a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20
preached on January 22, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Timing is everything. If Jesus had walked by the sea on some other day – or even just an hour or a few minutes earlier! – he may not have encountered Simon and Andrew there. Sure, he may have met some other fishermen at work there, but I doubt they would have been as receptive to what Jesus had to say to them.
Timing was the biggest part of Jesus’ message, after all – he was making his way around Galilee, following in the footsteps of John the Baptist, proclaiming, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (CEB)
Jesus and John the Baptist were not alone in suggesting that this was a unique time – we know from the history of that era in other sources beyond the Bible that there were plenty of people talking like this. It was a time of uncertainty and change and transition, with plenty of hope among those who wanted things to be different and much at stake for those who already had the power and were now threatened by the chance of something new. John the Baptist had already been put in jail along with countless other troublemakers, and surely anyone who followed after him risked a similar fate at the hands of the powerful leaders. Yet here in this time Jesus appears, wandering the Galilean countryside, suggesting that a change in the heart would bring real change to all of life, saying that this was the time for things to be different.
So it must have been the right time for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus stopped as he made his way along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. As Simon and Andrew were tossing their nets into the lake, Jesus invited them to join him and start fishing for people. Then a little further along, Jesus called out to James and John as they were mending the nets on their father’s boat. For some reason, all four of these men dropped what they were doing to join Jesus on his way.
The gospel of Mark says absolutely nothing about why they welcomed Jesus’ call. Maybe they had just been so unsuccessful at fishing that they wanted to try something new, to “fish for people,” as Jesus suggested. Maybe they were former followers of John the Baptist or some other teacher who had worked in their region before. Maybe they were religious people who had been looking for a new teacher with a new message. Maybe there was something special and compelling about this strange man who spoke to them with such authority and presence. Maybe they were just crazy enough to try something new. Or maybe it was just the perfect time for some combination of these or other things. Whatever the reason or reasons, these four fishermen responded to Jesus’ call. They dropped their nets, leaving their boats and families and coworkers behind, strangely ready for something new not just in their lives but in and for all the world. The time must have been right.
For some two thousand years, people have been thinking that the time is right – that it is time for God to do something new, time for everything to change, time to leave everything behind and follow Jesus. For two thousand years, people have been expecting something new to come – but it really hasn’t. Sure, people have been following Jesus all this time, and there have been some changes to things along the way, but the real, dramatic, powerful changes? They sure still seem to be a long way off. Yet Jesus kept saying, “Now is the time!” The apostle Paul said, “The present form of this world is passing away.” From their witness and countless others, we know there is something new yet still ahead – but we don’t know when it is coming. The time is not yet right.
But maybe this is the year… Some people have said that 2012 is the year when it all will come to an end. This is a pretty normal thing, you know – a self-taught biblical scholar named Harold Camping predicted the end of the world twice last year, and other Christians make a regular habit of trying to align current world events with supposed signs in the Bible to determine when the world will end. But this year there’s also the strange threat from another tradition, as the Mayan calendar of the native peoples of Mexico ends later this year. So what if 2012 is the end of the world? Would it make any difference for us? Would we be more likely to drop our nets as Simon and Andrew and James and John did? Would we live like Paul suggests to the Corinthians, with “those who have wives [being] as though they had none” and “those who deal with the world [being] as though they had no dealings with it”?
I think the reality of the call of God is that we are called to a new way of life each and every day, no matter how close or how far we are from the end of things. We are called to work with God to bring the world one day closer to the way that God intends. We are called to prepare ourselves for the time when all things will be made new. And we are called to welcome and enable and bring about change in the world that we have, here and now, in this time and place. So the time is right to live in this way, to follow in the footsteps of Simon, Andrew, James, and John, to walk with Jesus along the way to new life, to trust that there is something more in store for us and our world at a time that we do not yet know.
In this time and this place, I believe that God is calling us in this congregation to a new way of thinking and a new way of living. God is calling us to proclaim within and especially beyond these walls those words of Jesus: “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” God is calling us to live the immediate and transformative reality of God’s new life in our world. God is calling us to drop our nets and leave our boats behind so that we can respond to God’s call with openness, honesty, and hope.
So God is calling us in this time to join in these new things – to be about something more than we are now, to leave our heavy nets and leaky boats behind – so that we can have the freedom to see something new, to imagine that our future can be something more than our past, to dream that God might call us to do something more than just gather here on Sunday mornings. This is the time to do this important work, the time to change our hearts and lives, the time to trust God and follow where Jesus leads us, the time to set aside our nets and our boats, our assumptions and our expectations, and go in a new direction, for God has called us and wants and needs us to go wherever God may lead.
It wasn’t easy for the disciples to drop their nets or leave their boats, and it won’t be easy for us to follow in that same way, either. Still, the God of boldness calls us to be a part of something more than what we have been before so that all things might be made new.
May God give us the strength and the courage to know that the time is right and to walk in God’s incredible new life, now and always, until we know God’s glory in all its fullness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.