I.Theme – Discipleship and change
“Christ Calling the Apostles Peter and Andrew” -Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
By Bruce Epperly – Process and Faith
“Today’s lectionary readings highlight change – divine and human. Many “orthodox” people see God as impassible – any possibility of change taints divine purity and holiness. What makes God is the absolute discontinuity between God and us: we wither and perish but God endures, always complete in knowledge and power. Before the earth was created, God determined everything without our consultation. Even our turning from evil – or refusal to follow God’s path – is somehow known in advance and since God’s knowledge is always active, determined in advance. Any change on God’s part, such “orthodoxy” maintains, would put in doubt God’s fidelity. But, such changeless visions of God are bought at a price – God is aloof from our world, insensitive to our pain, and – much worse – the likely source of the evils we experience.
“Jonah no doubt expected hell-fire and brimstone to rain down on Nineveh. He preached doom and gloom as the natural – or divinely ordained – consequence of their wickedness. I suspect Jonah believed that humans don’t change – once evil always evil, once corrupt always corrupt. Although the scripture telescopes this ancient story, the only words from Jonah’s mouth are “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Repentance and moral reformation aren’t even part of his message. But, the people change their ways, perhaps hoping to avert disaster. Regardless of their motivation, they are saved. As the story goes, because they change, “God changed God’s mind” and the city was spared.
“Two key theological points emerge. First, this passage describes the vision of a changing God, who not only calls but also responds. In the dance of relationship, when we change, God also changes. God is not bound by God’s past eternal or temporal decisions. God is free to act creatively in relationship to our creativity. Second, this vision begs the question: does God choose to destroy cities and nations, or is there a dynamic synergy of acts and consequences which leads to certain results to which even God must respond? The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead takes the latter viewpoint: God’s aim or vision for each moment is the “best for that impasse.”
“Always contextual, God’s movements in our lives respect our autonomy. Just as unbelief in Jesus’ hometown limits his healing power – he could no great work, but some small acts of transformation – our thoughts and actions shape and may limit the extent of God’s work in the world. Sometimes the best God can do in certain situations is to attempt to place boundaries on pain and evil-doing, rather than achieving something of great beauty. God never gives up – in relationship to Nineveh or us – but must respond creatively to our actions.
“The Psalm invites us to contemplate God’s faithfulness and loving power. When we pause amid the storm and stress of life, we will see a pattern of divine fidelity. The affairs of life are seen for what they are – temporary in light of God’s enduring love. This perspective enables us to be active in the world without becoming overly attached to the results of our actions. This enables us to be committed to justice without polarizing and to seek transformation without succumbing to the culture wars.
“The passage from I Corinthians highlights the perpetual perishing character of life. All flesh is grass. Only God endures. Accordingly, we must take our commitments seriously but not urgently. The key to a spiritually centered life is to affirm our current commitments, yet experience freedom in relationship to them. Relationships change and grow, mourning passes, possessions fade away, and rejoicing turns to sorrow. There is something Taoist about Paul’s words. When we experience the flow of life without clinging to what eventually passes, we experience the peace that passes all understanding.
“The Gospel reading describes Jesus’ inaugural message. “The realm of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Divine intimacy challenges us to change. In changing our ways, we open the door to hearing the good news. We believe ourselves into transformed actions and we act our way into transformed beliefs. The good news is that you can be changed – as Paul asserts in Romans 12:2, “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“Mark began his gospel with “the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God,” and now we hear Jesus’ version of just what that Good News is. The first disciples abandon their jobs and homes, their security to follow him.
“In the Epiphany season of divine revealing, we challenged to ask: Where do we need to be transformed? What changes do we and our institutions need to make to be faithful to God? We can change and in our changing, we are responding to God and enable God to do new and innovating things in our lives and the world.”
First Reading – Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Jonah is the fifth book in the block of books at the end of the Old Testament called the ‘Twelve Minor Prophets’. It is different in a number of ways from the other books in this section in that it is mainly about a prophet, rather than a focus on prophetic oracles, and would easily fit into the literature of 1 Kings.
The reading has been chosen partly because of the similarity between Jonah’s call to the Ninevites for repentance and Jesus’ call for repentance and proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark (1:14-20). In many ways the similarity ends there.
