We are still in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, near the beginning of the story.
Jesus was baptized, tempted in the wilderness,
and now he comes into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
There is an urgency in this gospel story – an apparent rush to get on with it,
to the heart of the story:
Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing,
and his proclamation that the kingdom of God is near.
In the first 20 verses of Mark’s gospel, he uses the word “immediately” three times.
One commentator I read said Mark’s gospel begins like an alarm clock,
“persistently declaring the time and demanding a response”
(Ted A Smith - Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol. 1 p. 285)
So we find Jesus, just as his story is beginning,
diving into the heart of the matter.
Repent! he says, and believe in the good news.
I think we tend to hear this word, Repent, in a narrow sense –
confessing our sins and being truly sorry
for what we have done and what we have failed to do.
That is part of it;
when people come to John for his baptism of repentance,
they confess their sins.
Our confession each week reminds us to be honest, with ourselves, our neighbors, and with God, about our wrong-doing.
But the word used here – metanoia – means much more.
it means to turn around,
to change one’s orientation and direction.
When Jesus calls the people to repent, he asks them not only to say they are sorry,
but to turn their lives and hearts in a new direction.
When I was just out of college, I worked as a youth and family minister at Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Chanhassen, MN.
It was a new congregation, with an informal worship setting –
chairs set up in a multi-purpose space facing a moveable altar.
One year, on the first Sunday of Lent, the worshipers at Family of Christ arrived at church to find the space was completely turned around.
The altar was on the opposite side of the room,
and all the chairs facing what was usually the back wall.
Pastor Nate wanted to provide a physical, experiential illustration of metanoia –
turning around, changing orientation and facing a new direction.
We worshipped that way for the whole of Lent.
Repent! Jesus calls
But that is not his whole message.
Jonah preached “Repent, or God will destroy you,”
and the people of Ninevah, amazingly, decided to quit their evil ways.
But Jesus’ words are filled with promise, not threat.
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.
In Jesus, God has done a new thing.
God has fulfilled God’s promises, and a new age has dawned.
And Mark wants us to know that this is good news!
Again, in 20 verses, he uses the phrase “good news” three times.
He introduces his story by telling us it is “the good news of Jesus the Christ.”
He tells us Jesus has come to Galilee to proclaim the good news.
Do we think of repentance as good news?
Repentance is usually hard.
We don’t like facing and confessing our sins – to ourselves, to another, or to God.
And changing our lives – turning in a new direction – is hard work.
But if you think of repentance as metanoia – turning towards God –
then it truly is good news.
Because it means turning towards a God who loves and forgives us.
It means turning away from a world view that values
status, money, power and individualism;
and turning toward a kingdom of God view
that values peace, justice, mercy and caring community.
The kingdom of God Jesus speaks of embraces a world view held together by love.
This is the kingdom Jesus invites us into
when he invites us to follow.
Because Jesus’ invitation to repent is not just a one-time thing.
Again, like an alarm clock, it is a persistent call that demands a response.
In the story, Jesus proclaims the good news that the kingdom of God is near,
and then calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow him.
And “immediately” they drop their nets and go with him.
What an altar call!
There must have been something amazing in the presence of Jesus that caused them to drop everything and follow.
But as United Methodist Pastor Elton Brown points out,
this is just the beginning of the story.
He writes, “Ahead, for them as for us, there is much to learn, much stumbling, misunderstanding, and backsliding. Becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime.” (Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol. 1 p. 284)
Some of us can remember one moment
when we encountered God and our lives changed.
We have a story of call, or conversion, which we can point to and say,
It started here.
For many of us there is not one moment –
rather, the moment comes again and again –
that moment when we choose again to turn and follow Christ.
It comes in a song that moves us, in words that touch our hearts,
in bread and wine that meet us just where we are in need,
in someone listening to us and laying healing hands upon us.
We hear the voice of Jesus, inviting us to come,
and we are once again moved to follow him.
Follow me, Jesus says, and I will make you fish for people.
Some of us hear remember an older translation of these words:
Jesus says, I will make you fishers of men.
And this is one of those instances when translation really matters,
and the attempt to be inclusive lost something important.
If we are called to fish for people, we are given a task
One more thing to add to our to-do list for the week:
shop for groceries
finish the project
work out at the gym
fish for people.
But if Jesus calls us to be “fishers of men” – or “fishers of people” –
that is not just a task.
It is an identity.
It is part of the repentance and the new direction our lives are taking;
when we choose to follow Christ, we choose to become fishers of people.
We choose to be people whose lives shine with the love of God in Christ,
so that others may know that love.
To be people whose lives are filled with acts of kindness and mercy.
To be people who see in one another – our closest family members and strangers on the street and foreigners in far-away lands – the face of Jesus.
In fact, that is just the reason this call to repentance, this invitation to follow,
is Good news.
Because it tells us that God has already loved and chosen and called us.
God’s reign of love has already begun, somehow, in this world,
and we are invited to be a part of it.
The choice to follow means hard work and sometimes hard choices,
but it also means living in a joy and peace that only Christ can give.
As Ted Smith, writes,
“We do not repent in order to usher in the time of redemption, but because that time is already at hand. We do not become fishers in order to meet the quota that will summon up the reign of God, but because that reign has already come near. And we do not follow Jesus with the hopes that one day we might find him, but because he has already come to us and called us.” (Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol. 1 p. 287)
Today is the day of our Annual Meeting,
when we will look back at the year we have just completed
and look ahead to new things to come.
I chose the text from Philippians today because expresses how I feel about all of you.
“I thank my God every time I remember you.”
I thank God every time I get to sit up here, singing with you or speaking to you,
looking at your faces smiling and listening and sometimes crying,
all of us finding here a holy place – a place to seek God.
I love the part that says, “God who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it”
I believe that is true for us right now.
We have worked hard, together, to follow the call of Jesus
in service to one another and the world.
We have done our best, not just make our faith one more thing to do,
but to live our lives as fishers of people,
shining with God’s light in a world which is too often dark.
As we enter a year which will see many changes,
new opportunities and new challenges, we are blessed to be in this together.
May God continue to work, in this beautiful community and within each one of us,
for the sake of peace and love and justice in our world.