3rd Sunday after Epiphany
What does our Heavenly Father want from His children? What does the Ruler and Creator
of the Universe expect from the citizens of His kingdom?
The answer has two aspects to it, horizontal and vertical: our relationships
with one another and just as importantly our relationship to the Almighty.
Recently I heard a minister make the statement, "all…all
God wants from us is to love one another". On reflection, I feel quite sorry for this man.
For as this minister continued to
speak, it became clear that he was deeply disappointed with various conflicts: quarrels within the Church, clashes between political
parties, and the recent turmoil in the Middle East. His grief over broken human relationships caused him to singularly focus on only
the horizontal (human to human) aspect of Christian life.
Yes, God does want us to love one another. St. John records that Jesus
said to his disciples, "love one another, just as I have loved you". But loving one another is not "all" God wants. It is not "all"
that Christ calls for us to do. Loving one another is an important element, but it is not the only element in the vast fabric of the
In fine textiles the woven components, the warp (horizontal) and the woof (vertical) are integral parts of the
whole. Likewise, if modern Christians just focus on loving one another, they miss the great richness found in the Gospel message.
We need both horizontal and vertical.
In today's short Gospel reading, St. Mark outlines three important threads that we need
to weave into the fabric of our being: repentance, belief, and obedience…and each of these threads are focused vertically…focused
on loving God.
The context of today's reading is that Jesus is proclaiming, "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is
at hand". I want you to notice, as the passage unfolds, how each element of Mark's account has everything to do with our acknowledging
the Sovereignty of God, the kingship of Jesus Christ. He rules over creation and His plans for that creation are coming to fruition.
The first thread is repentance. We need to understand the pecking order of things: God is here <hand held high> and we
are here <hand held low>. And our willful disobedience grieves our Sovereign Lord.
Repentance is a necessary requirement
for entry into the Kingdom of God, because being penitent acknowledges the hierarchical fact that we owe allegiance to our Sovereign
God and have failed due to our own self-centeredness.
Repentance does not buy us forgiveness; it is a powerful demonstration
that the Lord of the Kingdom deserves infinite honor and respect and you intend to submit.
The second vertical thread that Mark
weaves into his story of Jesus' ministry is belief: Belief in the Gospel (or Good News as some translate the Greek). The Greek word
for Gospel/Good News is eu-an-gel-ion. It has a very specific meaning.
This is not simply "good news" as in "hey honey, I'm
pregnant". No, in ancient times, the word meant good news of national importance. When a new king ascended to power, the "good news",
the eu-an-gel-ion, was proclaimed throughout the land. In latter Roman times, the papyrus itself, on which was written the proclamation,
was known as the eu-an-gel-ion: the Gospel.
Here in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is preaching earth-shattering good news: the Kingdom
of God is at hand. We are called to believe that God is working in this world through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God's promises,
His aspirations for His people, are fulfilled in this humble son of Mary.
The final thread Mark outlines for us here is Jesus'
calling of four fishermen to be disciples. Well, no, he calls them to be "Fishers of men"…and I believe that this is more than just
a clever turn of phrase.
The first thing most of us think of is the harvest. Jesus is going to equip Peter, Andrew, James and
John to preach the earth-shattering good news of God's Kingdom and thus we often picture the bountiful catch of saved souls that their
nets of evangelism draw near.
However, there's more to fishing than the harvest. On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen did not sleepily
sit on their boats with a beer in one hand waiting for a passing fish to bite a worm on a hook. Rather, it was hot, back breaking
work with no guarantee of success. This was dangerous work.
Jesus wasn't calling these four (or us for that matter) to a simple
life of prayer and contemplation. He was calling them (as he calls us) to endure a life of hard, dangerous work for the Kingdom of
God. Prison awaited all four of these "fishers of men". Execution for three.
Even today, the call to Kingdom work can be challenging.
The Christians in Southern Sudan are true fishers of men, living hard, dangerous lives for the possibility of spreading the Gospel.
Bishop Nazer-Ali, formerly Bishop of Rochester, lives with 24/7 protection from Scotland Yard due to the threats on his
life in a country as safe as England. This can be dangerous work.
Now, I am not saying if you don't suffer, you are not doing
Kingdom work. But, the conceding your life to God does put a target on your back. There are many who would like to silence the earth-shattering
good news of the Kingdom of God. They can't silence the Gospel, so they will try to silence you. You will be jeered, reviled, and
shouted down whenever you preach the Gospel to an enemy of the Kingdom.
But imagine the cheers, the praise, and the uplifting
roar as a soul is fished into the Kingdom of God.
What does our Heavenly Father want from His children? What does the Ruler
and Creator of the Universe expect from the citizens of His kingdom?
First we need to repent: admit that we have been rebellious
towards our sovereign God. We need to embrace the earth-shattering Good News that He is working in this world through His anointed
Son, Jesus Christ, whom we have been called to obediently follow.
And if we follow Him, and thus know Him intimately, then,
and only then, are we capable of truly loving one another as Jesus loved us.