Change Reveals God

January 24, 2021

Mark 1:14-20

                Well, John was arrested, however, let us carry on in the work that needs to be done. Mark quickly glosses over this mention and we are immediately immersed in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is asking a lot of his new followers in the gospel lesson and they do not disappoint. Whatever fear may arise, they follow. The time has been fulfilled and Jesus has brought the kingdom of God near so that all may witness and be changed.

                What is happening this morning in our gospel lesson? Mark is so excited to share the story with us that only 20 verses into his gospel, Jesus is calling his first disciples. There is no birth narrative like we find in the Gospel of Luke. Mark invites the reader right into the story. We are splashed down into the waters of the Jordan with Jesus as he is getting baptized, and then we find ourselves along the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him.

                What astounds me is that they are able to just drop what they are doing without question. As far as we know, they do not even know who this Jesus guy is. Yet, there must be something they sense, an aura about him, that pulls them into the mystery and wonder. Perhaps word of his baptism has made it up shore to the Sea of Galilee and with everything they are taking in with the sights and sounds, they know Jesus is not a false prophet. Yet, to still drop everything and leave requires courage and commitment. The courage and commitment that we see within those first disciples accompanies them through change.

                Change is necessary in God’s beautiful creation. The changing of the seasons in Michigan may bring dormancy and cold winters, then we have the hope of spring and those first crocuses pushing their way through the dirt and signaling that warm weather and more sun is on the horizon. The life stages of a caterpillar is nothing but change. Caterpillars must go into their own dormancy period to become beautiful butterflies, an incredible change which points to the miraculous creation we live in. Every once in a while, I am able to experience change in nature in my own household as our 4 year old gecko sheds his skin. Usually, he does this overnight when we are sleeping. He sheds his old, dead skin and once again becomes a vibrant orange and yellow; a necessary change which reveals not only the wonder of creation, but the need for us to shed the dead things in our lives and become new. We are reminded of this through the waters of baptism.  

                The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is credited with the one thing that most of us have become fully aware of as we move through life. He said, “Change is the only constant in life.” We are constantly moving forward and evolving in life, with our locations, relationships, and beliefs to just name a few. Change is a scary thing! The thought of change can keep us from moving forward. It can also be reassuring. I found hope in the words of one of my seminary professors when he said that his theology (or thoughts about God) have constantly changed over his 40+ years of ministry and it is a good thing. To have a stagnant God, would mean the possibilities to grow and evolve in our own beliefs would be stunted.

                This past year for the church has required a multitude of changes. Worship in-person has turned to worship virtually. Our usual face-to-face conversations transitioned to Zoom and phone calls. We pray for the day when we can safely gather without face masks and sing boldly. Yet, these changes have ushered in a new era in the church that has been longing to break through. To approach them faithfully required courage and commitment.

                The four disciples invited to follow Jesus in today’s gospel took a giant leap of faith to leave everything behind and change. There was a desire within them to grow closer to God and they could sense something in Jesus that was going to lead them. The Holy Spirit came down to Jesus in his baptism and this could very well be what was driving them to follow and leave the fishing and mending of nets to those in the boats and on the shore. They were going to have to change from fishing the sea to fishing for people as Jesus proclaimed.

                As we look back at the Hebrew scriptures, the image of fishing often carried negative connotations. Therefore, as people were listening to and reading Mark’s gospel there may have been some hesitancy. The prophet Jeremiah uses the image of fishing as he speaks of God catching people and bringing them to judgement (16:16). The prophet Amos warns the people that they will be taken away with fishhooks (4:2). This is not the type of fishing for people that Jesus is referencing when he is talking to the first disciples. This gospel text has become one of the most common referred to text when we talk of our mission in the world to proclaim the good news and make disciples. However, it is not a contest and we are not tracking to see who can rack up the most lives “saved” in the win column. Jesus is calling us to a discipleship that is much greater.

                To follow Jesus Christ means that we must be open to transformation. A transformation that happens within our own beings. A transformation that looks at people for who they are in being created in God’s image and not simply as someone to win over to our side.  A transformation occurs when we begin to listen to one another and allow the divine into the conversation. This thought of change can bubble up the fear we are holding deep within. The fear of not meeting someone else’s expectations. The fear of not making everyone happy. The fear of having to face confrontation. The fear of leaving behind what was for what is to come.

                The disciples knew this fear. They knew that to follow Jesus was not going to be an easy task. Our gospel lesson is prefaced, “After John was arrested.” There would most likely be consequences in following Jesus. The first four disciples quickly decided that to follow those consequences would be worth taking the plunge to be transformed and changed. ELCA Bishop Brian Maas writes of the consequences of living faithfully, “arrest, repudiation, condemnation, even death—including the death of biases and prejudices, privilege and the insistence on one’s way, one’s ego and one’s facades.”

                Now, this is the type of death that Jesus speaks of when he says we first must die to ourselves.  The death of those notions that Bishop Maas refers to, bring us in closer relationship to God and the community we surround ourselves.

                Jesus has invited us into change. A change that will bring us into deeper relationship with him and our God. It is a change that the disciples stepped boldly into as they dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus. It is a change that we encounter when we make Christ a central part of our lives through prayer, devotion, and the loving of not only our neighbors, but also the stranger.

                Fears can prevent us from experiencing many of the wonderful and mysterious possibilities that make up a lifetime. What if the first disciples had said no to Jesus because they were fearful of leaving everything behind? What if the caterpillar refused to become a butterfly because it was fearful of what was on the other side of the cocoon? Jesus comes to alleviate those fears preaching the reign of God has come near. In Jesus’ preaching, each one of us is invited to follow him and change. As we open ourselves to change, God is revealed in our transformation.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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