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The Time Is Fulfilled

Krystal Leedy

January 25, 2015
Mark 1:14-20

A reading from the Gospel of Mark:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

So, here we are in our liturgical year, only a couple of weeks since the wise men passed by the manger on Epiphany, with grown up Jesus already with his second career: Jesus, the ultimate salesman. “Have you tried discipleship? Ever found yourself fishing on a boat and all of a sudden you thought to yourself, “I really wish a rabbi would come by and turn out to be the Savior of the world?” I know I have.” He had to set up the commercial really well, you know, and make it seem like this was really something that they needed to do, “Failed at your new year’s resolution? Looking for grace in all the wrong places? Have I got a deal for you!” And Jesus said just the perfect thing to make them give up their entire livelihood to follow him. “For
only $19.95, you too can have a new life!”

But actually, as I read this story, it’s just classic Jesus with a strange sentence, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they bought it! Four men bought into this idea. Four men bought what Jesus was selling. No skepticism. No asking for a money-back guarantee. They just signed up and walked with him. With 2000+ years of skepticism built up in our system, we might say, “You’re going to have to convince me a little harder than one commanding sentence.” We have seen con artists. We have been taken advantage of. We have learned not to trust people just on face value. And this story is one of those that I think has a bunch of details left out. Maybe it’s just me, but walking onto UT campus and saying, “Follow me and I’ll introduce you to a person who will transform you into a fisher of people,” just sounds confusing at best.

This idea of salesmanship is not new. It’s been a foundation of American society since the turn of the century. The idea that how well one sells a product being the highest value is, however, a unique characteristic of American society. And when it begins to filter into Christianity, it can become a bit of a stretch. When we start putting Scriptures on mints and turning our Savior of the world into a bobble-head, I think we start to struggle with our faith being taken seriously. And I’m not sure that this is what Jesus had in mind. And please don’t hear me say that salesmanship is not a value.  It is a value, we should have great confidence in ourselves and whatever it is that we are selling, but it just may not be the highest value. And, I do think it’s important to note that if we cannot laugh at ourselves a little and laugh alongside of our Savior, we run the risk of taking ourselves too seriously. I don’t want to fall into that trap either. We were called the Frozen Chosen for too long. But I digress. I don’t really know what exactly it was that Jesus was selling, anyway. A community? A journey? Happiness? The Kingdom of God? A new fishing net? Wine? Yeah, it was probably wine. That guy could have had a monopoly on instant wine. Just add water!

The theology of Jesus as a salesman tends to break down, however, as soon as you get to one statement: The time is fulfilled. This was like the “Mission Accomplished” of the 1st century. John had been arrested and here comes Jesus saying that the time is fulfilled. What had been fulfilled? Very little was different at this point. If Jesus was truly a salesman, he should have spun his statement. “The time is almost here! The time is on the horizon! Stuff is about to happen!” But no, he says the time is fulfilled. His predecessor is in prison, and all he can say is “mission accomplished.” I think the way of Jesus struggles to be marketed. I think Jesus struggles to be a salesman. I don’t think his quotas were reached. I don’t think he was shipping out millions of products. But, I do think he was inviting people to experience something different. I think he was inviting them to see beyond what was right in front of their faces. I think he was inviting them to look at the Kingdom of God. Not something that could be bought or sold, but something that is experienced.

