Tucked away somewhere in my mother’s attic is a small, 5-drawer cardboard jewelry box from my childhood. It is white with bright yellow flowers on it and a little stuffed doll that snaps on top. In one of those drawers, cheaply lined with felt, are my Sunday School attendance pins collected during elementary. One of my prized possessions was my 5-year pin from the United Methodist Church. I was so proud to have never missed Sunday School for 5 years straight.
Then fast forward some 20 years Jesus’ call to ordained ministry tiptoed onto the horizon of my life. I have shared with you how I ignored, even laughed at the prospect for 3 years, until my nearest and dearest friend got on the band wagon and said, “I think this is seriously a call and you should pay attention to and stop brushing it off.”
So clearly, I was not as bright the first 4 disciples who responded immediately to Jesus’ calling. Did you catch that in the reading? “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And then again, “Immediately Jesus called the next two,” who obviously immediately followed as well. The word “immediately” shows up over 40 times in the Gospel of Mark, so we are sure to come across it again in Year B of our lectionary. The tempo of the story is hastened by the use of this word. It is almost as if Mark can’t wait to tell the story of the Good News of Jesus and his actions.
The foreshadowing that occurs in this reading is in the first sentence: “after John was arrested,” which indicates to us that proclaiming God’s kingdom is not free of danger and challenge, though few of us experience the danger of being imprisoned for sharing “The Good News.” And that is how Jesus ministry begins in this gospel. John the Baptist had preceded him in preaching, “Repentance,” but Jesus added something VERY important: believe in the good news. Repent, yes, but also believe in the good news. It is peculiar how so many traditions get stuck in the repentance mode and completely neglect the “good news” part.
When I lived in California, we frequented the Hollywood Bowl for lovely symphony performances in a beautiful outdoor setting in the foothills and under the stars. There was a tunneled walk way leaving the bowl and leading back to the bus stops for easy exit. There was always a man with his bull horn in the tunnel preaching repentance: “Sin no more. You are going to hell.” “Repent now. God is coming.” I feel sure he believed he was fulfilling his “call” to preach and his dedication can’t be belittled, but he only got half of the message. It was disturbing really. I wonder if anyone ever turns to God as a result of a such a message? It is sad really. And I passed a billboard yesterday that read, “You WILL meet God when you die. Call 1-800… for the truth.” The truth is, we are meant to meet God in our living. We are meant to meet Jesus along the way. We are meant to experience the Holy Spirit in our living and not just wait for our dying to “meet God,” where presumably that repentance piece comes into play.
Repentance is important. That is why we do it almost every Sunday of the year. Our Confession of Sin disappears in the triumphant season of Easter when we focus on the fact that Jesus died for our sins and rose again in glory. (Just as a point of instruction: perhaps you notice I pause after saying, “Let us pray also for the forgiveness of our sins.” It is my hope that in those few seconds of silence, you will search your heart and actions and truly repent of anything that has interfered with your relationship with God in the prior week. So, if you haven’t before, maybe today you will take advantage of those few seconds of silence before we repent of our sins.)
Repentance is for us and for our good. In The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr, the Women’s Book Study is reading, the author states: “We are not punished FOR our sins – we are punished BY our sins! Sin is not some arbitrary list of little bad things that God tests you on. Sin is not a word for certain things that upset or hurt God. Inside the Perfect Flow (which is how Rohr describes the Holy Trinity – F-L-O-W, flow), inside the perfect flow, God could only be “hurt” if we are hurting ourselves, just as, in effect, the risen Jesus tenderly says to Paul in the book of Acts, “It is hard for you when you push back against the goad.”
Therefore, when the Holy Spirit moves and invites us to fuller life and being and we resist that, we are pushing back against the goad, we are costing ourselves a deeper walk with God; we are denying God’s grace and falling short of our true nature and calling.
In reflecting on my lack of immediate response to Jesus’ call, I found another piece of Rohr’s book poignant. He says, “It’s our vocation to become who we are and all that we are.” My therapist asked me this week, “Who are you?” (I really thought it was a rhetorical question until the 3rd time she said it!) “Who are you? What is your true nature?”
Who I am now is a compilation of all the experiences life has brought -- and sometimes thrown -- my way. I believe I am still becoming who and all God created me to be. I believe it is a lifelong journey. I can’t imagine a life that is stagnant and unchanging where opportunities to say “yes” to God stop coming. Isn’t it wonderful that God created us to continue growing, changing, becoming… and that God’s grace is sufficient to cover even when our response is not “immediate”? Life is a mystery really, a beautiful, unfolding, life-giving mystery.
Following up on Lainie’s sermon last week, I hope you are listening. I hope you are experiencing Jesus’ call in your lives. It is not a once and done experience. Our initial response to Jesus is just the beginning of becoming fishers of people. Responding to God’s call, immediately, or slowly, once or over and over again, is saying YES to a new way of being, a whole new life, a whole new identity. And saying “yes” is just the beginning, not the end.
Perhaps the beginning is early in life, stored away in the memories of a jewelry box, or perhaps the beginning is today, right here, right where you are. In all times, Jesus’ invitation is to “repent and believe the Good News”… the Good News that God is for you, God is with you, God is within you. Let go of the things that cause you to push against the goad and be embraced anew by the grace of Christ that empowers you be all that you can be.