Sunday, January 22, 2012

Called to be an Evangelical

A sermon for Epiphany 3 B preached on January 22, 2012 

 The Gospel of Mark does not dilly-dally or embellish the story of Jesus. Today’s gospel is only the 14th verse of the very first chapter, and John has already been baptizing and attesting to Jesus as the one who he is preparing the way for; Jesus has been baptized, acclaimed by God as his beloved Son; and Jesus has been tempted in the wilderness and survived. All in 13 verses. It’s like there’s adrenaline running through the Gospel of Mark, which we’re going to be hearing from often in this lectionary year B, so get used to it. You can hear that Gospel adrenaline rush in today’s Gospel reading with the repeated use of the word, “Immediately”—one of Mark’s favorite words—and in the message of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled.”

Consequently, people make decisions very quickly in Mark. In last week’s gospel, which was from the Gospel of John, there’s a time of preparation before Nathanael comes to follow Jesus. First Philip goes to Nathanael and tells him about Jesus; then Jesus sees Nathanael and tells him revealing information about himself; only then does Nathanael identify Jesus and choose to follow him. 

Contrast that to today’s story. It’s also a call story, but here Jesus just calls out to Simon and Andrew and James and John and they immediately drop everything and follow him.

Now in the church of today, we’re not about making snap decisions—if you look at our ordination process, or the process for calling a rector, or having your baby baptized or being confirmed, we require some sort of discernment and education. Pretty minimal in the case of the baby of parishioners being baptized as we are doing today; but some of these processes can stretch over years. Are you really called to this ministry or this sacrament? Is the church sure? Are you sure? Are you fully informed about what you—and God—are doing? It’s designed to produce clarity of calling. It can also—in some instances—make things more confusing by dragging the process out and denying the role of instinct. 

So the calls to Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee are perplexing and refreshing to me. It’s like love at first sight; or acting on instinct, one of those moments when you just inexplicably know that something is the right decision or the right path. I’m sure we’ve all had something like that moment—where we just suddenly saw what we were doing and said, “Oh my God, how could I be so foolish. I need to be doing this other thing.” Here I am, fishing for fish, when I could be fishing for people. And that is the moment, for me, when instinct and the Holy Spirit collide. A high school friend used to call those moments “light from God” moments—or you could call them, simply, epiphanies. 

And epiphanies are different from just unadvisedly striking out on a path out of passion or self- interest. My call to the priesthood came over many years, but as it developed and I wasn’t sure it did all culminate finally in a moment when I knew… I was at Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires, studying acting, and one teacher just suddenly made it all clear how I could have been pulled in two directions and that I would be fulfilling the best of both worlds by becoming a priest. I never looked back. That moment is probably what we’re all looking for pretty often—I know I haven’t felt like that too many other times in my life. But it’s like that indwelling presence of God in each one of us takes over at that moment, or connects more fully and brings us along in a Godward direction towards something good.

I believe that Holy Spirit instinct pulls us toward our mission as human beings, like it did with Simon, Andrew, James, and John. And our mission in this passage is to fish…. But are we fishing for people or are we fishing for fish? And by that I mean, are we casting our nets for things that are of ultimate importance or for things that are of transitory importance? Because fishing for fish is not unimportant—people need to eat. But if part of ourselves is not also occupied in fishing for people, we are incredibly limited in our mission. St. Paul managed to be a tentmaker and the greatest apostle of the first century—how many of us are capable of doing whatever our daily vocation is AND being a Christian. I’m blessed that my daily vocation is to be a Christian in some sense, but there’s a lot of parish priesthood that isn’t directly linked to fishing for people—getting the heat fixed in this building is not part of my vocation as a Christian—but it’s something that I have to do so that this can happen. Getting the heat fixed is fishing for fish; baptizing Merrill today is fishing for people. Gathering around the altar to share bread and wine is fishing for people. And even gathering for our annual meeting, to have the community stand together not in worship but in discernment, is fishing for people. It’s all part of the Gospel. 

Last week at the 6pm service, someone asked me, “What is an Evangelical?” Like all of us, she keeps hearing the word on the news in reference to a certain segment of voters and wanted to know more. It’s frustrating to me, because the group defining themselves as Evangelicals has really claimed the word in this country only for themselves, but “Evangelical” comes from the Greek word meaning “Gospel,” or “Good News”. Jesus uses it today as the cornerstone of his preaching: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Believe in the “evangelion,” the Gospel, the Good news. If we believe in the Good News, we are Evangelicals. If we fish for people, and not just fish, we are evangelicals. And more importantly, we are evangelists—people who share the Good News, and don’t just keep it to ourselves, especially in that Holy Spirit-instinct-filled moment when we hear God’s call and act on it. 

So allow me to expand upon Mark’s message today to flesh out its meaning a little for us today. The time is now fulfilled—the present moment matters. Trust your Holy Spirit instincts, because the Kingdom of God has come near—it is near this morning in bread and wine, it is near in water and the promise of eternal life, and it is near in this community of faithful loving relationships. Repent of your sins—and hear the promise in these baptismal vows that every sin for which we repent and intend amendment of life can be forgiven. There is always forgiveness with God when we ask. And believe in the Good news, the Evangelion. Jesus Christ has lived, died and rose for us, and promises us that we will live and die and rise with him. So please, be an Evangelical.

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