1. Jonah, in contrast to Jesus, is the most reluctant of prophets. He has done everything he could to escape the mission. God has given him (Jonah 1-2). It is only after the most extraordinary, and even ridiculous tale that we find him much against his will doing what God initially asked. In typical Mark fashion the response of Simon, Andrew, James and John is immediate and they follow Jesus.
2. By contrast, Jonah’s story is one in which he does all he can to avoid God’s call. Instead of heading north-east to Nineveh, he sails west, and when God sends the storm upon the ship, he is all too willing to be cast overboard and drown rather than heed the divine call (Jon. 1:12). Only after the amusing story of God sending a great fish to swallow Jonah and later regurgitate him (Jonah 2), do we find him in a place from which he can now go about his task. But even in this his reluctance persists. He cannot, in the end, believe that God is willing to accept the repentance of these foreign peoples (Jon. 4:5). In fact, all the way through the story Jonah, the reluctant prophet, leaves behind him repentant and worshipping foreigners who, in spite of his actions, have perceived the presence of God in the world (cf. 1:16). Jonah cannot accept the magnanimity of God in his grace toward all peoples. Jonah cannot accept that God can be forgiving toward the Ninevites
The story of Jonah is a satire of a kind of discipleship that is neither open, nor really understanding of the nature and breadth of God’s gracious desire to forgive.
3, The beginning of Mark’s Gospel speaks with strength about the power of God’s claim upon the lives of his people within the context of God’s work in the world. Jesus proclaims boldly the advent of the kingdom of God, and the first part of the Gospel vividly pictures that (e.g. Mark 1:21-28). The disciples are invited to participate in this great event. The Book of Jonah, on the other hand, pictures one called by God who struggles with his own prejudice, preconception, and pride.
4. But the story of Jonah goes further than this. It not only traces the steps of a reluctant prophet, but it celebrates the willingness and joy of others to hear God’s call. Jonah speaks his message in what amounts to five words in Hebrew (Jon. 3:4). In spite of the enormous size of the city and Jonah’s lack of mention of God in his short speech, the people of Nineveh, even their king, hear his proclamation and repent. Again this is meant to be a humorous story as even the animals are to don sackcloth and ashes in repentance and worship (v. 8). The point is, as in the Gospel story, it is the power of God which makes it possible for others to perceive God’s grace and turn. It is not the strength, boldness, courage or cleverness of prophets or disciples that allows it to happen, but simply the grace of God who stands behind the message. Neither Jonah’s reluctance nor the willingness of Jesus’ disciples is paramount in the economy of God’s kingdom. It is the power of the word of God itself which opens lives up and turns them around.
5 Jonah (both the book and the character) is meant to make us laugh. This is so because behind the gracious gift of God to his people (both Nineveh and Jonah) is a joy that cannot be contained within the confines of a serious demeanor. It is so also because one of the only ways we are able to perceive our own faults and need of repentance, is to see them parodied in the ridiculous behavior of an idiot like Jonah.
1. God’s love and compassion.
God perseveres to work through Jonah to offer salvation to this heathen city. Interestingly, there appears no reason why the Ninevites deserve the opportunity to turn to God. Indeed, Jonah is very angry that they heard God through his message and responded. It is God’s mercy, not God’s judgment, that represents the most lethal threat to the serious plans and principles we contrive to keep the world in its place.
What Jonah is fearful of is what he should fear, and that is that God’s mercy might well prove greater than the Ninevites’ sin. That is the joker in the deck, the great intrusion that Jonah knows he cannot control.
2. God changing mind
In the Old Testament there are a number of instances in which the mind of God changes from one action to another: Moses prays for Israelites in Exod 32:12-14 that God will not punish them and Amos 7:3 ff.. Because of our doctrine of an immutable God, Christians have difficulty coping with God who can choose to change from one declared action to another
It not only traces the steps of a reluctant prophet, but it celebrates the willingness and joy of others to hear God’s call. Jonah speaks his message in what amounts to five words in Hebrew (Jon. 3:4)
3. God ability to do the unthinkable
It is vitally important to remember that God’s ability to do the incomprehensible, to extend mercy to the least deserving that opens the door to our own hope. A friend recently remarked that the spiritual gift most Christians seem to possess is the gift of righteous indignation.
