Sermon Jan 21, 2018

“The Immediacy of the Moment”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  Mark 1:18i

Immediately. There must have been something about Jesus. Simon and Andrew, James and John – to a man they left all they had ever known, the people they loved the most – immediately. Had they nothing to lose?

How many times does the word “immediately” appear in Mark’s Gospel? Thirty-five to forty depending on your translation. Mark has a sense of urgency. Me? Not so much. Truth be told how many of us really want Jesus to return, establish justice and bring the world to an end? When you put it that way, I’m not all that hot to trot. I really can’t do much better than I’m doing right now. I’m white, North American, and male. But all that needs to be thrown aside today. We are called to be disciples of Christ, to follow in His way, to take up His cross daily and follow Him. Despite our privilege and comfort, God has set a claim upon us.

We, like the fishermen of old, are to be disciples of Christ, first because Jesus has called us. There is no greater claim upon my life than the claim of Jesus. Oh I am fair from laying any claim on righteousness. I like President Lincoln can say, “It is not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that cause me trouble, but the parts I do.” This Jesus of mine is a troubling historical figure who brought change without violence and sought to heal those society had cast aside. I know that the claim of Jesus on my life asks me to do the same. I stumble. I fall. I fear for my welfare. So while Christ’s claim upon my life is great, I do not always live it out. And you? Are we not all aware of what true discipleship demands and know that we have often sought to avoid it. I find myself captured by Philippians 3:10 f.f.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

And so I do.

In Christ I have found unbridled hope. Listen to the confidence expressed by Paul:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.1

This is why I follow because this is who I follow.

But wait. Wasn’t it different for Simon and Andrew, James and John? They had no idea who Jesus was. And yet they follow. Maybe they asked a few questions. Maybe they said goodbye to their friends and family. Maybe. But the text is silent. We can make ourselves feel better by suggesting they said and did things that are not mentioned in the text. The fact of the matter is that Mark says “immediately.” Maybe that doesn’t strike you as strange. It does me. So I ask myself what else could compel men and women to “immediately” follow Jesus? I cannot see into their hearts. I do know that people become so desperate that they come to Jesus in the hope that in Him they will find a savior. Those caught in the throws of addiction know something of this. Perhaps there was a demon within each of them that they wanted expunged. But again, the text is silent on this point.

There is, however, this. The disciples lived, as do we, within an historical context. Jewish rebellion had been crushed and they were occupied by Rome. Indeed, within the city of Jerusalem a Roman legion was garrisoned. Rome had attempted to suppress the Jewish faith and miscalculated the response of the people. The image of the emperor had to be removed from Jerusalem because the Jews would not bow down to a graven image. The men put in power by Rome had no honor and lived lives of debauchery. The people longed and waited for a messiah to come –one who would deliver them from this time of darkness and shame. Jesus stood on the shore and beckoned them to join Him.

We know something of the same. We live in an Orwellian universe where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.” Truth is sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and the needs of the people are secondary to the needs of one’s political party. Facts are a matter of opinion with no necessary grounding in historical reality. If one says it loud and often it becomes the truth.

Jesus stands on the shore and calls to us. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” Jesus promised. Will we leave what we know to discover the truth of who we were meant to be? Our historical context may yet make us open to Jesus.

Like the disciples, our call to discipleship demands a choice. For the disciples called so long ago, I suspect the day had started like so many others. The roaster crowed. They got out of bed. God dressed. Went to work. No monumental choice confronted them. A day like any other. But soon all that changed. A routine day was thrown into chaos. Jesus calls out to them and awaits a response. A choice is set before them. A day that demanded little thought, now demanded their lives.

When Hitler and his minions came to power, the church in Germany remained largely silent. Some may have approved of the Nazi’s anti-Semitism. Some may have wanted to cuddle up to power. Others may have feared reprisal. For whatever the reason, the church failed Christ.

But there was a minority voice. The Confessing Church of Germany spoke against the idolatry of the Nazi party. They stood against hate and called for resistance. Dietrich Bonheoffer was one of the leaders of the Confessing Church. When the conflict started, Bonheoffer was in America studying theology. He did not have to go back to Germany. He could have lent his powerful voice against Hitler within the safe confines of the United States. But this was not his way. He felt called to return and to fight from within. He was hanged by the Nazi’s in April of 1945 for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

In Bonheoffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, he makes the distinction between “cheap grace and costly grace” and by so doing reminds us of the stark choice confronting the disciples long ago and that same choice that confronts us today.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

I am reminded of H. Richard Niebuhr’s description of theological liberalism:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

If we are to be disciples, this cannot be. It is to costly grace that we are called, a grace that demands our very lives – a grace that demands we follow Jesus and not convenience. It is grace because it cost us our lives that we may have the only life worth living.

Long ago Jesus stood on the shore and called the disciples to follow Him. They immediately left all that they had and followed. Daily, Jesus asks us to do the same. Do you hear Christ’s call to costly grace? It floats in the wind and Jesus awaits our response. Let us pray….

1 Romans 8:38-39

i Mark 1:14-20

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.