I was reflecting last week on the experience of being called; how we often think it won’t happen to us. Our lives take a course that we try to plan to a greater or lesser extent; and, whether or not we include God in our lives, it seems as if it is the world, our families and our circumstances and priorities which shape our being and our calling, rather than God.
In such circumstances, we appear to think God’s influence can be managed and controlled to the extent we choose to respond to God’s call or not.
And yet, we are being called throughout our lives. God calls us continuously. Even before we were born, God calls us into creation, into being, to be in relationship with God and with each other, for all times, and in the fullness of these times.
The immediacy of that call to us individually is described in the readings today, and we are given some sense of what that call sounds like and what the expectations are upon us as we choose whether to respond and how we respond.
Marks tells us ‘Jesus came to Galilee’ after John had been arrested, ‘proclaiming the Good News of God’ (Mark 1:14) and then Jesus said:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
These two brief verses provide the framework for all of Mark’s Gospel. So let’s reflect on those verses:
‘The time is fulfilled,’ not just chronologically, but it is the season of God’s redemptive work in history.
Time has now received its fullness, and its meaning.
The mission of God’s Son actually brings the ‘fullness of time’ with it.
With the mission of the Son, with Jesus’ entry into time, a new era has dawned, so far-reaching in its consequences, we call it the ‘fullness of all time’. All our time and our activities must express this new era and reality.
And we live in a time and place where we as Christians need to be mentally, spiritually and physically present in the fullness of time. Such an awareness and understanding, means our own reflection on hearing Jesus’ call to us, is critical.
We live in what I call ‘liminal times’, where the ‘fullness of the times’ is present if we pay attention. In this sacred space we can see and hear more clearly.
In Mark’s gospel, Galilee, like many of our communities today, was liminal, socially, religiously, politically, economically and geographically.
Galilee was not an intellectual or religious centre. It was the home of those who were oppressed, marginalised, left out, oppressed and exploited. Galilee and places like it, are places along ‘the way’, they are not places where people go by choice.
And yet, in our own liminal times and places, Jesus is absolutely present always, for those for whom the fullness of time is being brought into view, where the kingdom can be glimpsed.
We see and feel the fullness, with the healings Jesus did, his forgiveness of sins, his dining with sinners, his presence at times of death, during heartbreaking illness, in the experiences of poverty and dispossession, including reasons of race, gender, and sexuality.
Jesus says, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’. It is already present in Jesus’ ministry. For in proclaiming the kingdom and acting and behaving as he did, a sense of the present reality of God’s kingdom emerges. Through his words and actions Jesus taught his followers to look for and observe the kingdom.
And, I am reminded how often do we come to see and love God, through the relationships we have with each other and through each other’s behaviours? I see God in you. You are made in the image of God and when I look at you, I see God. When I watch you, learn from you and listen to you, you shape my understanding of God. When we fall short, when our community and our relationships are not shaped and influenced by the Spirit when we are not living in the fullness of these times, we see a broken and even a dreadful human-made God.
The call to the kingdom, in the fullness of the times, includes a call to repent, to follow and to listen, and let’s be very clear, the call is said to you, directly.
Jesus’ call then to ‘repent’ is a word, that is active in voice, present in tense, imperative in mood, and is plural in number. It is not a quiet word spoken softly in an individual’s ear as to a close friend. It is a loud, booming call to anyone in earshot. It has urgency and is repeated. It is always said and expected in the fullness of these times at the right time. The right time is now, and our response to this call is to repent, and to do so again and again.
We frequently hear the word ‘repent’ as harsh, punitive, judgemental and excluding. We hear it as a threat to change our ways, before judgement is passed and we are discarded.
Instead, when I hear this call and I hear Jesus arriving in Galilee, in the fullness of time, it is hearing his announcement God’s reign is within breathing distance; and in fact, you and I can hear the kingdom breathing, if we listen carefully. The call to repent is the call to ‘believe in the gospel, the good news.’
Without question such a call, command, invitation, carries with it the idea we have some changing to do, some new directions to take. Its primary purpose and orientation is towards God’s future. In Mark, it is an invitation to trust in a future made possible by God’s grace.
The first words in Mark’s Gospel are about repentance. Why? Because in Jesus, God makes it possible for God’s people to do more than repeat the past. The gospel, the good news is Jesus invites us to stop, turn and to hold on for dear life.
Things do not have to stay the way they are now. In fact, to follow Jesus means things cannot stay the way they are. It means the old way of living is going to change, every aspect of resistance to God’s future is going to fall including the most formidable evidence of sin.
The announcement of the kingdom of God has consequences in the lives of those who receive and accept this proclamation.
Acceptance is to have a complete reorientation of life, a turning from one direction to another. It relates to confessing our sins, and the ongoing movement of our lives and love away from self-interest, self-centredness and greed towards the life called into view by the new realities of our belief in the good news, the Christian gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
And repentance is not about work or actions we do to earn God’s favour. Repentance and new directions in life emerge from God’s mercy and goodness and is freely and lovingly given to us.
The invitation or demand Jesus makes to us to follow him cannot be ignored. The statement we will fish for people, is a present expectation now, as an imperative, that cannot be denied and neither did Simon and Andrew, James and John.
Jesus was not looking for allegiance or amazement for sharing on Facebook, his call wasn’t something to save until the time is right, when we have more information, when the economy is better, when the children are older, or when we are retired. It is for now. There is nothing provisional or conditional about Jesus’ call.
If you hear Jesus’ call, you hear an insistent, inviting, transforming Lord who wants our complete attention. Jesus wants to give us a new life, in the fullness of life. Why would we dither?
And Jesus’ call, his invitation was made to ordinary men and women, not ones with special gifts, wealth, education, status or reputation. There wasn’t anything special about the people Jesus encountered or who responded to his call.
Similarly, we don’t need to be looking over our shoulder to see who Jesus is looking at, he is looking at you and me. And so, whether we are on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or at other unremarkable places, going about our lives, I hear Jesus calling us now, as people made in God’s image, to reorientate our lives, to express God’s love and with deep joyfulness, to say ‘yes’ to the invitation, to repent, and believe in the good news, and to hear the call, and follow without worry; to trust and have faith, as this is in the fullness of all time.
The Lord be with you