Some of you know that two weeks ago I went to a Special Offerings Ambassador training seminar in New Orleans. It was a fundraising seminar in order for the Presbyterian Mission Agency  (aka: General Assembly) to gain $20 million by 2020 for Presbyterian Missions. I’m very wary of things like this, but I signed up because I wanted to help out my friend who is just starting this Ambassador program. We went into the heart of the damage from Hurricane Katrina to a woman’s house named Miss Celine. We had watched a video about her house and the damage that was done to it not only by the 8 feet of water that covered her house but also the poor contracting work done by her stepfather on the house. Contractor fraud is prevalent in New Orleans, and Miss Celine was a victim of it. Her floor could have caved in at any moment, but she had nowhere else to go. Her and her two daughters lived in this home, with a floor that could have come out from under them at any moment. Her story was heartbreaking. Project Homecoming, a Presbyterian non-profit in New Orleans that was started by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, approached Miss Celine about rebuilding her home. She reluctantly said that she would allow them to work alongside of her to rebuild her home. We walked up to her bright blue brand new home in the middle of a neighborhood that was partially rebuilt. I was handed a quilt that I would ultimately present to Miss Celine. As she gave me a squeeze on the shoulder in gratitude, I realized that this was one of those experiences I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. I was learning about fundraising for the Presbyterian Church, but I was still invited to participate in the Kingdom of God. I had to drop things in my life to go, but even if I hadn’t, Miss Celine would have still gotten her house and her quilt. God’s Kingdom would have come into the world regardless of whether I was a part of it or not. I just had the privilege of getting caught up into what God was already doing. And if you haven’t been fully paying attention to this story, don’t worry. I’ll probably bring it up again when we begin collecting for One Great Hour of Sharing.

The Kingdom of God has come near! Turn away from all the stuff that does not give you peace and believe this peace of Good News: Jesus Christ came in the flesh to dwell among us and he himself was ushering in the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Kingdom of God that puts me in the living room of a woman who got the help she needed from people who were following Christ’s call. I got  to witness that! The same Kingdom of God that put Peter, Andrew, James and John on a great journey. The Kingdom of God that believes much like Rev. Keith Wright that human compassion is what binds us together, and compassion is a force that will not quit. Even when all of the advertisements have passed away, the stitches of compassion will not tear apart.

Some days it’s difficult to see the Kingdom of God coming near. Some days it just seems like we continue to be a divided house that gets more and more divided. We lost civility somewhere, not to mention compassion. I don’t think Jesus came to sell us on an idea like the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to show us what it could look like, to guide us by the hand through the wilderness, to point out what happens when people are healed, to remind us that salesmanship isn’t the highest value but compassion might be. The reconciliation of all things, might be a higher value. The bringing together unlikely people and having them look at one another the way that Christ looks at all of us, might just be… well, the Kingdom of God. In human form. A mystery to us all.

I struggle with the marketing of Christianity. I struggle with the depictions of our Savior as a cartoon or just a man with long hair and a goatee. Because, if that is all that he is to us, just a bobble-head, well, we missed it. We missed the point. And I know we make jokes not because we do not care about Jesus the Christ, but because we don’t know what to do with this strange being who is God from God, light from light, what does that even mean? I know that Christ is not literally walking around with us pointing things out, turning the lights on. I know that even though San and John are walking where Jesus walked, probably on the shoreline where Peter and Andrew and James and John were called, that Christ is not standing there calling to them from the seashore to sell them on an idea that will make them millions. But somehow, in some way, Christ is near.  I have faith that somehow, in some way, Christ is near. Christ is near to them and Christ is near to all of us. Whenever we break bread, whenever we are walking though the wilderness, whenever we are grieving the loss of a relative, whenever we go on our way rejoicing, Christ is near. Christ is near to us when we are together as a group of people and Christ is near when we are alone. In life and in death, we ysteriously belong to Jesus the Christ, fully human, fully God.

As we continue on our journey with Christ through the liturgical calendar, we have already experienced Christ coming into this world and in a few weeks, we will walk in the wilderness with him, but today, Christ is near in his call to follow him. Jesus Christ invites us all to walk with him, and it’s strange and looks different for different people, but seeing those opportunities for us to walk alongside Christ, to walk with strangers who become friends, seeing Jesus as more than a cartoon and more than a resolution that you couldn’t keep, maybe that’s the value for today. We are witnesses not to Christ the great salesman, but Christ the compassionate, constantly pursuing, constantly calling. May we all have ears to hear, to get caught up into what God is already doing.

Amen.