The writer of Mark’s Gospel was, apparently, an American. Yes, that’s right, an American. How can we tell? We know he was most likely American because of his obsession with the word “immediately”. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the 4 canonical Gospels, but he uses the word “immediately” at least 40 times in the telling of his story. How does this make him an American? Because you and I are also caught up in our own sense of immediacy. We want what we want right now.
When I was a child, I remember having to reheat leftovers either on the stove or in the oven. The black and white television took a minute or so to warm up and produce a picture: I know this because I was sitting there in front of it eating my Swanson fried chicken TV dinner, where everything was already portioned out for me. And whether it’s instant potatoes, oatmeal, grits or pancake mix in an aerosol can, the world of immediate relief from hunger surrounds us always. We live in a society that doesn’t want to wait. When we want something, we want it immediately, the sooner, the better.
Mark’s telling of the Gospel story ought to be the first one we turn to because, like I’ve said, Mark was an American himself and he understands the need to hurry from one story to the next without wasting any time. The other thing about Mark is that he understands the concept of calling 911: there’s an urgency in his writing that is more than just a sense of being in a hurry.
Our lives are full of tasks to be completed, some are higher priority than others, but they all need to be completed. Whether we’re talking about doing laundry, taking out the trash or doing our income taxes, we understand that our tasks have an inherent sense of priority about them. And, if something more urgent comes along, we will put them aside and deal with the most pressing issue—like when our cell phone interrupts a conversation, for example.
While Mark uses the word “immediately,” it’s clear from the context that the underlying sense is “urgency.” The fishermen all leave important tasks to follow Jesus. Their response is more like the way we answer a phone than it is to the way we take out the garbage. Mark is calling us to experience the fullness of our life in an urgent kind of way, to be thankful in the extreme, to be mindful of the grace of God that surrounds us. And that’s a hard thing to maintain, this sense of urgency about those wonderful gifts of God that surround us at all times.
Peter and Andrew appear to be poor fishermen who cast their nets from the shore. They have no boat, simply a small fishing net. James and John, on the other hand, appear to be from a fairly successful fishing family – where there are not only boats but additional hired hands. All four seem to be committed to their livelihood as they do the important work of mending nets between fishing expeditions.
But all four respond with such a sense of urgency that we cannot help but wonder about their response. Did they know Jesus from a previous encounter or was he a total stranger? What was the tone of his voice? Was this one of those urgent calls for help we might hear as we approach someone in the midst of an emergency? Although we might discuss the possibilities inherent in the story, we don’t want to overlook Mark’s point in telling us the story in the first place: namely, it’s this same Jesus who is calling us in the here and now. It’s the same Jesus who is waiting for our own response to his call.
“Follow me” is not just an invitation extended to the Disciples; it’s also an urgent call to reorient our lives to God. It is an invitation to consider our vocation in life, not just our occupation. So, if you are a fisherman, Jesus calls you to fish for people. If you are a carpenter, Jesus is telling you to stop building houses and start creating homes. If you are a healthcare professional, Jesus is asking you to take account of the hearts and spirits of people, not just their bodies. If you are a teacher, Jesus is reminding you that you are not called to teach subjects to students but to teach students about subjects.
Sometimes following Jesus will require a change of profession, sometimes leading to ordained ministry or doing missionary work. But more often than not, it is simply a call to a change of mind-set, a reorientation of our lives as we respond to the urgency of the gospel message.
Over the centuries, there have been many groups of people who heard that sense of urgency and sold all their possessions as they waited for the return of Jesus – only to be disappointed by his failure to appear. It’s not that He didn’t appear– it’s that he appeared in a form in which they failed to recognize him. They misunderstood what the heck Mark was talking about.
Here’s the bottom line: Jesus is calling each of us and all of us to live with a sense of urgency in our lives – a sense that each day and each moment is important in terms of the coming Reign of God. The hard part of that is letting God determine our priorities as we open ourselves to the blessings that come from leaving some things behind.
Invariably God calls us to newness of life and a fresh vision and bright shiny path on which to walk, and we’re aware of that. We look forward to that and we truly want that. But what we don’t think about are those many things we leave behind when we turn to follow Him. We tend to oversimplify and see those things as “bad” or “unworthy” and sometimes that is exactly what they are. More often than not, however, those things were really good things to begin with, like fulfilling careers that paid the bills and allowed us to have a sizeable 401K for our retirement. Like having one ministry or another that was fulfilling in many ways and which we were sad to leave behind. It’s not that these things were bad, they were good! But there’s a huge difference between doing good things and doing the right things for us.
As I look around Fort Wayne, I see many good ministries going on: clothing banks, food banks, new parent training, teaching English to refugees who speak only their native tongue and need English in order to get better jobs for their families. These are all good things, and we could literally burn ourselves out getting involved in as many of them as we can. But is that what God wants from us? Or are those the “good things” that could get in the way of what God REALLY wants from us? Is doing ministry that is comfortable to us part of God’s plan, or is it just our plan that we’re hoping God will eventually buy into? One of the right things that you and I are involved in is the growth of this parish and its ministries. We’re about to embark on an ambitious new path that will provide spiritual support to people recovering from drug or alcohol addictions. We’ve prayed about this and it needs to happen here because the only other program like it is, sadly, tied to a judgmental form of Christianity that rejects a significant population of hurting people. This is not okay, so we are stepping up to minister in a positive, affirming, soul-enriching way that is open to all people.
Despite challenges, once we see and embrace the RIGHT things, our life becomes crazy simple. God is inspiring us, Jesus is calling us by name, and the Spirit is giving us all the testosterone (also known as grace) that we need to make our response effective. The more we can put aside our own fears, hesitations and questioning and the more we can just be open to what it is God is trying to tell us, the more peace we will find and the more certain we will be as we move from doing good things to achieving the right things.