“Called Together”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 21, 2018

Mark 1:14-20

 

It is an ominous beginning.  Did you catch the first sentence of today’s reading?  “Now after John was arrested…”

Just last week in worship, just a few verses ago in Mark’s gospel, we were talking about John the Baptist and his ministry out in the wilderness.  John preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and he called people to change.  Change their lives, change their world, change their allegiances to the One who is truly worthy of them.  John offered a ritual of baptism as a sign and symbol of the new life available to all who would choose to enter into God’s way of love.  And now we discover that he has been arrested.

If you read ahead a few chapters, you will discover the reasons for John’s arrest.  Ostensibly, he was imprisoned because he criticized the indulgent lifestyle of King Herod and his family.  Herod, like many despots before and after him, was behaving in ways that were unbecoming of a leader, and John called him out.  As a result, he landed himself in prison, and he was ultimately beheaded in a rather gruesome scene (if you want to know more, take a look at chapter six).

That was the official reason for John’s arrest.  But I think there was more to the story.  Herod wanted to get John out of the picture because John’s preaching about the Kingdom of God was in direct opposition to the Kingdom of Herod.  John’s clarion call to a new way of life, a new place to pledge your allegiance, was a direct threat to Herod’s power and the power of the Roman Empire he represented.  John was arrested and ultimately executed because he was a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker—because if he was allowed to continue what he was doing, he was liable to incite the people to rebellion.

And then along came Jesus, following exactly in John’s mold.  Jesus, as we heard last week, had been baptized by John himself and so been marked as part of the movement John represented—a movement that had begun long before John or Jesus came on the scene, and a movement that would continue after them, even to this day.  When Jesus began preaching, he began right where John had left off.  “The time is fulfilled,” he said, “and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

And then off he went to call his disciples.  Simon and Andrew, James and John, must have known that the signs were not exactly auspicious.  They must have heard of John’s arrest, must have recognized its ominous implications.  They must have known that to follow Jesus was to take a risk, a big risk, to pledge their allegiance, not to the earthly powers that be, but to God alone, and to live accordingly, and to accept the consequences, come what may.

But they followed anyway, risks or no risks; they followed gladly, because the power of the gospel made it worth it, no matter what the cost.  Because they had the audacity to believe that a world was possible where there were no rich and poor, but everyone had enough.  They had the audacity to believe that a world was possible where hungry bellies all were filled, where thirsty mouths all were quenched, where naked bodies all were clothed, where grieving souls all were comforted, where lonely hearts all were loved.  They had the audacity to believe that a world was possible where sick people had access to the health care they needed, where strangers and foreigners and refugees and immigrants were received as fellow siblings in God’s family, where elders and children were respected and cherished.  They had the audacity to believe in liberation, in restoration, in reconciliation.  They had the audacity to believe in the promises of God.

They felt and saw and heard those promises being realized in the life and ministry of Jesus, so when he called, they answered.  When he invited, they came.  When he beckoned, they took the risk and followed.

And as they answered, as they came, as they took the risk and followed, they became part of the unfolding of God’s love come to earth.  They received a whole new identity as children of God, servants of Christ, sharers of Love.  They became part of a whole new community of others who had pledged their hearts and their lives to the One whose love is from everlasting to everlasting.

They were not called alone, for Jesus knew that the challenges that would come with following him would be far too great for any solitary individual to bear.  They were called together, first in pairs, then as a foursome, and ultimately many more, because Jesus knew that they would need one another.  When one person’s courage flagged, his brother would inspire him anew.  When one person’s strength evaporated, her sister would carry her for a while.  When one person’s heart grew week, their friend would take their hand and lead them on.

Friends, this is who we are as church.  What was true for those earliest disciples is true for us, too.  We are called to answer Jesus’ call, to follow where he leads, to take risks on behalf of his ministry of love.  We are called to pledge our allegiance, not to the earthly powers that be, but to God alone, and to live accordingly.  We are called to the audacious belief that a world is possible where all of God’s children—regardless of race or gender, regardless of sexual orientation or national origin, regardless of wealth or education, regardless of age or ability, regardless of preexisting condition or political affiliation—where all of God’s children can be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and receive the resources they need to thrive.

And when we answer Jesus’ call, when we follow where he leads, when we take risks on behalf of his ministry of love, we do not do so alone.  You and I both know, and God surely knows, that the challenges that come with following Jesus can be far too great for any solitary individual to bear.  You and I both know, and God surely knows, that we need one another, that the only way we can truly fulfill our calling is if we do so together as members of a community, of this beloved community of disciples who are, together, living out God’s love on earth.

The members and friends of First Congregational Church of Woodstock have been doing this for nigh on 328 years now.  Let’s keep going.

 


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