Read Mark 1:14-20
It is not a long reading this morning from Mark’s Gospel, just seven verses, but so much to think about, and where better to start than with the word ‘Gospel’. What does it mean? Well, it comes to us via the Latin evangelium and Greek u(yu)angelion meaning ‘good news’, and through the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning ‘good story’.
So, what is the ‘good news’ that Jesus proclaimed, other than the wonderful story, the ‘good news’ which is unfolding before us as we follow the lectionary gospel readings through the year. And if you follow the good news through the New Testament, you’ll find that it is several things:
a) It is good news for those searching for truth and hope. Truth has had a hard time over the past few years, more so perhaps in the US and on social media, but by truth I mean searching for the truth of the gospel, the wisdom, knowledge, and purposes of God. Job cried ‘O that I knew where I might find him.’ (Job 23:3) and an ancient philosopher said the soul can only see dimly (and by that he meant like trying to see things through water). The good news of the gospel is that in the developing story of Jesus, understanding of God’s character, wisdom and purposes increases, the water clears, and truth seen in Jesus bringing hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless and the love and grace of God to all people.
b) There’s also good news about peace and promise. Inner peace has been short in supply of late, mainly related to the pandemic, probably replaced by anxiety, and raised tempers, certainly on social media if you follow it. To be fair, that has been an issue with humankind throughout history, particularly with the endless internal battle in our hearts over what is right and wrong, in our relationship with God, and almost as importantly, our relationship with our fellow human beings.
With the unfolding story of Jesus, we see again the water clear and peace found through his words, his love and sacrifice, and of course not forgetting our own response.
The Old Testament can seem to be a constant struggle of a people, a nation, hearing God’s wonderful promises via the prophets of old, but then shrugging their shoulders and expecting they can just carry on doing their own thing, or make demands of God and all will be well. That just resulted in God getting angry and life getting hard.
What we discover through the good news of the gospel is that God sees all this in us, and yet is more ready to give (and forgive) that we might imagine, and his promises are good to hold on to.
c) And as we continue reading, we find good news of salvation. That endless struggle between good and bad in our lives meets Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, with a challenge not just to say sorry and stop living as we do, but literally to turn around, embrace the victory of Jesus on the Cross, put aside the old struggles and live lives in the truth of all Jesus has done for us, which is to offer us the power to live life victoriously and conquer sin.
John the Baptist had done the preparation work, and people had flocked to be baptised by him in the Jordan. It was too much for the authorities and John found himself arrested, but seeds were sown and from them Jesus would bring fruit.
Word had spread about John and Jesus, and maybe some from the area where Andrew, Simon, James and John lived had heard Jesus teaching, and it had been the talk of the village in the past week - the seed of a calling had been sown in the hearts of these disciples-to-be. They might even have heard Jesus themselves and pondered his words in their hearts.
So, Jesus needs a team, a talented team, one with whom he can work. What would the local job centre recommend, I wonder? Good communicators, well educated, with marketing experience, excellent contacts, well-placed in society for maximum influence, particularly as the time frame is short if this planning is all to come to fruition.
But Jesus did not go down to the local Job Centre or employ a human resources manager. Perhaps he remembered the prophets of old like Amos who explained it this way, ‘I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”. He didn’t do too bad a job. And what about Jonah? God called him to preach to the people of Nineveh, ‘But Jonah ran away from the Lord...’ And yet the people of Nineveh repented as asked, even if Jonah became annoyed with God. Job done!
Then there was Moses, who said in answer to God’s call, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”, and God replied, ‘I’ll be with you.’ Even that wasn’t enough, Moses took some persuading, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent ... I am slow of speech and tongue ... Please send someone else to do it.”
But he (eventually) did as asked and led the people out of Egypt.
So, choosing fishermen rather than a good PR company was not setting a new precedent for God being able to get a job done. Just because we don’t think we’re up to doing something big for God, as with those OT prophets, is looking at the issue from the wrong angle. It is more about what God can do with the raw material called ‘Me!’ or ‘You!’
Jesus was saying to the world, ‘Give me twelve ordinary folk and if they’ll commit themselves to the task, I’ll change the world!’
And the call didn’t end with a few fishermen and one or two other ordinary folk back in Galilee. The call is continuous. Jesus calls us all to be sharers of the ‘Good News’, and he’s still not looking for PR specialists, just ordinary folk like you and I. And the promise, like that to Moses, is that he goes with us, by the Holy Spirit, blessing our words as we share our faith, sowing seed that he can help germinate and grow.
It is a commitment to service, possibly where you are now, maybe somewhere else, who knows. But there is no need to run away, like Jonah, or argue with God like Moses. Simply follow the example of those fishermen who committed their lives to follow Jesus. Think about the fact that we are here, meeting together at this moment, because of what they did in response to Jesus’ call!