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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez

January 21, 2018

 Time’s Up!

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.

            Catch Phrase is a game where you have to get your team to guess a particular word or phrase without acting or saying the word itself.  When you press the start button to begin, a beeping noise begins.  The beeping gets faster and faster as time passes.  You have to guess the word before time is up, and the beeping noise culminates in a buzzer going off.  It can be a very anxiety ridden moment.

            Eugene Peterson, the Presbyterian minister who wrote The Message, a paraphrase version of the Bible, translated verse 15, with, “Time’s Up!”

            Many pastors have made their living from the anxiety that can come from a message that sounds like this.  I do not intend to do so.  Consider not the anxiety that can be produced from these words, and more so, the urgency.  Jesus begins his public ministry with a sense of urgency.  The prophets have foretold, God has been at work, and now, the public ministry of Jesus will begin.

            In fact, it is with that urgency that you can hear the whole Gospel of Mark. Adam DeVries suggests you read Mark’s Gospel like a child trying to tell a story, “And then… and then…” The word “immediately” shows up over and over again in the Gospel, moving the story quickly from one scene to another. Let us come before this scripture about God’s Kingdom, with a sense of urgency.

            May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing unto you. Amen.

             You can read the opening lines of our scripture this morning in the sentiment of, “Ready, set, go!”  These are the words that are stated before Jesus begins to run the race that is his public ministry.   His training regimen for this race had been; he has been in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan.  Before that he has been baptized by John in the wilderness.  The Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father spoke over him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

            Before Jesus’ Baptism, the Gospel of Mark only records John’s ministry preparing the way of the Lord.  There is no birth narrative.  No stories of Jesus as a child.  Not a single mention of Mary and Elizabeth together.  Someone told me the Gospel of Mark is the Man’s Gospel.  It is often short, sweet, and to the point.  Well it may or may not be a Gospel meant for men to read, but at the very least, we know that Mark is more concise.  Every other Gospel takes a few chapters to get to where Mark is at in his first chapter.  Mark writes his Gospel with a sense of urgency, and within the first chapter, Jesus is beginning his public ministry.

            Jesus begins the race; that is apparently a relay race.  He doesn’t take off sprinting without inviting a few people to join him.  First he invites Simon, who will be known as Peter, and his brother, Andrew.  Next he invites another set of brothers, James and John.  The text tells us all four of these men are fishermen.

                       Rob Bell, in his Nooma, Dust, provides a glimpse into the Jewish educational system at work in these days. The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are the focus of the educational system.

  • Beit Sefer (House of the Book)
    • Start at 6 years old
    • Lasted until about 10 years old
    • Memorize the Torah, by age ten, have it by heart, Genesis-Deuteronomy
    • Most kids were done with school by then, at the end, doing the family business
    • Best of the best kept going
  • Beit Talmud (House of Learning)
    • Memorize the rest of the Hebrew scripture
    • Gen-Malachi, memorized
    • 14/15, end
    • Most are learning the family trade by then
    • Best of the best, kept going
  • Beit Midrash (House of Study)
    • Go to a rabbi and apply to be a rabbi’s disciple
    • Not just to know what he knows, but do what he does

            If someone isn’t following another Rabbi, that means they are not the best of the best of the best.  Simon, Andrew, John and James are not following another Rabbi.  They are not the best of the best of the best.  They are fishermen.

            Imagine if you were starting up a wealth management fund.  The next Morgan Stanley or whatever it would be, and instead of going through the traditional process, you went to Radnor Lake, saw a few people fishing and said, “You wanna manage wealth?”

            It sounds ludicrous, because it is.  If Jesus had a board of directors, they would have told him, “You can’t pick fishermen, they don’t know anything about this stuff.  There is too much at stake to choose these people.  There is too much money to be lost!  There is too much pain and heartache!  These guys are not the best of the best!”

            If you think there is more at stake in managing wealth than following Jesus, then either you have too high a view of wealth or too low a view of following Jesus.  Jesus is not delusional, he is making intentional decisions.  If you don’t choose Hussein Bolt to be part of your relay team, and you are not out of your mind, let’s assume Jesus isn’t, then it must say something about the race you are running.  What race is Jesus about to run?

            Before we consider the race, let’s consider these disciples Jesus has just selected.  Now, if you went to Radnor and choose any four fishermen, and if they said yes, they would be aware, we are not qualified to manage wealth!  These fishermen may be delusional, let’s assume they are not.  They know they are not the Usain Bolts of the ANE.  They know the system, and they are aware, they are not the best of the best.  So what makes them think they can run this race? Why would they ever say yes to following Jesus?

            I have never known a team that was not the best of the best, to not know they weren’t the best of the best.  The Cleveland Browns know they are the Cleveland Browns, etc. etc.  These men were aware that they were fishermen being called by a Rabbi with a lot of hype behind him.  What made these fishermen say yes?  Why did these fishermen drop their nets?  Why did they leave their family and their career to follow Jesus?

            What makes us say yes?  Why show up to church?  Why follow Jesus?  Why drop your nets?  When you think about it, it is just as ludicrous for us to follow Jesus as it was for these fishermen to follow Jesus.

            Why did Simon, Andrew, James and John sign up for this race?  Why did they turn and believe in the good news of God?  Why did they drop their nets and follow Jesus?  How many times do you think they reconsidered their decision and asked the question, “Why did I follow this guy?”  How many times do you think they were ready to quit?  Why do you think they kept going?

