Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Jan. 24, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Jan 24, 2021 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 24, 2021

Mark’s gospel, like each of the others, has it’s own focus and intent, as well as things held in common with all of the new testament. Overall we do best with a slowed reflective reading, not so much analyzing — more putting oneself into God’s hands, entrusting our spirits to God’s Spirit. We get so used to being able to ‘Google’ anything that we get a bit drunk on finding answers or solutions. Here we’re invited to pause and engage in the questions, to let ourselves drift or float in the waters of the questions, in curiosity, more than seeking singular finality and seemingly concrete answers.

Mark is especially helpful in stirring our curiosity about who Jesus is and what it means to be a learner who follows him, a disciple. You do have to read more than one random sentence at a time to get this though! Today Mark shows us who Jesus is by setting the scene in the state of their world, and then invites us into the many-layered call to be disciples. By this point in Mark, Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan where the Spirit ascended on him, entered that dry desert and was tempted by Satan. Afterwards the angels waited on him, and he emerges just before we join him in this reading.

“After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” From this we understand John is on the outs with the governing authority and life is oppressive enough for people to hope for serious change, to hope for the coming of the Messiah. For Jesus to say the “time is fulfilled” is not about a predicted year in our time, rather about Kairos, God’s time — and this is it! And since Mark writes about believing in the good news, we also know his narrative is looking back from his perspective on the whole of Jesus’ story and his transformational power. 

Jesus calls the disciples to be fishers of people.

The next thing Jesus says is even more richly layered. “Follow me (it’s phrased as a command, not a question) and I will make (create, construct, not teach) you become (be born, come into being) fishers for people.”  Something closer to this; Come follow me now! I will create you as one reborn a fisher of people. Here’s the next layer: What happens when you fish? They weren’t fishing for sport, none of this ‘catch and release’ requiring barbless hooks. They net the fish and draw them into the boat, and when fish are out of water they die. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be fishers of people, people who must die to their old allegiances and ways, and be reborn in Christ. 

Our lectionary pairs this reading with the story of Jonah, who after running away from God’s call has already spent three days and nights in the belly (the word here is internal organs or bowels) of fish. Jonah cries out in prayer and God hears him,  “I cried out of Sheol” (death or grave), from the fish’s belly—and this time the word for belly is womb, not organs or bowel. As his ‘life was ebbing away’ he prayed, vowing to do as he was told to do, and after three days in there he emerges from that water when God tells the fish to spit him out on dry land.

In Jonah’s time people knew from scripture that the waters had been primordial chaos in the beginning of creation, some saw the sea as the place for mythical beasts or enemies. It was often seen as scary or where people died, yet also from whence came food. By the time of the gospels there’s a slight shift and Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, a place of oasis and greens, and also still a daunting divide between them and the promised land—a river with no bridge. Water can be a place of fear and death and a place you are rescued from that. It can be a place of new life as in baptism, of growth and promise. Today we hear both of these perspectives and yet both readings point us towards taking the risk to be faithful and away from our fear of challenge or sticking stubbornly to only what we know.

Jonah’s call from God was issued earlier, but not heeded until he was alone, scared, and in dire need of help. Jesus’ call to Simon and Andrew was on an ordinary work day as they were casting their nets, to James and John as they sat mending their nets. Ordinary days or dire straights — God calls us where we are, as we are, and always in God’s perfect kairos time. None of these people were public speakers, great healers, or wide travelers, nor did they think of themselves as especially holy people. What they have in common is being ordinary people called as God’s messengers in community, as are we. You carry Christ’s message in your own heart and are asked to use your own gifts to honor and share that. 

For some it’s a ‘Jonah call’ one finds particularly difficult or scary, and it may be heard in a time of struggle or pain. Some are hoping their quietly insistent call will go away because the last thing they want is to become ‘fishers of people’ or have a well-ordered life reshaped and transformed. I do know there is always part of a disciple that must die to be reborn, where we let go of those familiar ‘nets’ of what we have always known and done, of our egotism, or our worship of the idol of independence. In doing so  we are free to catch that divine life-line of the good news of our Lord, and then carry it forth.

I invite a moment of prayer.

Let us not be afraid of the deep, O Lord. Give us courage and hope and your hand, that through you we may rise up out of that which keeps us from heeding your voice in our souls. Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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