Psalm – Psalm 62:6-14 Page 669, BCP
This is a psalm of trust and instruction. The psalm is an instructional meditation that offers to teach something about the life of faith (the life of trust).
There is evidence psalmist felt some oppression or abuse. The psalmist calls for trust and refuge in God intensifying a thought already expressed in Psalm 61 and looking forward to Psalm 63, Trust
1 God is a “refuge” (verses 7. 8; 2 The psalmist “waits” in silence (verses 1, 5:2); 3 the psalmist says “I shall not be shaken” (verse 2)
In God he finds his hope for deliverance, his reference point in life and his “refuge” from enemies. God will not go behind one’s back, destroying those who rely upon him. In the final analysis all strength and power come, not from nourishment or physical exercise, but from God. In any case, the author is not vengeful or angry (verse 7), only at peace. Accordingly, this peace becomes the basis of a call to others to share in this great discovery
Perhaps the poet, using the law of asylum, has experienced this personally by fleeing to the sanctuary and hanging onto the horns of the altar. In any case, the author is not vengeful or angry (verse 7), only at peace. Accordingly, this peace becomes the basis of a call to others to share in this great discovery (verse 8).
Verses 9-12) does not begin as the previous two did. Instead of reflecting the negative experience depicted in part 1, the author now evaluates all humans as unable to provide security. Compared to God, humans are nothing. Even those who have amassed a fortune and those who exercise power cannot be relied upon.
The bottom line is in vv. 11b and 12a: the psalmist has heard God say that power and “steadfast love” (loyalty to the covenant ) belong to him: he has learnt this well (“twice”). God does reward everyone based on his or her actions.
Praise is not just advised for others but given to God. Our Lord is reliable when others fail us. For centuries this was the central message of the Temple worship services. Sacred history, too, interpreted the past and present as the arena where God was active on their behalf.
Epistle – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The lesson from 1 Corinthians, like the Gospel (Mark 1:14-20), has to do with time and the place of the believer within it.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus proclaims: “The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The moment is one of urgency, for God’s reign is breaking into human history. Paul begins with similar urgency: “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time (kairos) has grown short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). Paul expects the imminent arrival of Christ in his glory, when “the present form of this world” passes away (7:31), and that makes all the difference in the world as to how one should live.
This short passage falls within a larger section in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which deals with the issue of celibacy. Clearly, some in the Corinthian church had begun practising celibacy as a religious duty. Paul seeks to give balance to this issue. It is within this context that he gives his readers advice on the right way to handle “the things of the world.”
This passage revolves around two related ideas: “the appointed time has grown short” (verse 29) and “the present form of this world is passing away” (verse 31).
i] First, “this is a critical time.” In the sight of God, this particular moment in human history is a critical moment before the end of the age. In this moment, in and through the person of Jesus Christ, it is possible for all humanity to come to know the living God, know him and live with him for eternity. For those of us in the know, it is not a time to be diverted by the fleeting shadows of this age.
ii] Second, “this world, in its present form, is passing away.” The shape of human society, of family, politics, commerce, education, art, science… and all the accumulated debris of human endeavour, are but shadows, images without lasting substance. That is not to say they are evil. It is true that evil people use them for evil purposes and thus pollute them, but they are still good in themselves, the bounty of a loving Creator. Yet, in the end, this age is but a shadow “passing away.” We are but “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”, James 4:14.
For the present time is passing away.” We live in the era between Christ’s first and second coming. This is the era in which God calls his church to bring as many as possible to believe in him and to follow his ways. This is an enormous task, and not one to be taken lightly – it requires maximum effort from a few. Paul expected the era to end in his own lifetime, so to him every minute of each day counted in a big way: time spent on other activities was time lost.
In between. Now Paul turns again to the matter of singles and married couples. He recommends that they remain in their present state (7:25-28). The basis for his recommendation is: “in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are” (7:26). In short, Paul’s imminent eschatology (his sense of the end of all things coming soon) governs all that is being said. It is the foundation for the way of life that he recommends.
In his eyes, the world was coming to an end. Christians should be primarily concerned about the coming of the Lord, not upon their daily existence. Paul lumped the practice of marriage with the joys and pains of daily living. And with the daily necessities of commerce.
This entire discussion leads us to the brief passage assigned for today Paul says, one is to live “as though not” married, mourning, rejoicing, making purchases, and (in summation) dealing with the world in general.
What Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is a response to questions from the community of believers at Corinth. Prior to the passage assigned for today, he has taken up a series of issues. He writes that the single life is better, but recommends marriage to help prevent sexual immorality (7:1-9). He urges that believers not divorce one another, although conceding that divorce might be necessary in some cases (7:10-16). And he counsels those who become Christians not to make changes. For example, slaves should not think that they must become free, but accept freedom if it is offered (7:11-24).
Paul’s advice to married men (v. 29b) – to behave as though they have no wives – must be taken in context, so let us look at the whole chapter Vv. 32-33 tell us why he wrote vv. 29-31a: “I want you to be free from anxieties … the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided”. Paul is saying that, at a very critical time in history, when all effort is needed to bring people to the Lord, some need to devote some effort to other matters As far as Paul is concerned, being either married, or unmarried, is not really the issue.
We need to devote as much effort as possible to God’s work. What we do in the world (e.g. commerce, “deal with the world”) is of transitory value. Our focus should be on preparation for Christ’s second coming.
Paul is saying: reduce distractions and you will cope better with the challenges which meet you as people living in the end time. He is doubtless thinking of the prospect of hardship. For some this would be general advice about life, whether one believes the age is about to end or not. It is really important to stay centred, connected with God, who is one and so helps us integrate our life and activity and see things in perspective.
Basic to his thinking is that one is to disengage from the world, for all is transitory. There is no point in becoming consumed or even entangled with the world and its concerns, for the “present form of this world is passing away.”
Amidst these examples, it is helpful to put side-by-side two words: “disengagement” and “engagement.” In his ethical thinking, and in our passage for today, Paul calls upon persons of faith to disengage from the world and its ways of living. One should step back and see how being entangled with it can be a captivity preventing one from living the new life in Christ. But that is not the end of the matter, for we continue to live in this world and have to deal with it. In Paul’s way of thinking, disengagement is not an end in itself. Rather, being disengaged and set free, a person can engage the world from the perspective of being one who is “in Christ.”
Gospel – Mark 1:14-20
There are 3 sections to Mark’s reading
1. Jesus’ proclamation (1:14-15) 2. The calling of Peter and Andrew (1:16-18) 3. The calling of James and John (1:19-20)
Mark separates the ministry of Jesus from that of John the Baptist, so only after the arrest of John does Jesus begin his ministry in earnest With the end of John’s ministry comes the end of one stage of history. Now, Jesus and his gospel come to center stage. Jesus is not just “saying” (NRSV) the announcement we now hear, but “proclaiming” (Greek the good news of the kingdom.
The arrest of John and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry are intentionally correlated to show that the gospel is proclaimed and known in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort.
Mark also differentiates Jesus’ message from John’s, although Matthew implies that they are the same, cf. Matt.3:2. John calls for repentance in the face of the coming-one who brings with him the cleansing Spirit. This call finds fulfillment in Jesus who communicates the “gospel”, or “good news.” The word actually means “important message” and it is either good news, or bad news, depending on how we respond to it.
There are three parts to the message and Mark gives us a summary:
i] “The time has come / is fulfilled / completed”. All that the prophets foretold concerning the coming of the messiah, the anointed Davidic leader, is coming to fruition in and through the person of Jesus. This is an epoch making time, a defining moment time.
ii] “The kingdom of God is near / at hand / bursting in upon us.” The glorious day when God will fulfill his promises to Abraham, gather a people to himself to eternally live secure under his rule of peace, is bursting into this world. Again, this is actualized in the person of Jesus, who both inaugurates the kingdom in the present moment, and will realize it at his second coming. But the verbs also indicate a deed / action that has now begun and is yet unfinished.
iii] “Repent and believe”.
Jews believed that when they individually and collectively admitted the error of their ways and returned to God’s way (“repent”), the Messiah would come.
Consider also that Mark portrays Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom coming not only as a gift (“good news”), but also with a demand- repent and give up all to follow.
Announcing that God’s reign is near has the consequence of an urgent call for repentance, that is, aligning one’s values and way of life with God’s ways. The message demands a response.
Membership in the coming kingdom demands a turning toward the living God. It is a turning back to God, a conversion. The response also involves belief: faith, dependence on, firm reliance on, a reliance on the gospel for salvation.
