Make a Beeline to Jesus, and Be All-In for Him
Jan 21, 2024
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Mark 1: 14-20
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
It’s already the third Sunday in January and the third Sunday after Epiphany. A great deal has happened in the Gospel of Mark during that time, even though we’re still in the first chapter, at verse 14. Already, the beginning of the Gospel has been announced; John the Baptist has appeared and has offered a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins to the people. Jesus has been baptized by John and then endured 40 days and nights in the wilderness, tempted by Satan and stalked by wild animals.
As today’s reading from Mark begins, a slight notice is made of the fact that John the Baptist has been arrested. Then, Jesus speaks his first words in the Gospel of Mark: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News.”
That one sentence raises a few questions: What time is fulfilled? How has the Kingdom of God come near? What does repenting involve? What is the Good News?
First, let’s focus on the time that has been fulfilled. The Greek word that is used is not “chronos”, from which we get the English work chronological. This reference is not to the seconds, minutes, hours and days, months, years, and the activities that fill them, that make up our lives. Instead, the Greek word used here for time is “kairos”, which is a particular, decisive, special moment when “chronos” is interrupted. In this “kairos” moment, writes commentator David Lose, “something long planned comes to fruition, when all that was meant to be has come together and now is the time of completion and fullness.” (1)
God has intervened in human affairs and has come near in Jesus. The coming of God’s kingdom began is Jesus’ first coming, which we just celebrated, and will be fulfilled in his second coming. This is the time to repent and believe! (That sounds like John the Baptist, doesn’t it?) But there is much more implied here than repenting from sin.
The most basic sense of the Greek word for repent is to change one’s mind. While it may be about something a person has done and feels remorseful about, it also can be about something you did not previously believe, or even know about, to which you are now converted. As commentator Chelsey Harmon notes, “In the life of faith and discipleship we repent of much more than our sins; we change our minds about things because we learn as we live our faith; we are converted to new ways of being because of the time we spend with God. And we are converted when we follow after our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2)
Isn’t that what happened next in today’s Gospel? Four fishermen, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, who I believe had some prior experience with Jesus that is not described in Mark, changed their minds about their futures and accepted Jesus’ promise of a different type of fishing. Consider this, by following Jesus they changed their lives; they left behind that which, presumably, gave their lives meaning (or at least occupied their time) and were open to something new.
They were “repenting” in the sense that they were becoming different people, living their lives in different ways. For them, it was a life-long process of learning, transforming and dealing with failure. How often over the years did they change their minds about their next steps, according to what God was leading them to do at that point in their lives? They believed the Good News that in Jesus the Kingdom of God had come near, but that belief was expanded and refined as time passed.
Did you notice that the word “immediately” is used about the response of both sets of brothers? That Greek word not only means “at once”, it also refers to physical space and to a straight rather than crooked route. So, the fishermen followed Jesus right then, right there, with no detours. They made a beeline for Jeus and were “all in”.
As I reflect on those first disciples and that Kairos moment, I believe that it is continuing, weaving in and out of chronological time as yet another year begins. The message is still, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” The question is, are we willing to embrace repentance as individuals and as a congregation?
Remember, the Greek word we translate “repent” means to change one’s mind. It is, as we follow Jesus, to be open to something new, to become different people, to live out our faith in expanded ways.
If you happen to go to a synod-wide or denomination-wide gathering anytime soon, you’ll hear a lot about the changes that will be required of ELCA congregations in the 21st century. Fewer members, lower attendance and resources will require more combined ministry and fewer buildings; a shortage of pastors will lead to sharing of clergy among multiple congregations, even when a given setting can afford its “own” pastor; technology will continue to revise the way ministry is done; outside funding will need to be sought for outreach ministry; evangelism will not focus on people in the pews, but creative connecting and building relationships.
Now, none of this is new news, but it is reaching the point of being ideas that no longer can be ignored or viewed as optional. As Bishop Laura Barbins once pointed out in her “Thursday Thoughts”, quoting life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change,” and Leonard Sweet, a theologian at Drew University, "Stagnation is death. If you don't change, you die. It's that simple. It's that scary.”
So, we are called by Jesus to repent, that is to change our minds about how we as a congregation proclaim the Good News, and how we as individuals live as God’s faithful people, since more, not less, will be required from us. Yet, quoting Bishop Barbins, “the change that is happening in your faith, in your life, in your church is moving you and those you love into a deeper relationship with God. Because that is what God is all about.” (3)
Jesus says to us, “___________, follow me! _____________, follow me! __________, follow me!” May we make a beeline to and be all-in for him! As we do so, God is with us and for us, because God’s kingdom has come near. AMEN
“The Right Time” by David Lose, January 19, 2021, www.davidlose.net
“Sermon Commentary for January 21” by Chelsey Harmon, www.cepreaching.org
“Thursday Thoughts” by Bishop Laura Barbins, October 26, 2023, www.neos-elca.org