Sermon 10 January:
New beginnings; new teaching; new ways…
Mark: 1:14-22; 2:13-17; 3:13-19
The gospel of Mark is short and sweet; full of energy and movement. Mark doesn’t waste time, he has an important message to share and he wants to get on with it.
So, no birth narrative for Mark; no early years, just straight in to the message: Jesus is the Man! Mark wants everyone to know it:
Jesus is the man and I’m going to tell you all about him, his message and a great opportunity.
The first three chapters of the gospel are interspersed with miracles and conversations, and each one leave people stunned, questioning, wondering… “Who is this man?”
The three short readings from each of the first three chapters that we heard today highlight how the twelve were chosen. It is clear that every day more and more people are gathering, listening, responding to Jesus words; and in amongst the crowd of people Jesus saw the ones that had the greatest … well. The greatest what? I often wonder about these disparate men.
Men who would run away; men who would make bad choices; men who would disown, doubt and betray… and somehow in these ill-equipped, unreliable, unlikely men Jesus saw potential.
In our three readings I saw three things: new beginnings; new teaching; new ways of being.
Everyone was given an opportunity to start again; to start fresh – to turn and believe. Everyone. Not just the educated. Or the people of faith. Not the scholars and lawyers. Not the respectable alone… but everyone.
Especially those who the teachers and lawyers turned their noses up at: tax collectors were really lowest of the low. They had chosen to work for the Romans – it was Roman taxes they collected; and added their own percentage on top. Regularly swindling and abusing the system, leaving people helpless, caught in a trap – for they had to pay, there wasn’t any choice.
The price to the tax collector was total isolation; they were despised by the Romans; they were feared and shunned by the Jews. They may become wealthy, but they had nothing to hope for; no joy. The love of money had made them completely alone. They needed hope more than any other section of society.
For Matthew to be offered a new beginning, a new start was perhaps the most radical and astonishing call issued by Jesus. To be included, called, invited, welcomed… loved. To be loved. What a marvellous feeling!
Jesus saw beneath the outward appearances; Jesus looked at the person, not the place in society. And when he looked at Matthew he saw the goodness underneath.
Fishermen were couthy, hardworking peasants. They worked long hard hours; the work was physically demanding and prey to the vagaries of weather and seasons. And generally the business was a family one. Passed father to son. So calling brothers, two sets of brothers, would have decimated two family businesses. We don’t know about Simon and Andrew’s family. But we hear that James and John left their father in the boat. Just like that.
I can’t imagine that Zebedee was best pleased! And every time I read this part of the calling of the apostles I feel sorry for the old man abandoned in his boat.
These men, who were not prone to daydream; not likely to be impetuous or impulsive were given an amazing opportunity. Here was a man, a good story teller, a man who seemed to be in touch with God on a new and unexpected level; and suddenly he saw something that no one else had seen, least of all the fishermen themselves!
Possibility. Potential. A risk worth taking. And he spoke their language, he didn’t dress it up, impose rules and restrictions. It was a simple, clear message.
Come with me.
You can be fishers of men.
This was a whole new teaching. Not confined to the learned and educated, but freely available to all. And underlined – I’m not here to call the respectable. I’m here for the outcasts. WOW!
Jesus taught through story; through allegory; through using the everyday things that people knew and repurposing them, helping ordinary people to connect with God in a way that they’d never seen before. No need for holy, exclusive language.
No need for flowery words and convoluted rules.
To say it was radical is possibly the biggest understatement ever.
And immediately – right there in the second chapter of the gospel, Mark notes that the Pharisees don’t like it; challenge it; question it. What is he doing? Why is he with THOSE people?
I can almost see it; Jesus relaxed happy, chatting and socialising, talking about God’s love to these people who have only been told how bad and unworthy and unwelcome they are. And on the edges the teachers, muttering and mumbling; unwilling to get too close with those who they’ve scorned. Grabbing some poor sap and demanding to know what this new teacher is doing. Outraged that he should speak to the unspeakable… and Jesus, hearing, putting them on the spot. Answering their mumbling and moaning; smiling at the ones who were being cornered, pulling them back into the fold… laying the first stones which the Pharisees will build up and up and use to condemn him.
The Gospel; the Good News is not nice and sedate and ordered and wrapped in religiosity.
The Good News is radical and inclusive.
The Good News is plain and simple.
When people who don’t know me discover what my job is there is a tendency for explanation.
“OH, I don’t go to church”
“Ah, yes, well, you know I’m spiritual, but I don’t do all that organised religion….”
“I can worship God out in the hills far better than in church…”
And, my favourite, “I’m just not religious really…” to which I always reply, “Neither am I!”
I pray – and talk to God; out on walks, and when I’m washing up; and when I’m getting ready for meetings.
I get distracted, and my mind wanders, and I forget to read, or fall asleep, I fear that what I do will never be good enough.
And then I remember: the tax collectors; the fishermen; the rebels and the impetuous bad boys. And I thank God.
I’m not religious. Or at least I don’t think I am.
But I do have faith in the Good News of the Gospel.
It’s a simple message: God loves you. God wants you to love others, love God, love yourself.
God calls you: yes. God calls every single one of us. Calling is not confined to ministry in the church.
We minister when we teach; when we nurse; when we work in offices, and in shops; when we stay at home and care for children or parents or others. We minister when we have no work – when our health is compromised and unpredictable.
We minister when we use the skills and talents we have for good. For compassion and kindness and sympathy and generosity and to share hope, love, faith, joy: helping others to see God at work in the things we do.
The message Jesus brought was astonishing: God loves. Pure and simple. Turn back and follow God.
And when you do, you too will have a New Beginning; hear the New Teaching; follow the New Ways.
Jesus calls us
Will you follow him?