For this message, I will be referring to an article I wrote for the Christian Century in December of 2017 on Mark 1:14-20, which is one of the lectionary texts for this Sunday. Interestingly, although I wrote it more than two years ago, some of my reflections then are still relevant today.
Repent! Believe! In front of his audience in Galilee, Jesus gives a clearly stated call for action. There is a sense of prophetic urgency in his statement, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near” – perhaps because John the Baptist is in prison now. The one who prepared the way for Jesus and baptized him is in jail, and Jesus knows that his own time is near. He wants his audience to know it as well, and to faithfully respond to the reality of the kingdom he came to establish. Driven to communicate such an urgent message to all people, Jesus keeps walking, searching. He finds two fishermen, and later two more. Perhaps he says it again – The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent! Believe! – before extending the invitation: “Follow me.”
The invitation has not changed, Jesus’ invitation is an ongoing invitation: Repent! Believe! Follow Me! Jesus’ invitation is an urgent call for introspection—for critical self-reflection. We cannot repent from what we do not know it needs redemption in our lives. Whether we like it or not and whether we realize it or not, our nation and our world is in crisis. In fact, the Church as we have known it is in crisis and is rapidly changing, and Jesus is extending an urgent call for us—Repent! Believe! Follow me!
Jesus isn’t popular. The passage from Mark points to a shift: now that John is in jail, the prophetic ministry is passed on to Jesus. We see Jesus’ prophetic ministry when he goes to unpopular places and people. We see him becoming less popular as he moves forward in his mission to declare the good news. Prophetic ministry is not about being the most popular; it’s about being willing to become unpopular. This text also reminds us that prophetic ministry is about timing. If we are honest, we might admit that our own prophetic practice is not necessarily about God’s timing but instead about what is comfortable and convenient for our schedules.
Jesus’ urgent call is to be prophetic in the midst of idolatry, injustices, inequalities, and any other form of dehumanization. Earlier this week, my son asked me: “Dad, are we Republicans or Democrats?” My response was, “we are not republicans nor democrats, as we elect public officers, we try to identify people who reflect our values and principles as a family.” Then I explained to him, that as a family, we value integrity, honesty, respect, love, peace, and the we hold high the belief that all human beings have rights and deserve to have equal access to basic needs: education, health, jobs, housing, etc.
Jesus’ urgent call is to examine our own family and congregational values and make sure they align with Jesus’ values. Even more, as we examine our values and principles, we need to make sure that they reflect Jesus’ desire for all humanity to have an abundant life on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus’ action is to go and encounter people where they are located. Prophetic ministry is about walking toward the places others do not want to go to. Jesus’ action is to go to these fishermen and invite them to follow him, to do something totally different from what they were doing – fishing for people. Prophetic ministry is about offering alternatives to people who have not had a chance to see them.
Jesus’ urgent call is to let go of the false sense of certainty and control we had before the pandemic. Jesus’ urgent call is to let go of the false sense of security we had by trusting in elected officials or politicians. Political convictions have a role in our lives and society. Trusting our government is important, but when our trust is irrational to the point of rationalizing violence, there is something that needs to be redeemed. Jesus’ urgent call is to be honest with ourselves and examine our own values, principles and convictions, and how they influence our relationships, so that we can name the sinful areas in our lives, repent, believe and follow Jesus.
John the Baptist discerns God’s timing by paying attention to the signs of the world. He understands the urgency of his prophetic message, and he delivers it. Jesus follows in John’s footsteps and does the same. We need to follow, too.
Our world today is not so different from the world John and Jesus addressed in Galilee. There are many signs that we cannot ignore. Jesus’ urgent call for us is to pay attention to the signs. Jesus’ urgent call is to pay attention to the dysfunctional systems in our midst. We need to pay attention to the still overwhelming and tragic chasm between rich and poor. We need to pay attention to the oppressive powers that allow the exploitation of children’s bodies, black, brown, and female bodies. We need to pay attention to the inequalities that COVID-19 is bringing to the surface. In short, we need to acknowledge the ways in which we might dehumanize ourselves and others. Then, we need to repent, believe, and follow Jesus by emptying ourselves from whatever makes us keep allowing the dehumanization of God’s creation.
Almighty God, help us to trust you and always remember that you are our refuge even in moments where it might seem that you are absent and silent.
Almighty God, help us remember that our hope does not depend on what is tangible or visible, but rather in believing in what is not a reality just yet.
Almighty God, help us to respond to your urgent call, help us to embrace a sense of urgency as we confront dehumanization in our midst because maintaining a sense of urgency is a form of love. Urgency is what makes us upset when the powers of evil are more visible than the signs of the reign Jesus came to establish.
Almighty God, help us to pay attention to the signs of the world, and more significantly, help us to become signs of the kingdom you came to establish. By the power of your Holy Spirit, help us become signs of patience, signs of hope, signs of self-control, and signs of love.
Almighty God, we pray for the new administration, we pray for our leaders no matter their political affiliation. We pray that they may be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We pray that they may be wise and serve with integrity, compassion, and by seeking the common good of all people in our nation. Amen.
If you would like to view past editions of Time with Ismael, follow this link: https://heritagedistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/