Scripture – Mark 1:14-20 – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018
Our culture has come to prize response time. Response time has become a measure of the quality of our emergency services as well as our customer services. How many minutes…how many minutes did it take the firefighters to arrive, the EMTs, the police. How long before the repairman arrived after the furnace stopped working? How quickly did customer service call back when you couldn’t get the cable TV to work? How long for the computer to reboot after the updates? The list is infinite and the answer is always the quicker the better.
But the same does not seem to hold true anymore for our own responses to invitations. RSVP by February 1 means just about nothing to just about everyone. Oh, yes, there are still some of us who remember the etiquette of responding to invitations as taught by our parents or Miss Manners or simply the standard of the times. But today brides and mothers-to-be and dinner party hosts now know that on that designated respondez-sil-vous-plait date for the wedding, the shower or the soiree, one must haul out the guest list and start dialing or emailing or texting to obtain a commitment. Evites have helped a little, but even they are designed to send automatic email reminders to the invited to say yes, no, or at least maybe!
And here’s something…I have a friend who has become predictably notorious for enthusiastically saying yes at the outset and then cancelling at the last minute. That must be worse, right?
And then there’s a whole ‘nother category of commitment beyond saying you’ll attend a party: those are the “in it for the long haul” commitments. For instance, ’tis the season for our high school seniors to respond to their college acceptance letters. Their non-refundable deposit commits them to showing up at the institution as far in the future as September. Excited about the new job? Expect to sign an offer acceptance letter before you can show up and start a week from Monday, knowing, as excited as you are, that you can’t really turn around on Tuesday and say never mind. Many of you have uttered these words that you can’t take back without a court martial: I, Sally Jones, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic… Oh yeah, and the really big one: I do. I promise to have and to hold until death do us part.
So we really value quick response time on the part of others but we may stretch out as far as we possibly can our own windows to commit to a simple invitation. Or we may say yes and then bail at the last minute. But these other longer, more thoughtfully considered and sometimes permanent commitments can sometimes go sour, disappoint, disillusion and we have adopted an expression heard quite often now when things don’t quite go the way we expected: I didn’t sign up for this.
I didn’t sign up for this. Yes, I took the job but I didn’t sign up for all this overtime. Yes, I wanted to go to ABC University, but I didn’t sign up for this non-stop studying. I said yes to any number of things, but I didn’t sign up for the endless meetings, the stress, the work load, the long hours, the arguing and bickering.
Sometimes coming to that conclusion – I didn’t sign up for this – is justified: we should never stay in unhealthy situations or abusive relationships, be they at work or at home. But it does seem that lately our culture suffers from a running and reigning lack of commitment. We’ll see. I’ll let you know. OK… but then not so much. And when things get uncomfortable, even a little tough, it seems so much easier just to back out.
The Gospel of Mark is known for its sense of urgency throughout. Over the next several months as we follow the lectionary of Year B, which we’re in and which highlights the Gospel of Mark, you will notice the frequent use of words like “immediately” and “at once”. Our passage this morning is no exception. We meet Jesus today after he has been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, after which he was “immediately” driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit where he spent forty days. We are only at verse 14 of the very first chapter and we learn that John was arrested and now Jesus is in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying what is really the summary of the whole of the Gospel of Mark: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent [turn around, return to God’s ways], and believe in the good news.”
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon [later he will be called Peter] 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 their nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”
Immediately. Not “I’ll let you know” or “we’ll have to see”. Not “let me look at my calendar.” No reminder texts and emails. Follow me. Up and done. Dropped the nets. Left their father right there in the boat. Got up and followed Jesus.
But we all know that had they the same expression, there were many times when the disciples said as much as “I didn’t sign up for this.” I didn’t sign up for mockery, rejection, confusion, downright danger. I didn’t sign up to see you arrested in the middle of the night, to feel compelled to deny I even knew you, to have to hide away in a locked room for fear of being arrested and crucified ourselves. It was not until the disciples’ direct experience of the risen Christ in their midst that they made the iron clad commitment to go forth to the ends of the earth risking their own lives to spread his message of love.
Two weeks ago, we reaffirmed our baptisms, made our baptismal promises again, vowing to “follow in the way of our Savior.” Has there been a time, when attempting to live out a life in Christ, we said, “I didn’t sign up for this”? Or is it more that we delay responding when we hear his call? His call through the hungry or the marginalized or through the people we know and love? Procrastinating our response, stretching out that window of time until the last possible minute when we can no longer ignore our own troubles, our grief, our confusion, our fear and must say, Yes, Lord, come into my life and I will follow. Or do we say yes enthusiastically at the outset and then bail when it requires some effort on our part? Contemporary religious author Sara Miles has some encouragement for us. She wrote in her book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion which is quoted in your bulletins this morning that “Conversion isn’t, after all, a moment: It’s a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt.”
I daresay that describes most of us. The invitation is always there. Jesus is always calling us. Sometimes we jump right up; sometimes we lazily or warily procrastinate our commitment; sometimes we are overcome with enthusiastic rapture; and sometimes we wonder why we ever signed up in the first place.
But through our baptisms, we said, “I do”. We signed the offer letter. We took the oath. What Jesus offers may stretch us beyond our comfort zones, but he offers a healthy, loving, fruitful relationship in which we will have no regrets. And when we have an emergency, his response time is immediate. Say yes. RSVP at once. Amen.