Arrested, Epiphany 3 (B) – January 21, 2018

Epiphany Sermon3

[RCL] Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

“After John was arrested.”

This line should arrest us where we stand. John’s arrest happens just moments after John the Baptizer baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River and Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil.

And then John is arrested. Arrested. He’s stopped in his tracks. That’s what the word “arrest” means—to be stopped.

An arrest on the side of the highway gets our attention. Cars slow down and sometimes stop to see who it is being arrested. An arrest makes the news if it’s a high-profile person. Everyone stops to see who’s been nabbed. An arrest not only stops the person arrested, it stops everyone.

After John was arrested.

We were arrested.

We were stopped, arrested by this news. An order was issued from Herod to his soldiers to go arrest John the Baptist. The movement John started in the desert—a movement of confession, repentance, and renewal by baptism came to a sudden stop.

After John was arrested, we were devastated.

John had been preaching repentance for all, from the least to the greatest. Messages of repentance in our day are often a call to join a new church or religion, but John was not calling them to join a new church or religion. He was calling his people to return to the covenant of Justice and Mercy. He was inviting them to come home.

And we heard this message in Advent, too—this invitation to come home to God. Did we? Did we respond? Did we renew our trust in God’s faithfulness? Did we start that journey toward home?

And now, after John was arrested, we don’t know where home is.

But then we remembered John’s message. We remembered how he told us the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth was coming—is coming.

And Jesus is here.

After John was arrested, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

John’s arrest was a huge blow to his followers and disciples. They lost so much when John was arrested by an insecure and vindictive tyrant, Herod. But there, in this gaping hole, steps Jesus, proclaiming the good news of God.

And this is the good news for us today. The good news is found in the gaping holes of life, in the disappointments, in the blows and losses, in the sadness and grief. The good news is always found in these moments, at the eleventh hour, when all hope is lost. This is when we are ready to receive good news.

This is when Jesus comes to us, proclaiming the good news of God.

Jesus’ life, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, follows this pattern of life, death, and resurrection. After John was arrested, we died a little, and then Jesus came with good news. This pattern will play out when Jesus goes to the cross at the end of Mark’s Gospel, too.

And this pattern will play out in your life, and our life together.

After John was arrested, we heard the good news. After our dreams had died, we heard about new life, new dreams.

Jesus is very clear in his message, that we are to repent and believe. We are to come home to the God who loves us and announces a kingdom of love and peace. But this kingdom only comes after John is arrested, after our dreams die.

And Jesus, who comes to us after John is arrested, comes to us in our fishing boats.

Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee and sees Simon and Andrew, James and John fishing, so he calls them to follow him.

And they do follow him.

In this account, it never says why these disciples leave their fishing boats and their fishing nets and follow Jesus. Why would these young men leave their family businesses and follow this wandering rabbi, who is just getting started himself?

Mark doesn’t tell us. He leaves that as a mystery.

After John was arrested, we followed Jesus.

The juxtaposition in the text of John’s arrest and these disciples following Jesus is not a mere coincidence. It is the very heart of the good news—the gospel Jesus is preaching. It is in the midst of loss and heartache that we find hope and purpose in Jesus.

And maybe we aren’t quite sure why we are here today, to gather as followers of Jesus; we are not always sure of our motives for doing anything. But like those disciples in their fishing boats, something about Jesus’ call to us made sense—it resonated with us. Like many formative events in life, it’s a bit of a mystery. We don’t fully know how or why a relationship started. All we know is that it did indeed start, that it continues, and that it gives us hope for the future.

So, come and follow Jesus. Come and fish for people with the good news.

 

David W. Peters is the author of two books, Death Letter (Tactical 16 Press) and Post-Traumatic God (Morehouse, 2016). He is the founder of the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship and serves as the Associate Rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Tex.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 3 (B).

Follow me, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

In a recent National Public Radio report on contemporary family life in America, a somewhat exasperated young father describes parenthood as “always filled with joy, but sometimes not much fun.” Most parents today could probably relate to his words. For being father or mother, with all its wonder and joys, is not easy in any age. Good parenting invariably entails a great deal of giving and self-sacrifice – which as we all know is “sometimes not much fun.”

That father’s offhand comment on NPR seems somehow apropos as we reflect this day on our gospel account of the calling of the disciples – particularly James and John, the sons of Zebedee. “Immediately he called them,” Mark’s gospel tells us of Jesus and these two seemingly inseparable brothers, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

What must Zebedee have thought – or maybe sputtered – as he saw his otherwise perfectly sensible sons all of a sudden get up and leave their nets and their chores? And to do what? Why, to follow a little-known itinerant preacher no less; and without so much as a “Tell Mom we will not be home for supper.” Not much fun in that for Zebedee, one supposes, as the hired men meanwhile stare open-jawed in amazement at this little family drama unfolding before their very eyes.

Apparently parenthood and family life was no simpler 2,000 years ago than it is nowadays. By the way, commercial fishing was – back then and is still today in many places – a family business in which each member of the household has his or her important role. It is fair to say that fishing for a living – a lot of hard work – was not always fun. Perhaps it is the ordeal of it all that has made recent television docudramas about the contemporary lives of commercial fishermen such unexpected late-night favorites.

While a family-run fishing business might not have been the most glamorous profession in ancient Israel nor have put one into the highest echelons of Hebrew society, it was nevertheless a respected profession and a solid means of income and support for one’s family. It was, in fact, more highly regarded – according to some scholars and experts – than the work of a lowly village carpenter and jack-of-all-trades as was apparently Jesus’ own father, and perhaps Jesus himself.

So to follow Jesus – as admirable as that may seem from our advantaged perspective 2,000 years later – also meant for James and John the giving up of a not-insignificant trade or profession. As they say, people will always need to eat. The troubling conclusion also seems almost unavoidable: Following Jesus might well mean leaving parents and family and the security and comfort of a good job or career. By the way, how Zebedee was supposed to manage without the assistance and support of his sons we simply do not know from the gospel account. “Follow me,” indeed.

But “Follow me” is precisely what Jesus at the Sea of Galilee says to that other pair of brothers, Peter and Andrew, also fishermen. His call to James and John must certainly have sounded a similar note. Even now, there are probably few words in all of Christian scripture more demanding than these two: Follow me.

Jesus gives no explanation for his challenge. Nor does he give his followers or recruits a clear business plan of sorts for his own start-up ministry. He makes no promise of success and riches either. His vision statement – if you can call it that from a present-day corporate perspective – is only that his disciples will come to “fish for people.” And can there be much future in that?

The disciples must have thought so.

Because, curiously, they are not portrayed as having agonized over their decision to drop everything and follow our Lord. They did not first go home and sleep on it or discuss it at length with family members, friends or village elders. They did not check their bank accounts or savings. And surely, if they had approached their local parish priest for advice, they would most assuredly have been sent back to Zebedee forthwith.

Still, there is something energizing and exciting in the response or impulse – it hardly seems to have been a decision at all – of these first disciples. Perhaps in leaving hearth and home, they comprehended at once the larger family of humankind to which Jesus was calling them. To “fish for people” is, after all, about community – and family. And, though not always fun, as the disciples were themselves later to discover, it is most definitely about joy – the joy of bringing the Father’s love to others sorely in need of the Good News of the gospel.

Most of us have, no doubt, from time to time dreamed of dropping everything and heading off on some personal journey of discovery – until we sit back and calculate the cost, come down to earth, and get back to work and reality. Few of us today would leave our net, much less our Internet, to follow in the footsteps of James and John, Peter and Andrew – or Jesus himself. Yet our Lord’s challenge to the disciples of so long ago remains there to test us still today – just those two words:

“Follow me.”

The fact that we know from the perspective of faith just who Jesus is and what he calls us to do seems to make little difference. In some sense, our challenge and task is perhaps even greater than that of those impulsive young followers of Jesus. For most of us are called to follow our Lord at the very same time we are challenged to remain where we are – at the side of family and friends. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, accepting our Lord’s gospel imperative invariably leads us to others, to “fish for people,” even if we never leave home.

What the early disciples must have instinctively known is what we must not forget – that in following Jesus we leave everything but lose nothing. That is “the good news of God” that Jesus and his disciples proclaim with great joy throughout Galilee – and through us across our world today as well. And probably even the disciples’ own father, Zebedee, could find joy in that.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain and area dean at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary – a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page. Isten hozott!

What Jesus calls us to do is proclaim, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2012

January 22, 2012

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1:14-20

[NOTE TO READER: “Lectio divina” is pronounced “LEK-tsea-oh di-VEEN-ah.”]

The collect for this Sunday begins “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.”

Do we seriously make that request of God? The reading from Mark in today’s gospel lesson depicts the disciples readily answering the call of Jesus, reminding us of the opening lines of Hymn 661:

“They cast their nets in Galilee, just off the hills of brown
such happy, simple fisher folk before the Lord came down.”

Here we are in early winter, less than a month after Christmas, and we are almost propelled into addressing the call of Christ in our lives. This call comes to many of us more than once; the call is continuous. It was with the disciples as well. Every incident, healing miracle, public teaching, or encounter called them further into proclamation of the Good News. We are never fully there because the character of the call is a journey.

