... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 3 – Year B, Message Jan 22nd, 2012

The Sign; the Message; the Response

Text: Mark 1:14-20

The Epiphany season has always been about the revelation about the God’s presence here among us and the implications of that for our lives now and in the future. While Christmas is filled with joy and exuberance, Epiphany is often a time of disruption and unwelcomed messages. As we settle once more into the routine of the mundane following the elation of Christmas, Epiphany calls us to the truth of the Christmas message and the need to act immediately.

While I was reading all four readings for today, one of our Sunday Smiles kept haunting my thoughts. Two preachers, one a Baptist, the other a Pentecostal lived side by side in a small southern community just on the outskirts where the main road became a secondary highway. One day both clergy were out with signs – one read, “The End is Near”; the other stated, “Turn around now and live.” As cars drove past they honked their horns, some waved, some saluted, but all continued on. Shortly after each car would pass there would echo in the distant the screech of tires and the sounds of metal crumpling. After several hours of this, one minister turned to the other and stated, “I think we should change our signs; perhaps they should read, “Danger Ahead” and “The bridge is out – turn around now.”

All too often we put up signs and we read signs but if they are not explicit we tend to ignore them. In the case of the Sunday Smiles the signs were not explicit even though they told the truth. People who saw them presumed that because the clergy were holding them they had to do with spiritual events. The results were disastrous.

When Jonah was called by God to issue the warning of “danger ahead”, Jonah feared to go. He knew that the warning was explicit and from his perspective he didn’t want to give the people of Nineveh a chance. One of the facts we don’t realize was that Jonah was an Israelite and for the most part Nineveh was a Gentile city. It would be like a Russian going to the USA in the 1950’s and issuing a warning of danger ahead. One side would be fearful both of the message and its interpretation; the other side mistrustful of the message and the messenger. Initially Jonah tried to flee, to disobey God and we all know the disastrous results. However God gives Jonah a second chance – He goes delivers the message – an explicit message. The people hear the message interpret it correctly, repent of their old ways, and God in Divine Mercy spares the great city. Later we learn how Jonah was displeased with God and how God had both used him and spared and Ninevites. We also learn of what great truth lies at the heart of God’s mercy – a desire for all creation to be in a right relationship.

The psalmist picks up on this Divine mercy and love as a sign of God’s very presence in a time of trouble. He, or she, asks the people how long will they continue to do evil, how can they take pleasure in falsehood and deceit and how they can be so hypocritical. He shouts forth the sign exposing the waywardness of their sins and then invites them to turn away and put their trust in God.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians points out that the appointed time of God’s kingdom has grown close and that life in the here and now must be altered to reflect the presence of the kingdom of God and the newness which Christ Jesus has instituted.

In our Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is reported as giving the sign and the warning as he proclaims, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus is of course not pointing to himself but to God and the Divine realm. The good news is that God is present, acting in the lives of people in human history inviting them to believe and have faith. The message to repent and to believe were tasks that both John the Baptizer and Jesus were to give. John as the fore-runner, the presence of Elijah, and Jesus as the Son, the Messiah. A modern day analogy would be John as ambassador and Jesus as heir apparent. In this sense the sign and the message which Jesus proclaims also serves to announce Jesus and his ministry. And as Rudolf Bultman stated, “the proclaimer becomes the proclaimed.” For Mark this is of utmost importance because the message that God’s kingdom came near is precisely in the person of Jesus himself. The sign is both explicit and implicit.

Further the sign also has an explicit and implicit call for response both of which are exemplified in the very next verses of our reading. No sooner does Jesus proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom than he goes to Galilee and, passing through a small fishing village calls the disciples Simon Andrew James and John. Their responses were to immediately leave what they were doing and follow Jesus. Unlike the other gospels where the disciples have an awareness of who Jesus is, Mark suggests there is no evidence that they even knew one another. We are told Jesus simply says to them “follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And each immediately left what he was doing and followed. Why would they do that? What would have entered them to leave what in those days would have been a job with a secure market to take up one that was “iffy” at best?

Perhaps it was the explicit message or perhaps the explicit persona of Jesus. Whatever, there is no doubt that they read the message, understood it and responded. While to us the message might not have sounded direct and to the point, we must realize the cultural and societal difference.

Our society is consumer driven. Every message has to seduce us into wanting, into believing and into buying. Filled with apprehension and short attention spans any sign has to be beguiling enough to capture our attention. Jesus not only gave a message, he was the message and the disciples didn’t miss it. I’m afraid our present society is one where like the car drivers in the illustration at the beginning, would blow our horns and continue down the road.

But the disciples didn’t do that. They followed and they followed immediately even leaving jobs chores and family. Again we are left first to ask ourselves, “why?”, and, second, as we contemplate the various answers, to learn about our call and our response.

We cannot believe the disciples followed out of a sense of greater things because we know that what they were doing was insecure, was often counter to the religious beliefs and practices of the day; and was not with a comprehension of the future.

The disciples probably did as they did because they believed the message and the messenger. Faith often starts as an impulsive belief and then the long term journey of coming to faith follows. The faith journey is never an easy one. It is filled with uncertainties, trials and tribulations, doubts and hardships. We cannot bank on being successful or even having a tranquil life. Yet we are promised a full life, a blessed life and a joyous life. That promise can only be realized in the full understanding of our relationship with God in and through Christ Jesus. Therein lies the strength to do and face whatever might come.

The message has been given, the messenger made known and now is the time for our response.