Wednesday, February 1, 2012

3rd Sunday After Epiphany

Mark 1:14-20
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
“Time and chance happen to them all” writes the author of Ecclesiastes, demonstrating that whoever came up with the whole “death and taxes” thing was not the first person to recognize just how cruel, how unpredictable, how impersonal, life can be.  In fact, this awareness of our own mortality, this sure knowledge that our lives are impacted by forces way beyond our own control, this is knowledge that is old as humanity itself.  And if it is true, as indeed it must be, that time and chance will happen to us all, happen to us no matter our age, our wisdom, our political affiliation, no matter any of it, what on earth are we to do?  How are we to cope?  How are we to deal with mounting health problems and mounting debt?  Or with the demands of a job that have long since outpaced the payment that is received?   Certainly, the current fad seems to be a willful ignorance of this fact; behaving as though we can will ourselves into becoming masters of our own destinies and managing away the risks of living through self help, positive thinking or a sheer display personal force.  My aunt, who has been in the medical profession for several years, tells of what it is like to try and treat the CEOs who have come under her care.  She speaks of the sort of tragically insane display that happens as men with cancer attempt to boss and order around the medical staff, as if controlling people could somehow make the cancer less terminal.  But such is our fate as those who are, in some sense, trapped in time.  As those whose lives are deeply determined by forces that are greater than us.  It is no wonder, then, that ignorance is so seductive.  This is something that all of us would just as soon ignore, and there are powerful and profitable forces in our cultural life that will help us do just that, but even this is simply delaying the inevitable, for time and chance do indeed happen to us all, and this is a meeting that we cannot infinitely postpone. 
            And if this is something we know as surely as we know anything, having long ago been taught by life that this is so very true, that the forces in our life are often beyond our scope of control, one must ask: is this really all that is left for us?  Are we to just and make peace with this fact, to take the goodness of life when it comes and minimize the pain and risk as best we can?  To try and get ourselves on the side of the influence and power, to manipulate chance and time as best we can, so that whatever befalls us may do so gently?  Well, yes, left to our own devices, I suppose that this is actually a pretty good route to go, and there is a whole history of philosophy that would commend this approach to us.  But hear again the words of the savior: “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe in the good news.”  Yes, into the midst of this world, where time and chance happen upon all, a new sort of time has been introduced, introduced by the one who is God in the flesh, whose strong and faithful word created this whole thing to begin with.  And the fulfillment of time that Jesus is talking about is so much more than getting events in the right order.  Instead, the fulfillment of time, the drawing near of the kingdom, this is, in a certain sense, the end of time as we know it.  It is the end of believing that all that is left for us is managing pain and risk and holding tightly to the fleeting goodness we experience. It is the end of believing that death will have the final word, separating us from all we know and love.   It is the end of our slavish fear of old age, of decreasing health and of dealing with one  problem after the next.  Yes, indeed, time and chance will happen to us all, but now, now in the fulfillment of time, in the drawing near of the kingdom, they will not have the last word.
            Instead, there is a greater truth to be glimpsed, a more lovely certainty by which you are held.  For the kingdom that has drawn near, this is nothing less than God’s eternity breaking into the daily and the routine.  For in Christ, God, the author of the universe, the one who dwells outside of time in the eternal splendor of his love and mercy, that God has now entered into human history, has become an actor in his own story, if you will.  For the kingdom that has drawn near is nothing less than this God taking on flesh and bone, this God stepping into our too long work days and too small paychecks, a God who is now present in restless and anxious nights, as we contend with this thing called chance and time.   And, oh, the Christ has stepped into this battle, this struggle with and for us. He has stepped so deeply into it that he will suffer our death and our sin as his very own.  Before we could give our ascent or decide that yes, he seems trustworthy in what he says and does, he has already claimed you.  Like those first disciples who left the cruel stability of their lives along the sea, you have been gathered here not by your own will, but rather by the good work of the Holy Spirit who animates and enlivens your faith. Just as those rough and tumble men were taken from the reliable chaos of their own lives, so too this Christ has named you his disciples, named you his beloved, and against his will there can be no resistance. For Christ has spoken his time into you, and frankly, that is that. Your days of knowing only time’s cruel march are over.  For you are beloved, you are baptized saints of God.   You have been drawn into this new time, this eternity that wells up from his body, and in that eternity, where God’s love is all that is known, you are already named and remembered. 
Time and chance, then,  are no longer to be feared.  Yes we will suffer them, yes they will come to us in the grinding monotony of work, in the decline of health and in countless other small ways that drain and deteriorate us.  This is still true, but it is not all that is true.  For the kingdom of God has indeed come close, so close in point of fact, that we will take this kingdom into our bodies, and in so doing, we will eat and drink of the eternity that awaits us, the resurrected body and blood of Christ our savior and lord.  In this gospel freedom, then, by all means repent, meaning have a change of the old mind.  For you are no longer left alone in this thing called time.  You no longer need to search for a meaning and security that will protect you against the way that time and chance happens to us all. And with that no longer of concern, think of the incredible benefit we can be to those around us: to those who, like all who are here gathered, could use a word of hope, a place to call home or a warm meal and a working wage.  Having been claimed by Christ, been already made his disciples, just think of the gratitude with which we may treat those for whom time is truly unbearable. For your neighbors, the lonely and downtrodden, the sick and the vulnerable, they are no longer to be regarded as fearful reminders of what life can do unless we secure ourselves at their expense.  Instead, they are those to whom we now belong, knowing that they too are beloved of the God who enters even the most frail moments of human life. So, yes, repent and believe the good news: the good news of the Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has called you into his time, and by doing so, has given you a way to live in this time.   In Jesus’ name, amen.    

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