Epiphany 3b, January 25, 2015

January 27, 2015

Mark 1:14-20

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I feel very fortunate to not have been burdened by an over-abundance of charisma. There are times when I wish I had a bit more ability to overwhelm people with the power of my presence, but for the most part I’m grateful I haven’t had to figure out how to harness that monster. I’ve known a few people that were touched with whatever it is that gives some people that extra dose of sparkle, and it hasn’t worked out very well for most of them. Some of them are still alive, but they aren’t necessarily in good places.

Charisma is one of those things that you don’t really know how to define, but you know it when it shows up in the room. Charismatic people are the kind of people that seem to know exactly what they are doing and they usually know what other people need to be doing as well. The gift of charisma usually presents itself before a person has the wisdom to use it, and that’s why it often plays out badly. It would be nice if you could develop charisma after you turn 55. That would be a nice thing to look forward to, and it might even make for a more civilized world.

If charisma was something you could develop after you have grandchildren there would probably be a lot more amazing playgrounds than there are super-stretched limousines and wacky cults. Immaturity and charisma is a dangerous combination. I’m not sure what God was thinking by enabling such a combination.

But charisma isn’t all bad, and it doesn’t always lead to disaster. There are young people who are able to channel their charisma in healthy ways. I think there are people who figure out how to work with it. I’m thinking about this personal attribute we call charisma because Jesus had to have had a good dose of it. Jesus has very little to say to these people who are out fishing but they immediately drop what they are doing and follow him.

The extent of the charisma of Jesus isn’t fully illustrated by his interaction with Simon and Andrew because I’m thinking they were the kind of fishermen who were out trying to catch something to eat for lunch. These two didn’t have what we might call a fishing enterprise. They weren’t fishing from boats – they were standing in shallow water casting their nets near the shore. Following Jesus may have seemed like an economic opportunity for them. And I don’t know this, but I’m guessing they weren’t exactly hauling them in. Catching fish can be a feverish experience in itself. It would take an overabundance of charisma to get the attention of men who are in the process of catching fish, but that was not the case with those two. Jesus invited them to join him in the enterprise of catching people and they immediately followed him.

It’s funny to think about this business of being fishers of people. We Christians have fully embraced this language of ensnaring other people in our cause. And we do that because we trust what Jesus was doing. We know that Jesus wasn’t full of himself. We believe we are inviting people to experience an ultimate form of freedom by following Christ, but this first encounter has a lot in common with the way an unhealthy cult gets started. A person with a powerful presence who solicits allegiance from people who are searching for food doesn’t always go well.

But James and John weren’t hungry. You might say they were in the fishing business with their father. They had employees. James and John had careers lined up, but there was something about the way Jesus invited them to join him that spoke to them in a deep way. They left it all and followed Jesus.

It’s probably some kind of heretical distortion to imply that Jesus was able to convince these men to follow him because he had a charismatic personality. There isn’t any reference in any gospel that I know of that addresses the personality of Jesus, and I’m not saying that it was simple charisma that persuaded these four to drop what they were doing and follow him. Jesus didn’t bank on his winning smile, his heavenly voice, or his penetrating eyes – the things that charismatic people generally depend upon in order to gain control of other people. Jesus had the presence of a rock star, but he wasn’t just an inflated personality behind some talent. There was something powerfully transforming about his presence.

And I’m wanting to know what that was. I want that because I often feel like I’m still in the boat with the hired hands. It’s easy for me to feel caught up in those tasks that are much more like fishing for fish than the work of a person who has become a fisher of people. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the tedium or the tragedy of life.

Of course this last week has been a particularly hard one for everyone who knew Randy Jones. It’s been a challenge to feel the nearness of God’s kingdom because we’ve lost a truly beautiful person. If you knew Randy you know what I’m saying. He had the best smile. He had the nicest demeanor, he had the kindest touch, he had the softest heart, he had the best wit, and he had a terrible car accident last week. It’s a devastating turn of events. It’s a terrible blow for our church, and it’s an unimaginable loss for his husband, Drexel.

This hasn’t been an easy week to be in touch with this good news that Jesus announced. It’s been a lot easier to feel the pain of bad news. But there’s something in this morning’s passage that we need to keep in mind. Jesus announced that he had good news while he was standing in the shadow of John the Baptist’s arrest. We need to remember that the good news that Jesus offered doesn’t depend on everything going as we want it to go in our daily lives.

Jesus wanted us to know that the good news he came to bring is available to everyone at all times. This is powerfully good news, but we’ve got to make some adjustments if we want to see it. Jesus said we must repent. Actually that’s not what he said. Repent is the word the English translators generally use to describe what he said, but that word has taken on some connotations that Jesus may not have intended. We really don’t know what Aramaic word Jesus actually used, but the Greek word that Mark used in his gospel was metanoia, and that word refers to the need for us to have a change of mind.

We’ve turned this call for repentance in to the need for us to have regret and contrition, but I believe Jesus was more interested in us seeing the world differently than for us to identify our personal inadequacies. A transformed view of the world may well lead to a new way of living, but the good news of Jesus Christ is rooted in seeing who God really is – not in seeing who we aren’t.

I think this means is that we need to understand that the picture is much larger than we generally see it. There’s something more important than these endless tasks that are before us. There’s something more critical than maintaining our enterprises and honing our skills at those things that bring us food. There’s something more lasting than our lives and our relationships.

This isn’t an easy thing for me to get my mind around, but I know I want it, and I believe this is what Jesus had to offer. It was so real to Simon and Andrew and James and John that they dropped what they were doing and followed him. And I don’t believe they did what they did because they were more spiritually oriented or more devoted to Christ than the rest of us. I believe they just got a clear view of what Jesus was about and they knew that’s what they wanted.

They had the good fortune to see Jesus for who he was and what he offered. They didn’t hesitate to take up his offer to follow him, but I think it’s worth noting that they didn’t have such a clear view of the good news every day. The gospels are filled with stories of the way those same disciples failed to see what Jesus was doing.

The nearness of the kingdom of God is an illusive quest, but I don’t think there’s anything better to seek or comforting to find. It isn’t easy, but I trust that the living Christ continues to come our way and to offer us the same good news he had for those first disciples. The need for us to change still stands, but if you are like me you are hungry for some change. I want to see things differently because what’s easy to see is painful to view.

Bad news can come quickly and it can be an overwhelming presence in the room, but the good news that Jesus offered endures forever. It’s not as obvious as I wish it would always be, but it’s a captivating offer that can’t be ignored. This process of being called and being sent goes on and the kingdom of God remains near. This was the good news that Jesus offered those first disciples, and this is the good news that is here for us.

Thanks be to God.


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