1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2
Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you. 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across.4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out,
Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15
The time has come, he said.
The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17
Come, follow me, Jesus said,
and I will make you fishers of men. 18At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
The time has come. As I get older I realize over and over again how much time is a relative thing. I remember when I was nine years old and I got grounded for two weeks, as I looked through the window and watched my friends play outside, it seemed like an hour took forever, let alone the whole week. Now a days, it seems like I blink and an hour is gone, when I look back, years flash by. It can't actually be that way. The clock doesn't speed up as we get older… For each of us, the day is made up of twenty four hours, each hour is made up of 60 minutes and each minute is made up of 60 seconds. And are you ready for this one… each second is scientifically defined as: the duration of 9 billion, 192 million, 631 thousand, 770 cycles of the transition between the two levels of radiation of the caesium 133 atom at a temperature of absolute zero at an altitude of mean sea level. I'm not entirely sure I know what that means… I hear it and say thank goodness I'm not a scientist…, but apparently it's one of the most constant rates of change that is able to be measured at this point in our history. That's the way official time works. Every second is exactly the same as every other second. Every hour is exactly the same as every other hour. The Greek word for that kind of official time is chronos.
Chronos is quite helpful for living in 21st century America. Without chronos there wouldn't be day planners or blackberrys. Without chronos it would be awfully hard to plan to meet someone in the city for lunch or to plan when to hold church committee meetings. We need chronos but when it comes to living life, that's not the only way time works. The Greeks had a second word for time: kairos. Kairos moments are the moments that are filled with significance. It seems to me that the longer I'm around on this earth, the less I measure time by chronos… how many days and years have gone by… and the more I measure time by the kairos moments, the important events, the stories that hold meaning, the moments that shape who I am… As I think about Kairos moments I remember the day I asked Rebecca to marry me; being there when our children were born; the day I was ordained: These are all kairos moments. Fred Craddock, a theologian, author and pastor, describes kairos as
a special time, an opportune time, a time in which a constellation of factors creates an unusually significant moment. Kairos moments are the times that change everything. Our scripture passage today was one of those days for the people who would become disciples. It was a day that would not only shape who they were, but also shape what this world was to become. It was a kairos moment.
It was as simple as four fishermen, asked to follow. But when I read the passage, I'm struck by the force of the unanswered question. Why in the world would they go? They didn't know who Jesus was when he called to them
come, follow me. In the other gospels there's a bigger picture presented. In John's gospel, John the Baptist tells his disciples about Jesus and then points Jesus out to them… and then they decide to follow. In Luke's gospel, Jesus is out on Peter's boat and there's a miraculous catch of fish and then Peter decides to follow. In those stories, we can see a reason. But this is Mark's story, and in Mark's story there's not much to go on. We're only in the sixteenth verse of the story … and eight of those verses have been about John the Baptist… In Mark's story, the fishermen don't know who Jesus is and yet they go. Andrew and Simon leave their livelihood. James and John leave their father. And I'm left asking the question,
The only clue we get from the text is that Jesus proclaims, the kairos has come. It is a significant moment. The kingdom of God is near. It is so significant, in fact, that this kairos, when the kingdom of God drew near in the person of Jesus Christ is the major division of chronos time in Western Civilization. We have BC the time before Jesus and AD the time after Jesus. Scholars have adjusted it so that it is now CE which stands for common era and BCE which stands for before common era, but the advent of Jesus Christ on earth is still the delineating factor. It was an incredibly significant moment.
Even when the vast majority of what was going on in the world around them seemed to say that God's promises of justice and peace were unrealizable, the reign of God drew near. Jesus asked them to follow, more to the point Jesus told them to follow him. It was unusual for a Rabbi to take the initiative to call his followers, but that's what Jesus did because God acts. Even if we're not ready for it, God is active.
The call was also different from other Rabbis because the chief allegiance of their students was to the Torah [the law]. As disciples, their role was to study, to master the law and the oral tradition. But Jesus called his disciples to something different. He called his disciples to himself. It wasn't a call to add another thing to the calendar; it wasn't a call to squeeze another task into an already full day; it wasn't a call to a different to do list. If I can stretch the metaphor I used earlier, those would be examples of a chronos kind of call but this call, the call of Christ, was a kairos call. Jesus called these four fishermen into an entirely new way of being. It wasn't based on study or theory or right interpretation. It was based on life and it was based on practice. People who fished were to become fishers of people. People who worked the land were to become laborers in the field of God's harvest. Jesus would be their teacher not because he would teach them right doctrine but because he would show them a right life. It was a personal call and it was a specific call. Come follow me. Do what you see me do, speak like you hear me speak; imitate me. He would show them how to live and he would reveal the character of God.
This is the call story of the first disciples but it's not our story. Our world is different than it was two thousand years ago. Our world is different than it was thirty years ago. Our world is even different than it was three years ago. We haven't been called in the same way. We haven't been called to the same tasks. But as individuals and as a church we do have the same calling: we're called to a new way of being in the world through the practice of a right life. We're called to be people who use our gifts and talents in service of others and in service of God. The specifics of the call are different; the methods, the people, the places of ministry change. But the nature of the call remains the same because the nature of the one who calls remains the same. The call is still personal and specific. Come, follow me.
Barbara Brown Taylor, a seminary professor and preacher says that what we pastors often miss when we preach this passage is that this story isn't primarily about the disciples, or about us. It's a story about what God is doing. She doesn't refer to this story as the calling of the disciples. For her it's
the miracle on the beach. The story's really about the Son of God who walks up to these fishermen
creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before. She writes,
What we may have lost along the way is a full sense of the power of God–to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hapless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.
And this is the way God works. Even when the vast majority of what's going on in the world around us seems to say that God's promises of justice and peace are unrealizable, the reign of God draws near. Jesus calls us to follow him. God takes the initiative and even if we're not ready for it, God acts in our lives and in our communities.
The disciples in Mark's story may not have known who Jesus was, but we do. We can look at the bigger picture and say perhaps they responded to Jesus' call because there's more to life than seconds and minutes: there's more to life than days and years. To live for a hundred years doesn't mean a thing if we don't spend that time paying attention to what makes life worth living… To follow Jesus is to live in kairos time. To follow Jesus is to practice letting our limited and finite selves be the instrument of God's unlimited and infinite love. To follow Jesus is to let the kingdom of God draw close within us so that it might also draw close among us. My friends, when we pay attention, there are kairos moments which open our hearts to God's love, reveal to us God's character and show us how to live in this world as Christ would have us live. The time has come, the kingdom of God has drawn near, repent and believe the good news. Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland on January 25, 2009 at the United Parish of Bowie.
© 2009 Daniel Holland