Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 22, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Epiphany Lord Calls You” (Mark 1:14-20)

The children's game “Follow the Leader” is a fun game. The person in front of the line gets to go anywhere and do anything he wants. Those behind must follow ... around in circles, around the yard, doing somersaults, skipping, climbing over playground equipment.

As fun as “Follow the Leader” is, it is a purposeless game. There's no winner. There are no losers. It's not like “Simon Says” where you are disqualified if you do something that “Simon” didn't give you permission to do. In “Follow the Leader,” you simply follow the person in front and do everything they do, and then, after a bit, everyone gets bored and it's on to something else.

Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. Unlike the game “Follow the Leader,” following Jesus is not without purpose. He is the Epiphany Lord who has manifested himself to us as the Son of God and given us the light of his life. “The Epiphany Lord Calls You” to a life of purpose. He calls you to a life of repentance and faith. He calls you to a life of total commitment. And He calls you to a life of glorious service.

The Epiphany Lord came to announce that his kingdom is near. It was near for the hearers there in Galilee. Jesus the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was right there among them. Those who would repent of their sinfulness and trust in the good news that Jesus is the Savior from sin would become members of the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is near for you, too. You don't have to go running to Galilee to find him. Jesus is present for you today in Word and Sacrament. That's where you find him. The Epiphany Lord comes and shines his light on your heart. The light that shines from his holiness exposes the darkness and the ugliness inside you. At the same time, the light of his Word shines in you, calls you to repentance, and God the Holy Spirit ignites faith in you which believes the good news that Jesus is your Savior. His kingdom is near, and we become members of his kingdom by faith.

As he did with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, the Epiphany Lord calls you to a life of total commitment: “Follow me.” The disciples may have previously heard the preaching of Jesus there in Galilee that the kingdom was near, to repent and believe. Now Jesus comes to them personally and picks them out and calls them to a life of total commitment. They answered the call by leaving behind their nets, their boats, their livelihood.

Jonah was also called by God. The Lord God called Jonah to go to Ninevah and call the people of that wicked city to repentance. Did Jonah respond like the disciples? Hardly. God called him to go that way. Jonah went “thatta way.” It took a big storm and a big fish to get Jonah back on dry land and to convince him that God really wanted the prophet to go preach to the people of Ninevah.

You and I are more inclined to act like Jonah did than the disciples in today's text. You and I are more inclined to hesitate – perhaps even refuse – when we hear that God calls us to a life of total commitment. There are things in our life that don't fit into a life with God. It's difficult for us to throw those things away. There are things in our life that come first before God. It's not easy to put them second. We are more committed to our jobs, our spouses, our children, our friends, ourselves rather than being committed first and foremost to God. He may have to send some big storms and some “big fish” – some big obstacles – into our lives so that He can put us back on track and convince us that we must reorder our priorities regarding those things that we put before Him and follow Jesus with all our heart.

But here's how gracious your Epiphany Lord is. He gives you the strength to do what he calls you to do. His call to “Follow me” enables you to say “Yes” to his call. It empowers you to accept his will for you. It empowers you to reorder your priorities so that God is first and all else is second.

The Epiphany Lord's call to “Follow me” is also a call to a life of glorious service. The disciples had been busy in their occupations as fishermen. Daily they would either stand on the shore or go out in boats and throw out their nets. These nets had weights on them which would sink. Then they would pull the nets back up, catching any fish that did not manage to swim away.

Now, before Jesus called these four disciples in our text, their lives certainly had purpose. They were fishermen. They fed their families. They sold the fish they caught and made a living. That is certainly honorable. But if one's work is not done in faith and to the glory of God, it is not truly a life of glorious service.

Perhaps you feel at times that your life has no purpose. Like the game of “Follow the Leader,” you feel like you are going around and around in circles, over and under obstacles, but never feeling like you are really getting anywhere, doing anything that has any meaning.

Maybe it's because you are following the wrong leader. Who or what are you following after? What goals are driving your life? If your number one goal is not to serve God in all that you do, then you are following the wrong leader.

You have been “caught” by Jesus. He is the leader that you follow … all the way to the cross, where he gave his life in exchange for yours. He gives you new life in the waters of baptism. His sacrificial life at the cross shapes your life and makes it sacrificial as you live for and serve others. His call to discipleship gives your life purpose and meaning. Through the water of baptism, your life and your work have been sanctified – set apart for God's service. Now, everything you do, you can do for the Lord.

Jesus may not call you to leave your job in order to follow him as he did the disciples. On the other hand, maybe he will call you do just that, especially for those men he calls to go to the seminary and study for the ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus calls all of us to repentance and then, he radically reshapes our lives.

Paul teaches us this in today's Epistle lesson. “[T]he appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) In other words, let none of these things interfere with your worship and service of God. This world is temporary. The things of God are eternal.

Jesus called the disciples to become “fishers of men.” Did you find it ironic that our Old Testament lesson talks about a guy who was caught by a fish, and our Gospel lesson talks about guys who used to catch fish and were now caught by Jesus to go out and fish for men? They were to begin a period of intensive training in which they would now go out and catch men, not fish. Their nets would no longer be made of twine and weights, but of the words of Christ. Like their nets, they would cast out the message of repentance and forgiveness in Christ, and bring in those who were “caught.” And this catch would not be snagged and sold, but released and set free, because they received and believed the Good News which freed them from the bondage of sin and freed them for a fulfilling relationship with God.

That glorious service of being “fishers of men” continues among us today as members of Christ's Kingdom who have been caught by him. Together we confess the truth of God's Word, and among our friends, family, and neighbors we cast out the “net” of the message of repentance and forgiveness in Christ.

It's not always easy. But it's necessary, because we live in a dying world ... “the present form of this world is passing away.” That should be obvious. We see death and twisted values all around us. Abortion used to be wrong, now it's legal. Euthanasia used to be unthinkable, now it's gaining acceptance. Marriage used to be universally understood as between a man and woman, but no more. But let's not blame the eroding foundations of the family on those who have recently wished to redefine marriage. The sins of straight folks have been contributing to that for many more years prior to our present predicament.

The Ninevites had forty days to repent. No one knows how long our friends and neighbors have until their last hour on earth. “[T]he appointed time has grown very short ... the present form of this world is passing away.” Hence the importance for us to cast out the net and bring in those who are “caught” by our compassionate and merciful Lord.

Jonah was a very reluctant preacher who did not want to go with God's message on his lips. When he finally did, his message was that the Ninevites had forty days to repent. They did, and God had compassion on them.

The four disciples were not reluctant to go to with Jesus' message on their lips. With Jesus' Words in our ears, and with His body and blood on our lips, may we be strengthened to go just as the disciples did. May we be strengthened for a life of repentance and faith, a life of total commitment, and a life of glorious service in answer to the call of our Epiphany Lord.


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