            There is a story about Sir Ernest Shackleton, a famed explorer of Antarctica.  The story goes that Mr. Shackleton took out an ad in the London newspaper around 1900 that read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”  Legend tells that he had 5,000 responses!  Historians have looked for Shackleton’s ad, but have yet to find anything that proves this story.  Likely it is myth, but the truth it communicates is indeed real.   When someone is captivated by a call, they will go to great lengths to respond to that call.

            Jesus was not the first person to come along that the Jewish people found hope in.  If you read through the Apocryphal books, the Maccabees, you read stories of Jewish people overthrowing the Roman rule.  Jesus is not the first person coming along, making statements about a new kingdom.  The last person that made these claims ultimately lost; the disciples know the risk that comes with following someone who is making kingdom claims during the reign of the Roman Empire.  But the disciples were still willing to follow.

            Maybe it was because he had John the Baptist’s blessing. John was an incredibly influential man, and he baptized Jesus and said he was not worthy to untie his sandals.  Perhaps it was John’s stamp that got these disciples thinking.

            But then there was the baptism of Jesus.  The baptism where the Spirit descended and God’s voice spoke, and the people witnessed a Trinitarian moment.  Perhaps that baptism got the disciples thinking, “If he asks me, I will follow.”

            The people were waiting for a Messiah, and all of the signs were starting to align.  They absolutely didn’t fully understand everything Jesus had to teach them, how could they?  But they knew enough, they had seen enough, experienced enough, and had just enough faith to turn, believe, and drop their nets.  They did so, because there was an inkling that, “This might be him. This must be him.”  When Jesus chose them, they thought, this must be it!  Who cares what we lack, the cards that are stacked against us, or all the other details that weren’t laid out.  When the kingdom of God drew near, they were captivated, and their response was immediate!

            Jesus is about to run a relay race with these men that is going to be for the lost, the least, the sick, the sinners, and those who are in need of hope and salvation.  He is going to run that race from the bottom up.  He will run this race with a bunch of nobodies and he will win, but not because he got these nobodies to run faster.  He will win through death.  The kingdom of God is not about domination.  God doesn’t need to dominate.  God chose to win with these fishermen, in a ministry that led to his death.  From death, God works life, and calls each of us to live, love, and follow for every person in this world that still needs to experience God’s Kingdom come.

            Because that is what the kingdom of God is about.

 As I prepared this sermon this week a young adult’s story from this community kept coming to mind. I decided to call her and ask for more details to see if it was a story that I should share.

“My husband and I were living up North. He was working for Teach for America, and his two-year commitment was coming to an end.  I was working for a large company in a great position with great opportunities in the future to climb the ladder.  But, we were considering a transition, and looking to move to Nashville.  In the midst of making this decision I stumbled across a company in Nashville called, at the time, FashionABLE.  The company’s tagline reads, “Beautiful products by women who have overcome.This company empowers women who have overcome circumstances.  Women who have come out of rehab or other difficult situations, and their business partners are people who are local entrepreneurs in developing companies.”

When she stumbled upon this company she fell in love with it. She signed up for the newsletter, followed them on Twitter, liked them on Facebook, and signed up for the text messages to come to her phone.  She loved the company but knew nothing about it or anyone who worked there.  She continued to look for a job, but nothing was coming up.  She was starting to lose hope.  One day she sat down and in exhaustion began to pray, “God, this is up to you.  You have to be a part of this, I’ll do my part, but I need you to be part of this.”  Fifteen minutes after she prayed her phone begins buzzing with notifications from twitter, Facebook, email, etc. and this company is hiring!  They are hiring for someone who the exact same job she currently has at the large corporation!

She applies for the job, and begins the waiting game. At one point in the waiting process she received an email from the company she is hoping to work for, and someone messed up instead of blind copying everyone in the email, they simply copied everyone, so everyone applying for the job saw the other people applying for the job.  Obviously, she began to Facebook, and search online, at her competition.  She learned that amidst the plethora of people applying for this job, plenty of them went to better universities, ones that play in the Ivy League athletics conference.  She began the waiting game.  Finally, to her delight, she got an offer.

The pay was for much less. She learned that the company she was applying for only had two employees.  She took a risk and accepted the position.  She said it was hard to explain to others, but the decision was not hard.  Now, after she accepted, the decision got much more difficult.  She said there were days and weeks when she thought, “I don’t know if this is going to work, or if we are going to be able to move forward….”  But she stayed.

When I asked her, “What captivated you about this company?” she said, “At the large corporation I was spending millions of dollars of the company’s money without any understanding about the production of the product. Working for the company felt like a rat race with no grace and I knew there were fifty people waiting for my job if I messed up.  At FashionABLE they took the business structure that felt empty, and made it incredibly high impact, and it is full of meaning, and the product is beautiful.  The business structure works to make lives better, not consumers poorer.  We are not asking the question, “How do we use them to spend money on this?”  We are asking, “How do we use the money coming in, in a faithful way?”

When the kingdom of God drew near, she couldn’t help but respond, she was captivated. There were times where she had to remember why she ever would have said yes in the first place.  But when she began working for the company, a company that was her and two other people, she knew this model and these people had gotten it right.  That company now employees over fifty people in their Nashville office, and they have over ten international partners, that employee over three hundred people.  When she started working for this company, she thought, this must be it!  Because that is what the kingdom of God is about.

            If you follow Jesus, why?  What experiences have you had with the kingdom of God?  When were you captivated by the call to follow Jesus?  If you do not follow Jesus, what would it take for you to turn towards Jesus, believe, drop your nets and follow?  Whether you follow Jesus, or not, when the Kingdom of God draws near, I pray you respond with the same urgency that the disciples and my friend has. When the kingdom of God draws near, and we can participate in God’s work through the positive impact on people’s lives, may we respond with urgency, drop our nets, and immediately, follow his call.

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