A Reading from the Book of Jonah (3:1-5, 10)
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So 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. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When 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.
PSALM Psalm (62:6-14)
6 For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.
7 He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
8 In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
9 Put your trust in him always, O people, *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.
12 Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
13 God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, *
that power belongs to God.
14 Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, *
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (7:29-31)
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though 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 possessions, 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:14-20)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 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. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Over 2000 years ago, the Roman poet Horace declared: “Dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet.” — roughly translated: “Well begun is half-done.”
It is a familiar saying and obviously an ancient one; and, at least in some areas of life, it seems to reflect accurately our own experience. When we begin a project and we take the time to think it through, to determine what time and materials and other resources we will need, and to come up with some plan for accomplishing our goal, that project tends to go much more smoothly, and we are much more likely to bring it to completion, than if we were simply to jump in without taking these preliminary steps. Up-front planning helps to ensure success.
But, along with up-front planning, success requires a genuine commitment to that project or initiative; and that commitment has to be long-term. Sometimes, people can approach new beginnings and new initiatives with a lot of enthusiasm, but their commitment just does not last; and, in the end, nothing at all is accomplished. Let me give you two examples.
Example number one: New Year’s resolutions. Just 21 days ago, people throughout the world welcomed in the year 2012; and, as they did, many of them made resolutions having to do with all sorts of good things they were going to do this year. I am sure that some of you were among them.
Now I’m not asking anybody to answer out loud, but how are you doing now with your resolutions? Have you managed to stick with them even for these first three weeks of 2012? I suspect that such kept-resolutions, even this close to New Year’s Day, are the exception. We love making new beginnings, symbolic new starts, but our enthusiasm and resolve quickly wane. They rapidly fade away and are soon forgotten.
Example number two: Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel according to Mark. It would be hard to match the eagerness with which the first four disciples decide to follow Jesus. In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when he comes across two brothers, Simon and Andrew. He calls them and “Immediately,” Mark tells us, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” A similar scene soon takes place with two other brothers, James and John. Here, it seems, are the ideal disciples: Jesus calls, and they immediately follow, no hesitation, no questions asked.
Unfortunately, that enthusiasm quickly fades. At this point, we are still in the first half of the very first chapter of Mark’s version of the gospel. The disciples of Jesus will never again be so faithful. In Mark’s view, the disciples repeatedly fail to understand just about everything Jesus says and does; they vie with each other for the very honors that he himself rejects; and, in the end, they all abandon him at the moment he needs them most. They had a lot of initial enthusiasm, but they had no follow-through whatsoever, no real commitment. And real, authentic commitment is what Jesus was asking from them.
There are, as I said, many times in life when people make enthusiastic, new beginnings. They get so caught up with an attractive idea or ideal, that they are ready to jump in with both feet. But, even if they continue to admire that ideal, they quickly back off when then realize what sort of commitment it requires of them, what achieving that ideal or at least working toward that ideal is going to cost them. Other folks simply get bored very quickly: a particular idea excited them yesterday; but by now they have lost interest, and they are ready to find and latch onto something else.
Churches and church leaders and church members are like that sometimes. There are many around who always seem ready to jump on the bandwagon of each new thing that comes along. They focus on grand statements and big events with which they impress themselves and hope to impress others as well. But when it comes to doing the less glamorous, day-by-day work of building up the kingdom a little at a time, they just don’t seem to be interested.
And yet the kingdom of God, as Jesus describes it in the gospels, is not one that is normally ushered in by grand statements and big events. Instead it is something that grows slowly, almost imperceptibly, and often in ways that are hard to see – except in the long run. It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground, or like good seed scattered in a field. You can’t always see the growth, and nourishing that seed requires patience and persistence and commitment in working for the kingdom day in and day out, week after week, year after year. It is not a glamorous or exciting job, but that is the way that the kingdom of God grows: touching the life of one person at a time, serving God’s world one day at a time.
There are some occasions during the church’s year that the scriptures and our liturgy call us to make a definite commitment. We did so when we started a new church year back in Advent and when we gather for great feasts days; and we will be doing so one month from today in the solemn observance of Ash Wednesday.
But by and large, the call of Jesus to follow him is not a call to a one-time, dramatic declaration of intent. It is a call to enter into an entire life of discipleship: one in which we do the work of the kingdom each and every day, whether that work happens to be exciting to us at the moment or not. It is something that takes place in all the seemingly common, ordinary days of the year. The work of being a true disciple of Jesus is the ultimate great work; and, as Samuel Johnson noted, “Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance.”
It is in following Jesus, day in and day out, carrying out our various ministries, whether they seem rewarding to us at the moment or not, that we learn what it means to be a disciple. It took those first four disciples many years following the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection, along with their own attempts to be faithful to their risen Lord, for them to come to understand what he had once asked of them when they had first encountered him down by the lakeshore and he had called them to follow him. We, too, learn what it means to be a disciple only by the day-by-day work of trying to live as a disciple.
Writing a century ago, scripture scholar and physician Albert Schweitzer gave a classic description of discipleship and of the way that we truly come to know Jesus. He wrote: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
It is in that experience of day-by-day, lifelong discipleship that we come to know him. And it is in knowing him that we find life.