Called to Repentance
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:14–1:20
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 24, 2021
“Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2021: Called to Repentance”
We pick up where we left off last Sunday. We heard in the Gospel lesson for last Sunday how Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to follow him and be his disciples (John 1:43-51), and in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus expands his circle of followers to include Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John, two sets of brothers. All of them were fishermen who made their living on the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus calls them to a different kind of fishing: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). I never cease to marvel at the response of these individuals whom Jesus called. In both instances, we are told that “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18, 20). No hemming or hawing. No making excuses. No “Well, I’ll go home and think about it.” None of this. They dropped what they were doing and immediately (εὐθὺς) followed Jesus. Not later on, but immediately. In fact, we’re told that James and John left their dear old dad, Zebedee, there in the boat with the hired hands and went after Jesus. And as I consider Jesus’ call to discipleship and the immediate response of Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, I ask myself: “Would I have done that?” To be sure, Jesus does indeed call each one of us to follow him and be his disciples today. But it’s that word “immediately” that catches my attention. It’s so easy for us to put off making a life-changing decision. In fact, when we are asked to make a decision that will affect us for the rest of our lives, we want time to consider this. We don’t want to rush into something. But over against carefully weighing all our options and choices is the call from Jesus: Follow me. How will we respond? For Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, they were suddenly walking in a whole new direction in life. And that is a very accurate understanding of what Scripture calls “repentance.” Repentance is a turn-around; an about-face. It is a change-of-heart and change-of-mind that leads to walking in a whole new direction in life. That is what’s before us today in Week 2 of our Epiphany focus, Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2021. The theme for preaching, based on today’s Gospel lesson, is entitled “Called to Repentance.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
So often we think that repentance simply means being sorry for something you’ve done that causes hurt or pain, whether to God or to others. We think that repentance is just about guilt; feeling guilty for the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do. To be sure, repentance does include this sorrow and contrition over sin. But if that’s all it is, we have shortchanged what God has in mind here. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ post-Baptism proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Some really big concepts in this short verse here: “The time is fulfilled” – not chronological time of days and years, but the God-appointed time; the right time (καιρὸς). Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s plans and promises. They all find their “yea and Amen” in him (2 Corinthians 1:20). And that little word “repent” (μετανοεῖτε) is that change-of-heart and change-of-mind that leads to walking in newness of life (Romans 6:1-11). Before Jesus called Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, he called people to repent and believe in the Gospel, which means good news. Jesus himself is that good news because he himself is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). We live at a time when lots of people believe that there are many paths to heaven; that a person can be “spiritual” without the Holy Spirit; that you can cobble together your own belief system based on a cafeteria-like selection of teachings from world religions. To all of this, Jesus still proclaims to us today, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). This becomes all the more important when we consider what Paul the apostle tells us in today’s Epistle lesson: “… the appointed time has grown very short… For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Because of this, the call to repentance is before us. How will we respond? Will we delay? Put it off until tomorrow? The Word of God tells us: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b).
In today’s Old Testament (Jonah 3:1-5), the prophet Jonah was called again to go to the great city of Nineveh, capital of the powerful and much-feared Assyrian Empire. Jonah was to go there and call the people to repent. When God called Jonah to this task the first time, he did delay. He did put it off; in fact, he ran in the opposite direction. In the midst of a terrible storm at sea, the sailors of the ship on which Jonah was sailing figured out that it was he who was in trouble with God, and so he told them to throw him overboard, which they did. Scripture records that God then appointed a great fish to rescue Jonah by swallowing him, and then after the fish spit him out on dry land, God called Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh. Much to his surprise, the citizens of Nineveh were moved to repentance. If we were to go on reading here in Jonah 3, we would find out that the king declared a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance for everyone in the entire kingdom – even animals! In fact, Jonah was angry with God because he knew that God is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah wanted God to strike those miserable people of Nineveh with fire and brimstone, but instead, they received forgiveness and mercy. Jonah was so upset about this that he asked God to just let him die. Jonah had to learn that God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to all who are repentant. Living at this critical crossroads in our nation’s history when there is so much underlying tension that is threatening to tear us apart, declaring a national day of fasting, prayer, and repentance might be very much in order. There are prayers appointed for this very thing in our hymnals and worship books. Is it time for this to happen again? Or is it only “those other people” who need to repent, and not ourselves? If we are to be serving Jesus and living in community, repentance is not just for some; it is for all of us. If we are to have a change-of-heart and a change-of-mind that leads to walking in a new way, we have much to learn from the people of Nineveh, as well as from Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John. They left their old lives behind. They heeded God’s call to repentance, and so must we today.
Repentance means letting go of the past in order that we might walk forward into the future – God’s future for us. Repentance means walking in a new way with God’s gracious help. Repentance means that by the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives are being realigned and conformed to the life of Christ Jesus who loves us and gave his life for us on the tree of the cross. How are we then to live? Next month in early February, you are invited to join a Zoom meeting to consider four questions that flow out of God’s call to repentance:
- Why do we exist as a congregation?
- What would be lost in our community, in our area, in our world, if we ceased to be?
- What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity?
- What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?
Four Zoom meeting spaces have been reserved, and these meetings that will take place in morning, afternoon, and evening timeframes. This is open to all who want to join in, and I encourage all of us to do so. To find out more, please see the Midweek Update or contact the church office.
Why are we doing this? So that we, too, may hear and respond to Jesus as he calls to us today: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Amen.