Last Monday I opened the lectionary to prepare for today and read the gospel lesson from Mark. It was Jesus calling disciples into ministry. Wait…what? Wasn’t that last week in the Gospel of John?
A quick look verified that it was. And as we mentioned last week, it is believed that Mark was the first gospel published and John the last. Lectionary bookends! Now what prompted the committee to select these back-to-back readings during the Season of Epiphany when God is revealed to the people of Earth through Jesus Christ?
I’m holding in my hand a piece of concrete from the steps of the Westfield Faith United Methodist Church. It comes from a boring made with a diamond core drill to mount a new railing. What’s special about a boring is that you get to see sections of the aggregate, the rocks that are mixed with the cement. And as I gaze at the surface of this boring, not one of the rocks, none of the aggregate, is the same as its neighbor. I took a picture of it so you can see. (screen share)
The strength of concrete comes from the relationship between the cement and the aggregate. It is said that concrete never cures completely. It’s always in a dynamic state of movement toward solidification, but never completely gets there in its physical condition. It’s a dynamic composite, like the relationship between the sacred text, the reader, and the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s why two different writers chose to deal with the same subject in two very different ways. (screen share off)
In today’s reading, Jesus comes to Galilee with preaching. Spoiler alert! Next week he’ll be teaching in Capernaum. Preaching and teaching, both initiated by Jesus. John’s in prison and his message continues in Jesus, “Change your hearts and lives! Trust in this good news!”
The Gospel of Mark notes that some of the very first disciples were fishers, doing the work of putting food on the table. There’s power in preaching! Simon and Andrew, James and John leave the security of family and vocation to follow the One they have decided is sent by God. There’s power in the Word of God!
But now I’m going to go a little bit Lutheran on you! I married one and feel the need to honor the aggregate she brings to this composite metaphor.
The text we read in the Bible is the word of God with a little “w.” The proclaimed Word of God, with a capital “W,” lies just under the page. When we close our eyes, put our hand on the sacred text, and partner with the Holy Spirit to help us discern the message contained in the text at our fingertips, we open ourselves to the possibility of “Wait…what?” that life changing moment of epiphany!
It’s the Holy Spirit that changes our hearts and our lives. The sermon that Jesus is preaching by the lakeshore in Galilee is for followers to be open and available to the Spirit.
We were sitting around a table, talking about prayer and meditation at a confirmation class when I asked the students to clear their minds, close their eyes, and join hands. There was the usual snickering and restlessness of youth. I asked them to relax and just enter the moment with no expectations, only love for self and neighbor, the real deal, no faking. The Holy Spirit came. Our group was blessed with surges of energy that pulsed through our circle. It lasted a long time and when it was over, everyone was silent. Everyone was changed. We all grew up just a little bit that day and I hope they remember the holiness of that moment. I remember to this day the reverence and power that changes us as we live our days…if we allow it!
How else can we explain four fishers leaving the security of family to follow a stranger who shows up and asks them to follow him into the unknown?
Of course, that’s the essence of the question that confronts each of us as we encounter the person of Jesus Christ. The good news is that we have each other for support and encouragement along the way, energized by the Holy Spirit.
Churches spend a lot of time in marketing and sales. We combine contemporary with traditional to get blended gatherings with the hope of increasing our numbers. We focus on style and content and hospitality. Those are important considerations for sure. But how much of our resources are devoted to spiritual development? When’s the last time the church went on retreat to sit in a circle and hold hands?
The day will come when we are able to gather once again, face to face, and worship as one body, break bread, and have fellowship. But when that happens, it will be different. We have been changed by this pandemic. There is temptation is to label it good, bad, or somewhere in between. But the real challenge for churches and the real question to be explored is, “How has the church been changed? Has the presence of the Spirit blessed the church in new ways? Will churches continue with some form of virtual connection?”
I believe the answer is yes!
When Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him, they leave behind the security of their former ways and venture into the unknown. It’s a bold move and challenges our sense of reason.
Next week will begin a new chapter in the lives of two churches. Clearly, the joining of two congregations for a virtual worship gathering involves an immediate financial savings, but for this effort to give glory to God there needs to be a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit. Where is the Spirit present? What inspiration is received? Rest assured, the life of the Church resides in the Spirit and not in a marketing scheme or a savings plan. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit is the Church with a capital “C” and we are stewards, changed by a pandemic, but also gifted with resources and creativity.
Starting something new is a great way to deal with fatigue. An inquiring mind can’t help but wonder if Simon and Andrew, James and John hadn’t grown weary of fishing. Many of us are tired. We’re tired of social distancing. We’re tired of masks. We’re tired of not being able to make our trip to the café after worship. Already many are tired of waiting to get vaccinated. We’re just plain tired. We feel like the images we see of overworked healthcare workers without the burden they carry.
I remind you and me that exercise and good nutrition are essential elements of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. That includes a robust relationship with prayer, open to the Spirit, willing to respond to the call that moves us on this journey of faith, embracing the possibility of epiphany, discovery…insight…purpose.
Those who study generational characteristics shed a special light on trends and values. One of the core beliefs of the baby boomer generation is that conflict is best resolved by a change in leadership. We boomers are at the summit of our personal power…and we know it. We think we are wise. We are reluctant to pass the torch and our jobs to the Gen X’ers. We know it. They know it… and it’s a primary source of their dissatisfaction and disconnection. It would be a fascinating study to learn the ages of those who stormed the Capital. I bet there’s a millennial out there in need of a Master’s thesis.
Jesus comes to Galilee preaching a message about the need for a change of heart and the need to change the direction of our lives and the Holy Spirit moves four of those listening to do just that!
We have experienced a change in national leadership, but we have not changed our hearts. I am grateful for the change in posture and more hopeful for the future, but that hope is tempered by our entrenched political disfunction, particularly at the state level.
That same disfunction infects churches and stifles the Holy Spirit, deflecting the pure love of God as if it were a commodity for consumption! It’s time for churches to move beyond the one-hour service and devote resources to address racism and reconciliation. What about reparations? How did it come to be that underqualified, male, single issue candidates, get put into positions of authority regarding reproductive policy? Could it be that we yearn for sound-bite simplicity in a complex world? Gun sales are trending higher than ever before.
Followers of Jesus are called to be ambassadors. When will we learn that peace and prosperity for God’s creation depends on well-being and respect bestowed on every living creature? Some are thinking, “Preacher, that’s simplistic and naïve!”
Consider again the composite from the steps of a church in central Wisconsin. Not one aggregate is the same as its neighbor, yet the cement holds them together for a related purpose: to move people from one elevation to another, into the house of God. If the aggregate were the same throughout the core, fracture lines would develop from outside stress. Strength comes from the relationships formed within the community of diversity.
Consider the people Jesus chose for disciples: fishers, tax collectors, doubters, organizers, zealots, impulsive, thinkers, and even a betrayer. It makes me wonder if the boy Jesus watched Joseph working as a builder, more likely a stone mason than a carpenter working with wood, seeing how the laying of each stone was interdependent upon its neighbor to form a structure capable of withstanding the forces that would bring it down.
The Spirit of opportunity is calling. This is the Season of Epiphany! New discoveries and thresholds offer potential for grace and redemption. It’s a great day to be a follower of Jesus!