A woman who grew up in her hometown church remembers going forward to the altar as a young teenager to make her public decision for Christ. She said she believed at the time that was it: her life would be different and better. But she said she did not realize how often she would have to re-make that decision to follow Jesus in light of things that happened to her. An accident killed both her parents when she was a young mother; later her eldest son was diagnosed with cancer, from which he recovered; and then she endured the eventual breakup of her marriage. She said each of these events were moments when she knew to answer the call of Christ would lead to a new place. Now she knows there were many more times, joyous as well as sad, when grace was given to her to respond.

There is a form of scripture reading based on the Benedictine style of lectio divina, which is Latin for “divine reading.” The reader is asked to read a passage three times: first to note what word or phrase stands out in the reading; then to interpret what the scripture, or God is saying; and finally to answer the question, What is God or Jesus calling you to do? People who use this method for reading scripture find it becomes an active part of their spiritual lives. The living word of God calls to them, beckons them, has them consider something new and challenging. This call is more than a nudge; often it leads to profound change.

A man who regularly participated in lectio divina was studying to be an accountant. His study group met on Sunday evenings at an ecumenical campus ministry. There were a lot of things happening in his life, all of them unfolding with new career possibilities when he began to realize he was, in fact, being called to work with young children. Now he is a volunteer working with a group of court-appointed special advocates for children who have been placed under court supervision. He is also considering going to seminary.

Answering the call of Jesus Christ is based on listening and being ready to respond. Listening is an art in itself. It requires us to do more than just hear things that sound good to us. Listening requires us to filter out all the noise, listening for the still, small voice of God that usually comes to us quietly, often through odd connections with people, sometimes strangers, who see something unique in us and call it forth.

Being ready to respond is quite another thing. At this time of year there is a musical play frequently performed, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. In this story, Amahl is a young boy who must use a crutch to walk, and he has a bad habit of telling fibs. One night as he is sitting outside, his mother calls for him to come inside, and when he tells her that he sees an enormous star “as big as a window” over their house, she does not believe him. Later that night there is a knock at their door, and three kings, the Magi, stand before them, asking if they could rest overnight in the house, explaining that they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child. After the kings fall asleep, Amahl’s mother, who is worried that her son will become a beggar, tries to steal gold from one of the kings. When she is caught, Amahl tries to attack the king’s guard who is holding her. The king is filled with mercy when he sees Amahl’s pitiful defense of his mother, and the king tells her to keep the gold, explaining that the Holy Child, for whom the gold was intended, will not need it, because his kingdom will not be built on earthly wealth. Amahl’s mother, filled with shame and remorse, begs the kings to take back the gold, and wishes she had a gift to send the Holy Child. Amahl gives the kings his crutch, his only possession, to give to the child. And miraculously, Amahl’s leg is healed, and he sets off with the kings to see the child and give thanks.

In this marvelous tale, both music and story work together as we witness an intervention by God into the life of a poor family, an intervention that results in profound change. The call of Christ can be seen as an intervention because that is what it is. “Follow me and you will fish for people,” says Jesus to the disciples.

The call is not always a loud command; it is often a quiet suggestion, but it is always an intervention that challenges us to change direction, move to a new way of thought and life.

If we follow the words of today’s collect, we see that the purpose in responding to the call is not just to better ourselves, but to receive grace to proclaim the Good News. No one has to wear a priestly collar to do that. The places we live, the families and friends we love, the workstations where we spend eight hours a day are all places for proclamation.

What Jesus calls us to do is proclaim, and he calls us to use the gifts we have to be proclaimers of God’s enduring love for each of us.

 

— Ben Helmer is the vicar of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He lives with his family in nearby Holiday Island.

Saying yes to the call of God, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 25, 2009

(RCL) Jonah 3:12-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The light of Epiphany shines on a truth accepted by both religious and agnostics: a person who spends his or her life dedicated to a good cause rises above the ordinary and many times is considered a hero. We call this “responding to a call,” acting on a mission. All our heroes, whether saintly or secular, are people who responded to a call and acted on the demands it made on their lives. St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, as Luke described it, was dramatic and utterly life-changing. As Saul of Tarsus he was stopped in his tracks; he was called by name; he was confronted by the glorified Christ; and as a result, he became a new man for Christ.

The rather ridiculous person of Jonah, by contrast, tries to avoid a call and is confounded at every turn. God is not mocked, but God, apparently, can appreciate a joke.

