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The Reverend John Allison

Epiphany 3B, January 24, 2021

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm 62:6-14

Mark 1:14-20

Christ Church, Hudson

“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Jesus’s proclamation from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel are the first words we hear from him and represent the beginning of his ministry. As we are told, John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus has come to Galilee. A bit earlier in the chapter Jesus was baptized by John, and as he is coming out of the water he sees the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Our reading today picks up after this, after he has returned from being driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for forty days where he was tempted by Satan. These first words of Jesus, his proclamation of the Good News, coming as they do at the beginning of his ministry, are not just a recitation of information but a calling into a new way of being. It’s here that Jesus’ initiates a new order; it’s here that Jesus calls us, calls us today, right here and right now, just as he calls those first disciples.

“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

So, what does it mean to be called? For Simon and Andrew and James and John it seems quite clear. They drop everything and follow Jesus. Immediately, we are told. There is no hesitation. There is no demand for proof that Jesus is the Messiah. There is no worry over what is being left behind. In many ways it seems more that Jesus doesn’t call them so much as he claims them as God’s own. I think it’s something like that for us all when we recognize Jesus’s call to us. Jesus comes to us, just as we are, when we least expect it, and everything changes. The coming of God’s Kingdom as manifest in Jesus demands a re-ordering of our lives. That’s what we see happening for these first disciples, and I’m guessing something like that may have happened to many of you when you met Jesus for the first time. We seek to live into a new way of being that is rooted in hope and confidence in the future God has opened for us. Our Psalm today says it: in all things we can put our trust in the Lord as the rock of our salvation and the fortress in whom we take refuge.

And yet it is not always so easy. It has been said that Jesus’s call is both a moment and a lifetime. In the long stretch of life we are tempted by many things and feelings: temptations that cloud our vision, that deafen us to God’s call; temptations that turn our vision from God's hopeful future, from the call to participate in that future.

We have only a snippet from the Book of Jonah today and in it we see Jonah faithfully answering God’s call to go to the people of Nineveh to proclaim judgment. What we might not notice is that it says this is the second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah. If we were to read the previous chapters we’d see that when God first called Jonah he willfully went in the complete opposite direction. But God was insistent—God is insistent. After a life-threatening storm at sea Jonah winds up in the belly of a whale and after three days is spit up on the shores of Nineveh where God had called him in the first place. That’s where today’s reading picks up. If we were to read beyond our passage we would see that Jonah, even though he fulfills God’s call, continues to grumble and even resent the task God calls him to do. I have to admit that sometimes I find myself behaving a bit more like Jonah than Simon and Andrew or James and John. The temptation to flee from God’s call can be strong, but in our struggle to follow faithfully we are not alone. Jesus is with us in the personal, the everyday—in the context of community. I have spoken before about how our discipleship is not just a private affair; as disciples we are members of the Body of Christ and in Christ we are together one. It’s sometimes hard to remember that, especially in this time of social restriction when our normal modes of worship and fellowship, and even family, have had to be altered.

Several years ago I read about an experiment that was done by social psychologists at the University of Virginia, and it’s always stuck with me. The experiment was meant to understand what factors influence a person’s perception of the difficulty of a particular task. The researchers asked college students to stand at the base of a hill while carrying a weighted backpack and to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends they had known a long time, some stood next to friends they had not known so long, some stood next to strangers, and others stood alone. Can you guess the outcome? The participants who stood with close friends gave significantly lower estimates as to the steepness of the hill than those who stood alone, next to strangers, or next to newly formed friends. The perception of the difficulty of the task was deeply shaped by the proximity of a friend.

We have something more than that. Certainly there are deep friendships here. But beyond friendship, beyond the usual bonds common to secular society, we are disciples of Christ. We have, each of us, answered Jesus’ call and we follow him together. We may stray at times; we may grumble. But God is persistent in his call to us. Simon and his brother Andrew worked side by side. So did the brothers James and John. Like them, we work together to do the work God has given us to do. As disciples, as followers of Jesus together, we help one another see where God is working in our lives. We help one another see where God is working in our parish. Through one another we see God’s love more clearly. The tasks before us, our work, doesn’t seem so impossible. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Being a disciple is not always easy. In fact, it is rarely easy. But, standing with Jesus, together, as the Body of Christ, the burden is not so heavy, the path not so steep. In Christ, we see with new eyes. We hear with new ears.

President Biden, in his Inaugural Address on Wednesday, quoted St. Augustine: “A people can be known by the objects they love.” This struck me deeply, partly because St. Augustine has always been important to me, but also because it very much oriented me to my call as a Christian who seeks to live faithfully and respectfully with others who may or may not share my faith. I was reminded of a poem by Jesuit priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

   Nothing is more practical than

   finding God, than

   falling in Love

   in a quite absolute, final way.

   What you are in love with,

   what seizes your imagination, 

   will affect everything.

   It will decide

   what will get you out of bed in the morning,

   what you do with your evenings,

   how you spend your weekends,

   what you read, whom you know,

   what breaks your heart,

   and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

   Fall in Love, stay in love, 

   and it will decide everything.

For us as followers of Jesus all of our love begins with the love God has shown us in Christ. It’s not our love alone but God’s love in which we participate. Our love of neighbor, of friend, of enemy, of husband or wife, or son or daughter is all built on God’s love for us. Love starts with God.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, at the beginning of the liturgy, the deacon announces a variation of Jesus’s proclamation: “It is the time for us to work for the Lord.” He doesn’t mean that it’s 9 AM and the service is about to begin. The word he uses for “time” and the word Jesus uses in the original Greek is “kairos.” Kairos is time, but it’s not the usual clock time we think of. It refers to a moment of Divine action, a time outside of ordinary time. In a few minutes, when we step forward to come to this table, the time is fulfilled. It is the time of God’s action. In the breaking of the Bread, the Kingdom of God comes near. Let us dwell there. Let us hold the good news of God’s love in Christ in our hearts. Let us be icons of his love in our journey together and trust that God’s plan is accomplished right here, right now.

The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near. Amen.