Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - Mark 1:14-20
Jesus is always the one who comes to you, never you to him. That is the focus of Lutheran theology. The work of election. The work of the preacher, to speak in your ears that you might hear. That you awake from your slumber to the light of the countenance of one whose sole job is saving sinners. Who comes to find all those who are wayward, lost, disenchanted, to find them. To save them from themselves, from their sin, from pride and fear and anxiety. From mortality more than immorality. What we call, repentance.
There. I have said it. Repentance. We hate that word, unless we can apply it to someone else. Some of us have spent this last week being offended by the president and calling for an apology. We want him to repent. Yet, in what I have heard from many, repentance on the part of the Donald would not be enough for them. For many of us. That’s our sin talking. Our pride talking. Our desire for vengeance, for glory, for victory. For death.
We hear repent and most of us conjure up an image of the sidewalk preacher with the sandwich board that says – “TURN OR BURN.” We hear repent and we think of Westboro Baptist Church, those who have been so captured by the evil one as they see nothing but judgement for any who don’t hate everybody. We hear repent and we think of moral decay, of needed life change, of societal transformation.
Yet, Jesus has no problem with that word and he applies it to you freely. In fact, Mark records Christ as using that word as the core of his preaching thesis throughout his Gospel account. “Repent and believe the good news.” A calling card of a Savior who comes as the inviting one. Who wants to be made known to you, not as a life coach or as the great magistrate of cosmic justice, but as the one who seeks you out, personally, and calls you out, turning you away from all the things we think more wild than Jesus.
To prove this, he takes a walk. He goes by the sea to find ordinary men, doing ordinary things, in an even more ordinary place. He doesn’t wait for their lunch break. He doesn’t look for those who seem worthy. He stops at a set of brothers casting their nets, doing their job, and says – “Come! Follow me.” He doesn’t ask if it is convenient. He doesn’t say, when you are ready, if you desire, why don’t you think about it. He gives a command – This way! Let’s go!
He does the same with two other brothers. This time he finds them engrossed in making their life better. Some translations say mending their nets. The one I have began using this year, the Christian Standard Bible (It’s Baptist, but readable, go figure) says – putting their nets in order. Getting things just right. And suddenly a stranger comes to them and says – Let’s go! This Way! Come! Follow me.
You want to see repentance? That is it. We always attach things like sorrow for sin, which is true, or great actions of piety. But the very beginning of it all is Jesus coming to you when you are least aware and saying to you – Come! Follow me. No preparations are made beyond this Jesus finding you going about your day and speaking to you – Follow me.
In the Lutheran church we have issues with this. We don’t like the American Evangelical idea of conversion. We don’t like the notion that you should at some point remember a moment when you so grieved over your sin that you accepted Jesus into your heart, and now? Ta-da! A Christian. No. That isn’t the norm, although I wonder if we need to do a better job of talking about sorrow over sin and joy over mercy. But the lakeshore happened for most of you in your life at Baptism. There you were minding your own business, soiling yourself, and then some dude in a dress splashed some water on your head in the name of a God you hadn’t met yet, then places this plus sign on your forehead telling you that you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. What the what?
That is your lakeshore. If you need anything else beyond today in hearing these words of Christ from me your preacher, there in the waters of baptism Christ says, Come! This way! Follow me. Calling you out of the norms of the world around you into this world filled with Jesus.
The bad part is that we spend much of our lives doing the exact opposite. The nets always look exciting. The water. Boats. A livelihood. Security. Family. It all seems good. Maybe we are the best fisherman in town. We own a hundred boats and have 1000 employees. Maybe those nets have secured our retirement. They’ve paid our health insurance. They put our kids through college. It’s just not convenient right now Jesus. I don’t have the time. I may have to give up something. I might have to start listening to you and not the world. Besides, I really don’t need you, Jesus.
At that point we may need a Jonah – forty days and you are dust. Harshness instead of kindness. Tough love, intervention style.
Or maybe Paul – the time is limited. What we have here is wearing out. Our bodies. Our riches. Our power. Our life. All the things that become our God are wearing out. Going away. But the God of the lakeshore, the finding God, the God of salvation and election is forever. Repent and believe the good news.
This, here and now, is the work of Christ, to find you. To seek you out, calling you by name. This call is what is that work of repentance. Repentance at its root being a clutching of your face by those nail pierced hands to turn you away from other gods you’ve made to the living God who came for you in the manger, the cross, the tomb and the resurrection. A burning of every idol you have in your life. Of finding all the things that have replaced your Christ who redeemed you from your own self-righteousness, self-reliance, independence, putting you to death to raise you to life that only exists in him.
Luther saw repentance as so necessary that he tells us that when the Lord Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he meant for the whole of the Christian life to be one of repentance. Of a regular turning from some new idol, some new God we have crafted to the one who crafted us.
I wish the church would get over the quest for morality and realize sin is not swearing too much. That when we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, we aren’t talking about what we did on Friday night, but how we so often turn away from the cross, from the need for mercy. Saying to Jesus, you are not enough for me.
It is always a return to the Garden of Eden, to the fruit that enticed our first parents to turn to themselves, away from the Word. There being reminded that it is our sin natures job to make idols. To turn us away from the one who forgives our sin and raises our dead bodies. That is the Jesus work. The work of the Gospel. What is needed more than ever in our churches because we have forgotten it. We have made the Gospel a certain way of living. A certain way of voting. A certain way of looking, rather than Jesus himself. This Jesus who announces to you today, “The time is right. The kingdom of God has come near…” No work of resistance to authority or armed revolt. No marching in the streets. No expectation on the part of Jesus that you are going to be pure and not from a bleep-hole country. No. While you are looking the other way. Concentrating on your nets. Never thinking that you have sin in need of forgiveness. Burdens in need of bearing. A death in need of resurrection. Christ comes to you then, at his right time. The time being fulfilled in him and he fills your time with himself and his Word. With his body and blood. With his forgiveness and mercy.
Mercy is never waiting on convenience. Forgiveness is never waiting for you to be ready. Christ and the Kingdom are not needing you to put your nose to the grindstone and be about the work of bringing the Kingdom to earth. He comes to you. He finds you when you least desire him. Now he speaks to you as the one who died to set you free from the law that only tells you of sin. To be for you the perfection of all of God’s love and mercy, unmerited, undeserved grace, given to you in this Christ who calls. The one who is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. Never to be counted again. Who always desires to speak to you of forgiving sins, even when we don’t think we need it.
That could be why he chose fishermen. Those who wouldn’t use a line but casting nets. A wide enveloping grace that covers a multitude of sins. This God using fishermen, and to make them fishers of men, that you might be captured by the grace of God. May this day be your lakeshore memory. The moment when Christ brings to you himself to tell you of his grace and mercy and making of you fishers of men. Those so taken away by this amazing gift of mercy to we Godless, that you cannot help to tell people. You may be hearing these words of Christ and wonder why the intrusion, but he needs you to teach the next generation about the glory of God. He calls you away to taste of his cross that you might share the life of Christ with your brothers and sisters through visiting them, befriending the friendless, loving the hated. Serving on our new visitation team to encourage, comfort and care for your brothers and sisters. Or it could just be the moment when you come before this table to here Christ tell you – Come! Follow me. Leave your nets behind. My body has been broken for your sin. My blood shed to cover you. And just because you may forget, come back next week and I’ll tell you again. Never to be forgotten. Thanks be to God. Amen.