When It's Time for a Change, Christ Comes Calling

Do you ever get the sense that 2009 is going to be a big year? Mark 1:14-20 tells us, When It's Time for a Change, Christ Comes Calling. January 25, 2009.

           Do you ever get the sense that 2009 is going to be a big year? This is the year to change the way we think about politics. Everyone keeps talking about it. But you have to admit that they have a point. We all have petty arguments. And hopefully it finally sinks in. Maybe you stood around the water cooler and said, “I’m going to label people less and listen to people more. It’s just for a change.

           This was also the year that changed the way we think about money. Everybody keeps talking about it. Less debt, live lean, get a financial plan and stick to it. I know that you have your own attitudes and ideas when it comes to your stuff, but you have to admit that they have a point: We all make bad decisions. Maybe you sat around the kitchen table with your spouse and said. “We’re cutting up the credit cards in 2009.” It’s just time for a change.”

           If you’re the type that makes resolutions, you’ve probably made 2009 the year to change the way you think about health. Whether your habit is cigarettes or sports-center, no matter who you are, you have to admit that the health advocates have a point: We all have bad habits.  And it finally sinks in. Maybe this month you got up off the couch and said, “I’m going to eat better, join a gym and quit smoking. And if they ask me why I did it, the simple answer is “I just realized it was time for a change”

           This morning, we’re not here to talk joining a gym, or cutting up credit cards, or water-cooler politics. We’re here to talk sin and grace. We’re here because the problems that upset us the most are not political, or financial or physical, but spiritual. We’re here because we do have bad habits, we are looking for solutions to our bad decisions, we’re here to sort out the petty arguments that put odds with each other and with God.  We know that we are in need of a change! We know that because of what we heard in the gospel this morning. We hear the call for change in the voice of our Savior. And the things he says to us show us the depth of his love. When we are confronted with our spiritual problems, when we are faced with the critical issue of faith, Christ calls for us repent and believe, and he asks us to follow and serve.

When It’s Time for a Change, Christ Comes Calling, Calling Us to Repentance

           It’s amazing how patient our God is. The day that Mark writes about was a day that God had been planning for a long time. Ever since he made he made his first promises in the Garden of Eden,  God had been looking forward to a day that he could get down to the work of keeping those promises. For thousands of years, God had sent messengers remind his people that the day was coming. There were prophets like Elijah and Elisha, men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Finally God sent one last prophet, John the Baptist. When John cried out “Look the Lamb of God,” he was saying the same thing the prophets had always said: “When the Messiah comes, be ready!” And the Messiah did come:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

           It might seem like Jesus preached a pretty short sermon, But you have to admit, that as far as sermons go, it was pretty much perfect. First, you have to marvel at the man. If God wanted to keep promises, and who better to do it than the Promised One? If God wanted to extend his Kingdom, who better to lead the way than the King of Kings? When people heard John preach, they heard a preacher that had the same hang ups as they did. But when they heard the voice of Jesus, they heard the voice of the Son of God. He was the perfect man for the job. 

           But you also have to marvel at the moment: The Baptist had been put in prison. He had preached his last sermon. The world was quiet. The promises and prophecies had stopped coming. And that’s just the way God wanted it. No more promises to make. Just promises to keep. As far as Jesus was concerned, now was the time. The perfect moment had arrived.  

           Most of all, you have to marvel at the message. You can really boil it down to two words: Repent and believe. And that was exactly what the people of Israel needed to hear. They were a people who had mastered the art of petty arguments, and sinful habits. They were a people who were proud of who they were and what they did to make God happy. They were people who were satisfied with being religious instead of being faithful. Spiritually speaking, they had fallen asleep at the wheel. Until Jesus came calling, that is. When he told them to repent and believe, he was giving them a wake up call. It was the perfect message.

           The people of Israel found all sorts of problems with Jesus’ sermon. They didn’t like the man preaching, they didn’t like the message he preached, and they didn’t like his timing either. But we can’t blame them, because often, Christ’s call doesn’t seem all too impressive or perfect to us.

           First of all, I find problems with his message: That word “repent” is a confrontational word, isn’t it? It means that someone is looking you straight in the eyes and telling you are going the wrong way and you need to turn around. And I have this attitude inside of me that doesn’t like hearing that.  If you tell me that I’m driving the wrong way, ok, I can accept that, but if you say that about the way that I live my life, you might want to watch your back.  I have problems with that word “believe” too. “Believe” It’s a do or die kind of word. It means that you have to rely on something you can’t see, it means that you either lean whole-heartedly on God, or you turn your nose up at him, ignore him, and rely on yourself, and if we’re going to be honest, we often like relying on ourselves more often.

           On top of all that, I have problems with God’s timing. Whether the Jews liked it or not, Jesus had arrived. He had shown up in the streets of Nazareth and on the shores of Galilee. It was the critical moment, and they were suddenly face to face with their Epiphany Lord. There are times in your day that you come face to face with the Epiphany Lord, too.  He calls us through his word. You ever read a verse in the bible and thought to yourself, “how did you know that about me, Lord? Or when he invites you to his table saying, “lift up your heart” we say, “what now?” We see his face in the eyes of someone we’ve disappointed. Or we hear his voice when our spouse or kids call us out for a mistake we’ve made. And it’s all too sudden:  “Why must you confront me like this? Why now? Can’t it wait?

           And it’s not like he’s calling to set up an appointment, it’s more like he calls us in the middle of the night and gets us out of bed. Imagine it: the phone rings in the middle of the night, and all those thoughts run through our minds: “Who could it be? What could they want!” Until you realize that it’s your smoke alarm, that is. Then you get up suddenly because you know it can’t wait. The call to repentance and faith is no different. Repentance is confrontational because it has to be. Faith is critical because it means life or death. In love, Jesus makes it that way. He will not allow us to persist in our sin when he see the danger it presents to us. So at just the right moment, he lovingly calls us to repentance. Jesus cannot stand to watch us go on relying on ourselves while our faith drifts into doubt and despair. So at just the right moment, he lovingly calls us to a life of faith in him.

When It’s Time for a Change, Christ Comes Calling, Calling Us to Service

           When Jesus came to Galilee, he preached his message to all people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.  But he didn’t stop there. Mark tells us that Jesus zeroed in on the lives of certain individuals, here in particular, four men named Peter, Andrew James and John. Jesus called them not only to believe, but also asked them to follow. And when we see how their faith went to work, it shows us how our faith works as well.

           As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

           When Jesus saw these four fishermen, he told them in no uncertain terms, “Gentlemen, it’s time for a change. Leave your nets and your boats. I have a new job for you. We all know how difficult it is to change jobs, and when you look at how quickly these men dropped their nets, you wonder if it was all that difficult at all.

           You might think that it was easy for them: On the one hand, maybe they didn’t like fishing all that much. James and John seemed to think that dad could get by with his employees, they had nothing holding them back. Besides that, these men knew who Jesus was, they knew that he was a mover and a shaker in Palestine, They knew that following him might mean a high profile job for them.

           On the other hand, these men didn’t fish as a hobby, they fished for a living. And following a teacher around Palestine didn’t exactly put food on the table. James and John had an obligation to their father to stay in the family business so that he didn’t go under. What’s more, what was “fishing for people” going to be like? It’s not like you could use a net, you had to talk to them, put up with them, disagree with them, and take abuse from them if they didn’t like what you had to say. And to cap it all off, This Jesus had made a name for himself in Palestine, and not always in a good way. I mean, just think of what happened to the guy who baptized him! No, they weren’t naive, they knew wasn’t exactly an easy job at all. And that’s precisely why Jesus called them.

           That kind of trust, that kind of faith in spite of the challenges was precisely what he wanted to see. He knew that these men believed in him, but now he was asking to see their faith in action, and ready at a moment’s notice!

           When Jesus asks us to follow him, we often look at the blessings that come with it. We know that we have someone to talk to when were upset, someone who understands us when no one else does. But then again, I know that you’re not naïve either. I know that you have seen the challenges that come with following in the footsteps of Jesus. We don’t have to drop our nets, but we do have to drop our plans. Even though our families don’t fish, that doesn’t mean that we have had to turn our backs on them in order to follow Jesus. And we know what the world around us thinks of our savior. We know that following Jesus means carrying crosses. And how often don’t we hesitate? How often don’t we worried or worse, get fed up that with the crosses we’ve been given?

           And then there is that whole “I have a new job for you” that Jesus was talking about. He has extended the call to serve and the call to witness to all people, even people that live in Milwaukee. I want you to go and tell my story to people who aren’t like you and people who might not like you at all. And that’s when we get very hesitant. And we get quiet. I will believe in you, I will follow you, but don’t ask me to serve you. That’s just too much. My dear friends, that’s when Jesus comes calling. Follow me. I won’t lead you astray. Tell about me, and watch your faith flourish.

           Christ is very interested in your faith. He wants to see that it’s solid and he wants to see that it lives, So he uses the word “repent and believe” to awaken our faith and he uses the word “follow and serve” to keep our faith moving. He is determined that nothing will ruin it, and that no doubts, no fears, and no frustrations will ever take it away. And when it wavers or weakens, it’s time for a change. And that’s when he comes calling.

           At the end of 2009, some things might change and some things might not. Even when Mr. Obama reaches the end of his presidency, we will still have our petty political arguments. Even when the financial crisis levels off, we still will have trouble making the right decisions with our money. At the end of 2009, we will still have bad habits that we need to break in 2010. And as long as we are this side of heaven, we continue to have spiritual problems that we need Jesus to fix. It’s just one thing you can count on. There is something else you can count on, though: That no matter what the challenges we face, no matter what sins we fall into and no matter how far we run from our epiphany Lord, he still calls us. He calls us to repentance, he calls us to serve. And no matter what changes, his love stays the same: Follow! Believe! And Live! Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on January 25, 2009

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