Examples of the immediacy of Jesus’ call to turn around and believe are present in the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John. The scene is the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a lake about 12 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point.
Repent” does NOT mean to feel badly or guilty. It DOES mean to change one’s behavior; to re-align it with new principles, new beliefs, new understandings, new insights, new objectives, new goals. The rest of the Gospel of Mark then describes how this message is actually made known.
“Repent” is part of the poetry of exile, something that the Israelites knew a lot about. Repenting, when in exile, meant going home.
The disciples did not yet know what the Reign of God would mean but they trusted Jesus to guide them. This for them was the beginning of faith.
Who did he seek ?
->He sought the least likely. The joy of the Gospel is that God helped us because we were helpless. How much more then should we be called to the weakest among us?
->He focused on a small inner group. Jesus was not intent on gathering sheep for his pen (denomination); he was intent on making shepherds for the lost. He blessed the “shepherds” who were out healing in his name even though they weren’t among his own apostles. Similarly, he admonished his own apostles when they were unable to do the works of evangelism during his short absences.
->He honored his first commitments. that Jesus followed God’s leads in accepting his disciples instead strategically picking potential leaders.
For What task ? – The Gospel is ultimately about “sending and going” not “watching and waiting”. The lesson here is that we don’t have to go far to change the world; what we need is an alluring vision that will focus people on changing their own neighborhood.
It seems that Jesus sees Simon and Andrew at night (or just before dawn) as they are actively fishing; and then sees James and John after dawn as they are now finished fishing and are in their boat mending their nets.
The fact that Jesus is out alone at night and that the four all leave their families to follow / travel with Jesus is abnormal and deviant behavior. The fact that later we are told that Andrew and Peter have their own house (1:29) and that James and John have hired hands (1:20) indicates that these were not poor, destitute fishermen, but that they were prosperous at their trade. . They gave up security and family (“left their father”, v. 20) to devote themselves to Christ’s mission.
Simon, Andrew, James and John. Jesus already knew them: he had met them where John the Baptist was preaching (Jn 1:35). The first nucleus of disciples is this natural group of lake fishermen of which Peter seemed to be the leader. They were most probably young men, ready to make a commitment at a time and in a culture where people were freer than we are from the constraints of work.
Simon and Andrew, perhaps weary from a night of fishing, are still plying their nets when a stranger approaches them on the shore in the person of Jesus. The dialogue is brief. In fact it might have appeared to them that this stranger was not that familiar with their trade. Jesus’ words must have sounded strange as he doesn’t talk about the usual fishing for lake trout but fishing for people? Now to rugged men of the sea this would have no correlation with their experience.
The text gives us no clue to what is going on inside their heads at such a strange proposal. There was no preparation. The only note we get from the text is the second occurrence of “immediately.”
James and John are called next. Notice what James and John were doing when Jesus called them; they were mending broken nets—it was “down time.” In other circumstances, you see Jesus calling his disciples when the catch is poor and the day was long. Some might think; “Isn’t this a bad time to talk about God?”
The truth is; it seems that it is during the down times and the bad times which are the exact times when people are most likely to hear what God has to say; that is the perfect net-mending time.
Jesus was not a solo act, according to Mark. The ‘good news of the kingdom’ is about what happens to people and it is also about people, about community.
Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.
The clue to Jesus’ meaning, at least in Mark, must be Mark’s Jesus. It will mean reaching out and touching people, bringing healing, liberation, renewal. It will mean joining Jesus’ ‘act’.
The command, “Come behind me,” may be a way of saying, “Make Jesus the most important thing in your life.” Even one’s own self comes in second behind Jesus.
This understanding of the phrase may be supported by their reaction. We are told that Andrew and Peter, “immediately leaving the nets, they followed him.” Their successful occupations take a back seat to Jesus. James and John “leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands, they go behind him.” Their family relationships take a back seat to Jesus.
The point here is that following Jesus requires not just assent of the heart, but a fundamental reordering of socio-economic relationships. The first step in dismantling the dominant social order is to overturn the “world” of the disciple: in the kingdom, the personal and the political are one…. This is not a call “out” of the world, but into an alternative social practice.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm – Psalm 62:5-12
Epistle – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel – Mark 1:14-20