The short gospel of Mark is filled with calls. Jesus calls the people to himself and to the kingdom of God, and the people call to Jesus for help and healing. We are barely into the first chapter when John, called by God to proclaim and practice a baptism of repentance, pays for his obedience to this call by being arrested by a worthless king.

Jesus, baptized by John, hears the voice of his Father proclaiming a call that is unique: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” and then spends 40 agonizing days in the wilderness contemplating his calling. Having chosen the way of utter obedience, he starts immediately to live out his response not in isolation but in the gathering of those whom he in turn calls by name.

There is an immediacy here, an urgency that propels the message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Cold chills run up and down the spine when the Son of God pronounces the word “time” – kairos in the Greek, the special time of God. Jesus uses this word, kairos, to speak of its fulfillment, or to declare at crucial moments: “My time (kairos) has not yet come.” He is always aware of where he is in God’s kairos.

As reported by Mark, he calls two sets of brothers first. Were they aware of God’s time? Is this why they responded so quickly? There seems to be no question in their minds that this is God’s call to them through this young, vibrant Jesus who becomes the focus of their existence from then on, even though most of the time they don’t understand him. With such obedience to God’s call to a new life is the world changed and saved.

The remarkable American anthropologist and medical doctor, Paul Farmer, responded to a conviction that all human beings on earth deserve medical care. Together with four other doctors he founded Partners in Health, and in the process is changing the lives of the poorest of the poor in Haiti, Peru, and Rwanda. What a shining light this man is in the midst of a hurting people. All because he responded to a call to heal the poor.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus responded to an inner conviction that poor women deserve to receive loans with the lowest interest possible so that their lives could be changed. By changing the lives of women for the better, he knew that he could help improve the lives of their whole families. On that conviction, or call, he founded the Grameen Bank, and the practice of giving small loans to women and the poor in general is now flourishing.

Desmond Tutu heard the call of God, which filled him with the unshakable conviction that all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin, are created in the image of God. That conviction led him to work with another great human being, Nelson Mandela, to bring an end to the evil of apartheid.

The stories of response to a call from God can be found all around us. We need them during this Sunday in Epiphany because the world at large is darkening with wars and currently with the enormous human misery in Gaza. We desperately need the light of Epiphany, the revelation that shines upon people who respond to a call from God, regardless of their background and religion. When their words and their actions bring light, they are all blessed by God regardless of the name by which they call their Creator.

Simon and Andrew, James and John did not know how their lives would unfold when they responded to the call of Jesus, who promised to make them fishers of humanity. They responded to his call because the man of God who was calling them possessed the light of Epiphany in his person. They knew instantly that he was from God, and they said, Yes! They didn’t stop to ask: “What will this cost me?” They left their livelihood behind.

In the case of Peter, did he wonder, “What will this mean to my wife, my family?” He knew that responding to the call of Jesus was good regardless of the consequences. He had regrets and failures and loss of confidence later, but all that passed because the light of Epiphany remained with him burning steady to the end.

Saying yes to the call of God means great suffering in many cases. Look at John the Baptist; look at Jesus and his disciples, and at Paul. Yet, not one of them turned away with regret. They were faithful to the end, even to death upon a cross. And because of their response to God’s call, we reap the blessings of their obedience. What responsibility does this place upon our shoulders? What if the call has sounded and we have ignored it?

May the light of Epiphany shine upon us in such a way that we see, recognize, hear, and respond to God when we too are called by name.

 

— Katerina Whitley teaches at Appalachian State University and is the author of five books of Biblical characters who obeyed God’s call.

Opening ourselves, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2006

January 22, 2006

(RCL) Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

We all remember the story about Jonah being swallowed by a whale, but what we might have forgotten is why. This is the story: God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, a corrupt city, and tell them that if they repent, God will not destroy them. This annoys Jonah, who thinks that the Ninevites deserve whatever they get. So he pouts, and frets, and finally runs away. He takes a ship as far away as he can possibly go, to the ends of the known world. But there is a storm, and in desperation the sailors toss Jonah – who had told them he was fleeing from God – into the sea, and Jonah is swallowed by a great fish. Jonah prays to the Lord for three days, and at the end of that time the Lord tells the fish to deposit Jonah on dry land.

After all this, God again asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, and he finally does so, reluctantly at best. The king and the people hear Jonah’s message, and they fast and repent. God saw this, and the scripture tells us he “changed his mind” and did not destroy them. While God is pleased, Jonah is very displeased that God relented, and God rebukes him for his lack of charity.

