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3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2024

Old Testament – Jonah 3:1-5, 10

New Testament – Mark 1:14-20


Faith Is a Verb


INTRODUCTION: So Mark, it seems to me, could have benefited from a creative writing class or two. 


After all, his version of Jesus’ life reads more like a summary report from some dull board meeting for a Fortune 500 company than an artfully written narrative. Yep, Mark is all business in his Gospel. He doesn’t use flowery, descriptive language, nor does he have long complex sentences. Nope. He sticks to simple, basic language, which gives the Gospel a kind of terseness and, I think, urgency.


“Immediately,” Mark says again and again in his Gospel, or euthus, as it reads in the Greek. The word actually shows up over forty times and it’s what helps give the Gospel its rushed and hurried feel.  


“And immediately [Jesus] got in the boat with his disciples.”


“The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired…against [Jesus].” 


“And immediately [the man’s] ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” 


And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about…”


Immediately, immediately, immediately.


ONE: Of course, the word also shows up in our reading for this morning not just once, but two times. 


After asking Simon and his brother Andrew to follow him, we’re told they “immediately left their nets and followed him.” And then the same happens with James and his brother John: “Immediately [Jesus] called them;” we’re told, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”


And again, the terseness of the scene, the rather matter-of-fact way Mark goes about describing it, well, it tends to hide just how momentous and radical the decision of all four men really is.    


There they are, the two sets of brothers busy with the task of fishing, only to have Jesus show up with his invitation to become followers. “The time is at hand,” says Jesus, “follow me.” And with that, they suddenly decide to become followers. 


After all, in accepting Jesus' invitation to follow, the four men are basically choosing to walk away from their lives as fishermen all so they can start traipsing around the Galilee with a penniless preacher. For James and John, the significance and weight of the decision seems even more pronounced, since they actually leave their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands.     


There’s Zebedee, probably thinking how nice it is that his sons have decided to carry on in the family business, only to suddenly see them stop their net mending and wade ashore in order to follow Jesus. It is a stunning scene. 


Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zebedee, thinking his sons had run off to join some bizarro cult, looked into hiring someone who specializes in rescuing people from such groups. 


TWO: Given all that, it’s surprising in many respects that anyone ever decided to follow Jesus in the first place. 


After all, when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John, they actually have no idea where they’re going. Jesus says “Follow me!” and with that they just start walking. There’s no detailed discussion of their journey ahead and there’s hardly a calculation made regarding the risks. 


One thing is clear: Simon, Andrew, James, and John probably would not have made good Presbyterians! After all, we Presbyterians aren’t really known for our spontaneity and quick decision making, right? 


Some of you may have heard that old bit about a man who rushes into a church during a large ecumenical gathering and shouts, "The building is on fire!" In response to the man’s declaration, the Methodists all huddle up in a corner and immediately start praying.


The Baptists, as they’re prone to do, start talking about water and how it sure would be handy to have some. The Fundamentalists all shout, "It's the vengeance of God!" and begin rending their garments. The Lutherans quickly write out a statement containing 95 reasons why fire is bad and post it on the front door of the church. 


The Episcopalians, ever the cool bunch, form a procession and promptly march out of the church in a grand fashion. And the Presbyterians? Well, they get together and appoint a committee to look into the matter so a report can be given at next month’s meeting!


So Simon, Andrew, James and John, as much as it pains me to admit it, might not have been good Presbyterians. Jesus shows up calling on them to follow, and before anyone can count to ten, they’ve dropped everything. 


There’s no discussion on the potential risks and pitfalls of their new endeavor and a committee is nowhere to be found to provide a report. In faith, they simply start walking without a clue where they’re going.


THREE: Maybe that’s why Frederick Buechner has famously defined faith as “a journey without maps.” 


Because when it comes to following Jesus Christ, there’s only the call to follow. There’s no schedule given to those who answer yes to his call, and there’s no detailed itinerary provided to them either.


Why, there isn’t even a promise that following Jesus means becoming famous, powerful, and having a life free of troubles and hurts. Relying only on God’s goodness and providence, followers are asked instead to simply begin a journey trusting that somehow along the way we’ll eventually find the way. 


“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun,” says Beuchener, “as a process than as a possession. It is an on-again-off-again [affair] rather than once-and-and-for all. Faith is not being sure where you're going, but going anyway.”


So while Audrey and I were back in Scotland, I got to do something I rarely get to do - I got to read for pleasure. Knowing there would be plenty of time for reading while waiting for and sitting on airplanes, I grabbed one of the few novels by Will Campbell I had yet to read. 


Called The Convention, the story is about a woman named Dorcas who eventually gets elected President of the Federal Baptist Church, a fictional denomination  clearly meant to represent the Southern Baptist Convention. Needless to say, a story about a woman getting elected to be President of a Baptist denomination that doesn’t even allow the ordination of women is both funny and poignant all at once. 


After all, Dorcas, from a small country Baptist Church in Claughton Station, MS, is not the typical candidate - and not just because she happens to be a woman. While her main revival for the Presidency is a smarmy, egotistical, pompous you know what, Dorcas is decent, gentle, and kind.        


Toward the end of the book, with the election of the new president about to happen, another woman, named Miriam, rises to speak in support of Dorcas. And at one point, she has these words to offer: “ can one study God? When we say ‘God,’ that is all we can. We cannot say ‘God is this. God is that.’ Only discipleship is real. We can follow what little we know about God. And we know enough to follow. Enough to get us in trouble.”


FOUR: Eugene Peterson, in his book The Jesus Way, writes of his family’s hiking adventures when his sons were growing up.


Eager to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible, the boys would always rush off in a mad hurry. “’For them’, writes Peterson, ‘the trail, the way, was reduced to one thing and one thing only: the way to the top of the mountain. 


They set out with all deliberate speed to conquer (their verb of choice) the mountain, get to the peak, write their names in the metal box containing the names of successful climbers. 


They always took a couple of pictures to document their feat. And then, reeking with boredom, they waited for their slowpoke parents who were carrying the lunch. ‘What took so long? We’ve been waiting for hours!’”


As Peterson reflects on his boys’ question, he offers these thoughts: “What did take us so long? Well, there was a lot to see, to savor, to absorb, to enjoy: a mountain goat posing regally on a cliff, a blue-fringed gentian [violet] to look at again for the first time, the wind-sculpted trunk of an ancient white-bark pine, a water ouzel playing in a waterfall, the nectarine that we relished as we sat and took in the next range of mountains that had just come into view…[the] Way for us was far more than a way to get to the top.” 


For Peterson and his wife, the way wasn’t about following a set schedule, map, route, or even a plan. Rather, for them the way was taking a journey – a journey in which they were vividly present to the world around them.


Trusting that along the way they would eventually find the way, Peterson and his wife simply enjoyed and cherished their journey to the top of the mountain.    


CONCLUSION: And so it goes when it comes to us and our journeys of faith.  


Even though we might not know exactly what awaits us on our journeys as disciples of Christ, we too can still go. We can get up and move-move into the new and unknown future offered to us in Jesus Christ by being vividly present to the world around us. 


Because in the end faith is never just a noun; it’s also a verb. It’s a process rather than a possession. It’s the giving up of an old life in order to begin a new one. 


It’s taking a journey without a map, trusting that along the way we’ll find the way.  


And now to the God of all grace, who calls us to share God’s eternal glory in union with Christ, be the power forever and ever. Amen!     

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