3rd Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 24, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Mark.
I just finished a fantastic book on the Pacific theater of World War 2. A mixture of fact and fiction it told the stories of men and women who served in the Marines, Army, and Navy. The author did a great job of capturing their thoughts and attitudes and how their thoughts led them to treat both their friends and their enemies. One example was the lack of respect the Marines had for the drafted soldiers. In their opinion, they stood up and volunteered for combat, while the draftees avoided it as long as they could. Now, I’m not saying they were right! I know some of you men were drafted, and I don’t see any difference between volunteering and being drafted; both can honorably serve. When it comes to being Jesus’ disciple, there is no volunteering. Nobody, not even the first disciples, ever said to Jesus, “Hey! Can I be your disciple?” That’s the way it worked with ancient philosophers, but not Jesus. Instead, Jesus reaches out and He invites you to join Him in a life of discipleship.
When Jesus came along Peter, Andrew, James, and John were just minding their own fishing business. They had previous interactions with Jesus, so it wasn’t as if a total stranger said, “Follow Me”. Still, to follow Jesus and to leave everything behind was a serious commitment. Did you notice that none of them said, “Just hold on Jesus; I have to finish mending this net”? They didn’t finish out the day or wait for a more convenient time. Mark says they immediately left their nets. The Holy Spirit stirred up faith in their hearts and gave them the willingness to follow Jesus without hesitation.
When you were brought to faith, in your baptism or later in life, that’s when you were called to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want part-time disciples. He doesn’t want us to wait until a more opportune time, until discipleship fits into our schedule. There are many who say they’ll focus on their faith and discipleship when they reach a certain point in their life. That won’t work! What if you never get to the point where discipleship fits into your schedule? What if, tragically, you die before you heed the call? Spiritual life and discipleship are urgent matters, nothing can hinder our response. You must set aside anything that keeps you from urgently following Jesus’s call: your job, your smartphone, your fear, your hobbies, whatever!
Let me assure you, that even if you’ve delayed, it’s never too late. Jesus says, “Repent and believe the Gospel”. Repent of your sinful dawdling and lack of focus and in the call of Jesus you find forgiveness. To be called as a disciple means you’re forgiven! Yes, you’re a sinner. Yes, you’ll sin again. Those first twelve men were just like you and me; they occasionally lost sight of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus just as they lost sight of what it meant for Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Still, they were forgiven. Not once did Jesus give up on them because they were lacking as disciples, and He’s not going to give up on you. And it’s this promise of faithfulness on Christ’s part that leads us to answer His call quickly and faithfully.
When the disciples followed Jesus, they did so urgently and without looking back. The disciples left behind their old jobs for a new calling. They exchanged their comfortable existence for persecution and death. They even left behind their families. You need to know that this doesn’t mean they abandoned their families. We know for sure Peter was married and probably a majority of the others, and Christ wouldn’t call anyone to break the marriage vow. To be a disciple meant keeping their focus on Christ and not letting their love for their family keep them from obeying Christ’s call. Paul talks about this same thing in the Epistle for today. He says, “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.” In other words, we never know when the end is going to come so while we love and serve our families, we do so always with our focus on Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Don’t let your obligations as parent, child, employee, whatever keep you from the discipleship that leads to eternal life.
Jesus spent some time alone, but He never withdrew completely. A Savior who hides isn’t much of a Savior. He was very aware of the hurts, the sins, the problems in this world. He addressed them, and most importantly, pointed to Himself as the source of healing and forgiveness. Even to the bloody cross, Jesus continued to forgive and save. The disciples didn’t shirk from what had to be done either. They called sin, sin. They didn’t ignore what the Romans, Jews, and Gentiles were doing, they addressed it by pointing out sin and proclaiming forgiveness. They preached the pure Word of God in all its bitterness and sweetness. And they never stopped, even when they were threatened, beaten, stones, or crucified. The world cannot silence the Word of the Lord.
Ever since the first monks headed out into the desert in the first centuries after Jesus, some Christians have thought that it’s better for the Christian to be separated from this world. That if we just mind our own business, if we ignore what’s going on around us, then everything will be okay. We do what we want, we let the world do what it wants, and everyone will be happy. It’s doesn’t work this way, and you know it. Jesus says that we’re not of this world because our citizenship is in Heaven, however, we still do live in this world. There’s really no escaping it.
And while the clothes, the jobs, the languages have changed, the world we live in is just like the world of the disciples. Paul said, “For the present form of this world is passing away” and if was passing away then, it certainly is now. Remember, we’re in this world, we’re not of it, so this means we live in radically different ways than this world. As disciples we don’t just urgently follow Jesus, our lives reflect this urgency. We also urgently proclaim the truth of His Word. The voice of the disciple is altogether different. We too must call sin, sin. We’re the mouthpieces of Jesus as we call out the sinful policies of our nation and our world. We’re the mouthpieces of Jesus when we comfort hurting sinners with the forgiveness of their sins. What we say as disciples is so vastly different than what anyone else says, and it so vastly more important too. We’re disciples most of all when we proclaim the Son of God who became man to die under the curse of all mankind’s sin. Disciples say a lot, and mostly about the Savior who gave His life for the world. And don’t worry about having just the right words. Jesus has called you to follow Him and He’ll give you the words you need when you speak as His disciple. As Jesus promised, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” The Lord who calls us will not leave us to fend for ourselves. He has called us, He will not now leave us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor killed near the end of World War 2 said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” He’s right! To be a disciple means we sacrifice the life we worship on earth for a life centered on Christ. We sacrifice everything for the sake of Christ. Nothing was the same for the twelve men who heard Jesus say, “Follow me” and nothing is the same for you either. The call to faith is a call to discipleship. Or to look at it another way, you’ve been drafted into the Lord’s service. As the men and women and children that He has called, we’re blessed to urgently follow Him and sacrifice all we have for Him. After all, isn’t that what He did for us?
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen