the time has been fulfilled.  That would lead us to believe something has just been accomplished or brought to completion.  Yet we know that Jesus is just beginning his ministry.  It is just the beginning of Mark’s Gospel after all.  And, a Bible with subheadings will tell you it is just the beginning—in case you missed that this is chapter one.

Some of us will be able to understand the ease with which these four made this decision to follow Jesus seemingly without much thought.  It may be the way that you make decisions.  We call it spontaneity when we decide, on the spur of the moment, to follow our heart and act.  Our goal might be to have a great time!  Our goal might be to begin an adventure that is both exciting and new.  It’s possible you are doing what the other folks are doing because you don’t want to look like a stick-in-the-mud.  You figure, “What the heck!  If I don’t like where this is going, I can always back out later if I want to.”

Yet this promise we make in the moment has some strings attached.  Sure we can cut those strings down the road, but that, too, carries a cost.  Those strings are what bind us in a relationship we can’t fully comprehend at the outset.  It pertains to the fulfillment of God’s promises and the future that God sees.  Yet it is a future which we can only partially grasp.  We know it because of what we know of God and of Christ.  And yet, we cannot fully comprehend it either for it does not fit with many other aspects of our world.  Therefore, we imagine what God’s future holds based on what we know and trust.

Sounds slippery and nebulous, does it not?  It’s because God is not bound by time in the same way that you and I are.  For God, the present, the past, and the future are collapsed.  God is not bound by space and time like we are.  Therefore, when we are in relationship with God, we must conform to the space and time constraints of God’s created order while God is both eternal and unbound.

What it means is that, while the time is fulfilled when Jesus calls James, John, Simon, and Andrew, their time also is just beginning.  They are newly-minted disciples, ready to spread the good news of the Gospel.

And yet, this commitment is for a lifetime.  Do these four understand what they have pledged themselves to do?  Perhaps.  Let’s take a peek at the commitment these disciples really make by looking at other passages involving Peter, known also as Simon, who in Mark’s Gospel represents all the disciples.  Peter responds to Jesus’ questions about his identity.  While in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked who the people claim that he is.  Peter declares that he is the Messiah.  It is a declaration very much of the moment.  In the very next verses, Jesus begins to tell the disciples about the suffering, death, and resurrection that will come to the Messiah.  Peter, unable to recognize what this lifetime commitment entails, pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for making such statements.

At the transfiguration, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain.  Poor Andrew gets left out.  They willingly go, but we quickly find out that Peter doesn’t understand what is involved in the real task of following Jesus.  In trying to make sense of what he is witnessing, Peter offers to build dwellings for the figures he sees so that they may stay in this moment of dazzling glory rather than follow Jesus solely, wherever he would lead them.  He is so taken with the moment that he wants to turn it into a lifetime.

Peter is the only disciple in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest.  When he is challenged for his connection with Jesus by a servant girl and other bystanders, Peter denies ever knowing Jesus.  In those three denials, Peter threatens to give up the life-long fidelity he has promised because of these fleeting moments of fear.  He despairs when he realizes what he has done.

And finally, when Jesus died on the cross, his disciples were nowhere to be seen.  Rather he was surrounded by women.  Yet, when he appeared to these same women at the empty tomb, he asked them to send word to his disciples that he would see them in Galilee just as he had promised.  The women were too frightened to pass the message along.  While the decision of the moment was to flee rather than follow, Jesus is willing to carry on, fulfilling God’s promise, thereby ensuring that God has the final word.

We are no different than these four disciples.  When our faith is at its strongest—when we have had some sort of encounter with the living God, with the Messiah—our commitment to our risen Savior is also strongest.  When we are slogging through our daily existence, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can lose sight of that lifetime commitment that was so easily, and joyfully, made.

Yet we too are called to a lifetime of fidelity, service, and sacrifice.  How do we honor that lifetime commitment?  We know that it is not easy.  Most of us do not need the disciples’ examples to understand this.

Take this congregation for example.  It has been around now for a very long time—approaching 280 years.  We are here today, standing on the shoulders of generations of Christians who have gone before us.  They made a lifetime commitment to serve God and this community.  Just think of the ways that many of them tirelessly served, several leaving their legacies so that we might continue.  We are grateful for that, for we would not be here today without those funds.

I have heard stories from many of you of what it was like to be in this congregation in days gone by—some of those days before I was born.  I have heard about the work that the women did for the congregation and in the community.  I have read about how active this congregation was in supporting missionaries in their work in countries far away.  You relate these stories with a mixture of pride and longing for what once was.

As a congregation, we are looking at the promise we, who are here now, have made for a lifetime.  Recognition has come, as it did to the disciples, that we could do more to fulfill the pledge we have made to follow Christ.  We have a group of six who are taking a hard look at how we might live into our promise.  We’ve been meeting since October.  In that time, the Good Neighbor Working Group has examined our community based on statistics.  Then we talked about ways to find out through listening where the needs of our community lie.  We decided to invite folks to come speak with us, beginning with local elected officials.  The first such gathering will be on January 31st.  We know that we will have to fill in gaps by visiting other people who have information to share.  We hope to have a richer conversation with several of these people at one time.  Once we have gathered this data, we will analyze it, pray about it, and listen to where Jesus is leading us to serve.  Once we have some concrete ideas, we will be asking you, all of you, for your thoughts.  Whatever we do, the entire congregation will need to commit!

Now I ask you to look at your own life—your own commitment to discipleship in the name of Christ.  Are you as active now as you were when you first heard Jesus’ call?  There is no retirement plan, no 401K or 403b savings accounts for those who have said yes to Jesus.  Are you fulfilling the pledge for a lifetime you made to God?  Of course, only you can answer that question.  No matter where you are in life, Jesus is calling you.  God yearns for the time to be fulfilled now, and in the future.  This commitment for a lifetime will change you, change this congregation.

To the Lord who speaks to us, strengthens us, and blesses us with peace, be all glory and honor forever.  Amen.