I have sojourned through many Christian denominations on my spiritual journey. Each one came along at a point in my life when I was searching for something. I stayed with some for a more extended period than I did others, but I picked up something that continues to influence my life to this day in all of those stops. But with all the differences in worship, belief, and fellowship, there was one common element, in every instance when I journeyed into a new congregation or denomination, it began with an invitation.
In this brief passage from the Gospel of St. Mark, we have a few things happening. First, we have Jesus’ proclamation that “time is fulfilled,” and second, we have Jesus calling his first Apostles. Both of these are significant events and deserve a much more complete treatment that I will be able to give, but we shall soldier on and see where we go.
Time is an interesting concept. At a point in history, someone decided that a minute would be 6 seconds and that an hour would be 60 minutes, and that a day would be 24 hours, and so forth. Some project backward to Genesis when God speaks of creation in a “six-day” period and like to put our modern time on that story. But we do not honestly know what time means for God. In the biblical age, time was not calculated as it is today; days were different lengths and dependent on the sun’s rising and setting. People did not have watches or clocks; they looked up into the sky. Today, things are different.
Jesus comes along and says, “time is fulfilled,” but time is he talking about?
Because we know the rest of the story, we know that Jesus tells those following him that he is the fulfillment of all the law and prophets, fulfillment meaning completion. Fulfillment meaning something new is coming. Jesus says I will not leave you, orphans; no, he will give us something new.
St. Mark goes out of his way to place this story after John the Baptist has been put in prison. John represents that last of what we would call the Old Testament Prophets. John comes as a competition of what was and ushers in what will be the covenant of love. John is the bridge between what was and what will be. John is the messenger, the one who has come to prepare the way, but like Moses, John will not live to see what comes next.
In Jesus, we have the completion of the former covenant and the start of a new covenant, and in this covenant, all are equally loved and forgiven by the God that created them. The “time” of preparation is over, and the “time of repentance is at hand.”
I spoke of repentance a few weeks ago. Repentance, like sin, is a word the modern Church does not like to talk about. In the days of people wanting to hear that God loves them and there is nothing required of them, we do not like to hear about the fact that there is work for us to do that Christianity is not just a spectator sport that has been given to us so we can keep others out. This time of repentance ties in very nicely with what comes next in our story.
I mentioned at the beginning that each time I discovered a new church or denomination, it began with an invitation; we see that here as well. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all going about their business when Jesus comes by. He does not launch into some long-winded speech about how horrible their life is and that they need a change. He does not offer to send the church bus by on Sunday and pick them up. He does not even ask them to come for a meal. He simply says to them, “Follow me.”
By me and others, it has been said that 80% of people who come to a church for the first time come because someone invited them to come. How many of you watching this on Facebook right now have clicked the little share button at the bottom of this video and shared it to your own Facebook page. No need to raise your hands. I looked just before I stepped into the pulpit, only two. Clicking on the share button and saying something like “Come and join us for worship” is like saying, “Follow me.” We are not asking you to go downtown and stand on a soapbox and invite people to come and worship; we are asking you to click a button and say, “follow me.”
Way back when, when I was sojourning in the fields of the Evangelical Church, I was asked the question, are “you a Christian?” or “are you saved?” Not wanting to be left out of the club, I would always respond by saying yes. I was baptized, I was raised in the Church, so of course, I was and am a Christian. Sometimes I would be asked if I “had found Jesus,” to which I often would respond, “I did not know he was lost.”
The decision to follow Jesus is a decision that we have to make at some point and time in our lives. Even if we are brought up in the Church, there comes a time, for we Congregationalists, that time is Confirmation, when we make a public declaration, we will follow Jesus. But that is only the start of the process.
Simeon, Andrew, James, and John instantly decided to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus. They gave up everything to follow some guy they did not know anything about. In another Gospel, we are told that Andrew as a disciple of John and John, told Andrew about Jesus, but in Mark’s Gospel, we do not know that. They decided to follow Jesus, but that was only the start of their journey.
Here is where it all comes together.
To be a follower of Jesus is to take on a radically different way of life; you have heard me speak in such terms in the past. Repentance is a radical change. Repentance comes from the Greek word that literally means to “change one’s mind.” To repent is to do an about-face, a 180-degree turn. Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart. It is a complete reorientation of a life centered not on but in Christ Jesus.
Sure, repentance is about atoning for our sins, but it is more than that it has to be more than that it has to be a reorientation of our lives, how we think, how we feel, and how we act. We cannot profess to love Jesus on Sunday and then persecute people on Monday. We cannot believe and profess to follow the prince of peace while at the same time cheer on those committing acts of violence. We cannot profess to follow Jesus and not work for justice and mercy in every situation. And we cannot profess to love God with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul and hate someone just because they are different than you.
Jesus came as the fulfillment of all that came before. Jesus gave his life as the final sacrifice for the atoning of our sins. Jesus came to show us a new way to live and act, which is the way of love. Jesus calls us to be people of radical inclusion, not radical exclusion. Jesus calls us to repent to change our practices and see things through this lens of love. Jesus is hitting that share button and saying, “follow me.”
Jesus never tells us it will be easy. Jesus never tells us we will not be persecuted. Jesus never tells us to storm the halls of some government to get our way. Jesus never tells us to pass laws that force people to believe the way we do. Jesus never tells us to build big buildings that we struggle to maintain. Jesus says, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people. Follow me, and I will show you a radical way of love.
Friends, Jesus is calling us to live our lives in such a way that if the bible were to disappear tomorrow, if church buildings were to be torn down tomorrow, people would still know that God loves them. The time is at hand, the time has arrived for that 180-degree turn, and the time has come for that radical way of love.