In contrast, we have the gospel from Mark, the story of the call of Simon and Andrew and James and John. According to Mark, the men “immediately” left their fishing nets and boats to follow Jesus. And then there is Paul telling the Corinthians that time is growing short, that they should live with the knowledge that “the present form of this world is passing away.” We sometimes interpret Paul as being against “the world,” against marriage and emotions and family ties, but it is really more his sense of urgency that comes through his letters. It’s not that he’s against these things so much as it is this urgency that informs his understanding of discipleship.

This same urgency colors the gospel accounts of Jesus. Mark’s tempo or pace is so much more rapid and less literary, if you will, than the other gospels. He is in a hurry to tell his story, and the oral tradition of Mark’s gospel comes through clearly. There is also that same sense of urgency, of no time to waste – the early church really believed that the end of the world was near. So it would have been unthinkable to Mark that the disciples would have done anything else but respond to Jesus “immediately.”

Being human, it is likely that the apostles really didn’t drop everything that minute to follow Jesus. They probably had to make arrangements for their workers, check in at home, and all the usual things that we have to do before going on a trip. But Mark is telling a story and trying to make a point: this wasn’t just any journey, this was important.

How often do we drop everything and follow when God calls? We tend, rather, to be more like Jonah than James and Andrew in our response to God. We are slow and reluctant, we drag our feet, we are recalcitrant, and we are annoyed when God doesn’t do what we think God should do. We have lots of excuses about why we can’t do it that way, or why we can’t do it now. Often God’s plans for us, God’s interventions in our lives, have very little to do with our own plans, and they are usually inconvenient. It’s not what we had planned, they way we thought things would work out, or what we thought we would do with our lives. Sometimes, like Jonah, we just simply don’t want to do it.

The other interesting thing about Jonah’s story, aside from his reluctance, is how annoyed he was that God was willing to give the people of Nineveh a second chance (or third or fourth). Jonah just wanted God to smite them. He didn’t think they deserved a second chance, didn’t deserve saving. How often do we feel the same way? How often do we think that people with whom we disagree or people who are different from us don’t deserve God’s mercy, don’t deserve saving? Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, female or male, straight or gay, environmentalists or developers, black or white, young or old, Christian or non-Christian – the lists we make are endless in terms of differences, real or perceived, and where we draw the line in the sand. Usually we feel it is only people like us who will be saved, and who are deserving of it.

We may find Jonah amusing, ridiculous, or appalling as he mutters and whines against God’s offer of redemption to the Ninevites, and as he tries to run away from God. But if we let the story touch us, if we plumb the depths of our own hearts, we will find Jonah there within us – that part of us that judges and condemns, that desires revenge rather than justice, vengeance instead of mercy.

Jonah spends three days inside the whale, in the darkness, so he will have time to think, so he will learn a lesson. We, too, spend much time in darkness. The vengeance that we desire, the hurt feelings and grudges and rages that we carry for years weigh us down and eat at us. We are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. It doesn’t hurt the other person–the Ninevites were not hurt by Jonah’s reluctance, only Jonah was – but it damages us spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and physically. We are the ones spending time in darkness, we are the ones imprisoned.

Like Jonah, we sit outside the city, angry and hurting, separating ourselves from God and others. But there is a way out. We can choose to let go of our hurts and move on. As in the story of Jonah, God is ready to offer us love and mercy, too. It is that love and mercy that heals us and allows us to move out of the darkness. It doesn’t change the fact that we were hurt, it doesn’t mean that we weren’t right to be angry, but it moves us beyond that into a different place where we can go on.

Maybe that’s what those men saw in Jesus: a way to move beyond the things that were keeping them stuck and in the dark. Maybe they could sense his acceptance, his love, and his mercy toward them. In a society where they lived under Roman rule, where they were the downtrodden ones, perhaps they sensed the freedom he offered them to live in a different way, more wholly and more alive.

Is it possible that our judgment and condemnation of others is really a commentary on how deserving we feel ourselves? If we do not believe that we are deserving of God’s love and mercy, it is easier to deny others as well. If we feel stuck in the dark, downtrodden, not free, not whole, not really alive, we are in desperate need of what God offers us through Jesus Christ. Opening ourselves to that possibility is the only way we will be healed.

How much healing could we bring to ourselves and our broken world if we could accept God’s love and mercy for ourselves and for everyone else, as we have seen it lived out and enfleshed in Jesus? How loving and generous could we be with others if we could learn to be loving and generous to ourselves? In a world torn by division and strife, these could be the most important questions we ask ourselves at the beginning of this new year.

— The Rev. Kathleen L. Wakefield is associate rector at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau, Alaska, a spiritual director and retreat leader, and a wife and mother.