Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 25, 2015
In today’s gospel lesson, Mark tells the story of the calling of the disciples Andrew, Peter, James and John. He has a rather peculiar way of telling the story. It is extremely brief. It races through a very critical and intriguing moment in Jesus’ ministry at a breathless pace. With two simple sentences he relates each set of brothers’ stories. Jesus tells them to follow him… and they leave everything and go. That’s all there is.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t wanted more from this story. Naturally, people wonder about what was going on with these guys, Andrew, Peter, James and Johan. What were they thinking when this happened? How did they feel? What did they say to their parents? How did their parents react? How could they not even question Jesus on some things?
But Mark gives us none of that. It’s just… Jesus called them to follow him… and, immediately, they went.
Why did Mark tell the story that way? He must have had more information that he could have added. Scholars who have studied Mark carefully have figured out why he told the story as he did. It’s not because Mark was a poor writer; it’s not because he told it exactly how it happened; and it’s not because Mark had no other details to include.
It’s because Mark was a man very focused on what he wanted to say. And here, Mark wanted his readers to understand that the power that created the earth and sky and all things in them… that power is present in Christ… creating again… creating new life in the people he calls.
In Christ, God speaks… as he did in the beginning… in creation; and his word bears power to move and change and create, not just land and seas… but people… their hearts, their lives. Mark returns to this theme again and again in his Gospel. The power of God is with Christ. It is active in his word and actions and when it breaks into our lives it changes everything for us. It heals; it redirects, restores, makes new and brings growth. On many occasions, Mark tells his stories in just such a way that we might understand this powerful truth about Jesus.
The Kingdom of God brings deep and lasting change upon us. So when we look to Christ, Mark wants us to look for this change. Seek it. Expect it. Go with it. Work with it. It is why Christ has come. It is what he aims to do with us and for us.
We human creatures are always in need of this power to change and grow in ways that will make our lives richer, stronger, fuller. As a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds, I see, every day at the school where I work, this need we have.
Some of the young people I work with I can see are growing and changing, becoming strong and thoughtful people, growing in awareness of their neighbor, deepening their sense of responsibility for themselves and others. They are becoming the kind of people they need to be… the kind of people they were created to be… the kind of people they are called to be.
Other children are not growing and changing as they must. They are stuck… as Paul puts it… in their childish ways. They are completely turned in on themselves. They fail to see the connection between their behavior and the consequences that behavior brings. They are not developing a healthy sense of responsibility for themselves or others. They live in a delusional world where they imagine they don’t have to grow up, but can do anything they please… or nothing at all… and everything’s going to be just fine.
Some kids lack the wisdom and power to change and grow in healthy ways; and so they don’t.
I’ve attended very many teacher workshops in my career, and most of them have done very little for me. However, one I attended I will never forget. It was about poverty and how it affects children. One of the most basic ideas that was presented was that poverty isn’t simply about a lack of money. It’s about lacking a wide range of resources.
Living in poverty may mean living without money, but it can also mean lacking emotional resources, mental, spiritual resources, support systems, and role models. Lacking all these things reflects an even deeper sense of poverty.
The presenter – who amazingly happened to be a former classmate of mine from the little town where I grew up – told her own story of growing up in poverty and how difficult that made her life. Though her poverty growing up was partly about money, it was more about support systems, role models, emotional resources and such. Her family life was so dysfunctional that she just didn’t learn and grow as she needed to do, and therefore wasn’t able to manage her life as she became older.
As a result she made one disastrous decision after the other. She got pregnant when she was 15. Then she married the boy and ended up a victim of domestic violence. She didn’t know how to parent. She didn’t know how to deal with her unhealthy, abusive marriage. She was stuck, unhappy and didn’t know what to do.
She wanted a different life, but she didn’t know how to make the changes necessary to make that happen. She kept trying, for years. Eventually, she began to make some good choices. She divorced her abusive husband. She went back to school and got a degree. She married a good and supportive man.
Her life is good today. She’s happy. She has meaningful work, a healthy marriage. But she and others continue to bear pain from her past. She talked about how it hurts to see the failures and struggles of her older children now and know that her own failure to be the kind of parent they needed is partly to blame. But they have to find their own way.
We all have to find our own way. Nobody can live our lives for us. At the end of the day, nobody can be blamed for what we become.
The promise of Christ, however, is that God is always among us to give us power to grow and change as we must. He is always among us… active in us… to bring forth in us needed new life.
And Mark, our Gospel writer, wants you to understand this clearly; so he tells the story of the call of Andrew, Peter, James and John in the way that he does. Christ says, “Follow me;” and new life is born, a new beginning that leads to growth and change unfolds.
Mark doesn’t mean to say that change and growth are easy. They are not. Mark goes on to relate how the disciples messed up again and again, and misunderstood repeatedly what was going on, and stumbled along clueless for years with Jesus. But they were on their way. Their lives were changing, powerfully, beautifully… as they were becoming what God was calling them to be.
We need to know this so that when we face the hard challenges of living, and we don’t know what to do or which way to turn; we will have the sense to look to the one who gave us life. We will listen to the one who walked this earth as “God with us” and let him teach, guide and strengthen us.
You students stand on the brink of adulthood. Think about what that means. From here on out, you will make the decisions that will define who you will become, and will leave behind a lasting imprint – good or bad – on the lives of others.
So imagine today, where will you be in 20 years.
Will you be incarcerated? Will you still have the emotional maturity of an adolescent? Will others who depend on you have to pay a dreadful price for your irresponsibility and immaturity? Will you still be blaming others for your mistakes and problems?
Or will your life show the blessing and miracle of God-given growth and change? Will you be wise enough to make decisions that strengthen your life, rather than weaken it; will you be strong enough to make it through hard times and still give strength to others who need you? Will you be compassionate and patient enough to be a good husband or wife, a good father or mother?
There’s no question that the simple act of living life well is a tremendous challenge. It is challenging for everybody and anybody. But that is the purpose for which we have all been created. It is the task to which we’ve been called. It is the reason God gives himself to us in Christ, so that we might be filled with his grace and strength and follow where he leads.
As we remember this Sunday, the call of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John, we must also remember that we too have been called to new life in Christ; all of us. So let the call of God claim you. Let the word of God teach you. And the let the power of God work in your heart and mind, and bring forth changes and growth that will lead you to new life.