Sermon Briefs: Mark 1:14-20
John Wesley liked to use Mark 1:15 as a text. Two published sermons on the text are The Way to the Kingdom1and The Repentance of Believers.2
The way to the kingdom begins with the announcement that the time is now. Fulfillment is marked by repentance. Wesley connects Mark with Romans 14:17, 2 Timothy 2:22, and Hebrews 12:11. True religion, as Wesley terms it, is not orthodoxy. It is first a matter of the heart. The way to the kingdom is to "walk ye in it." Repentance is the door to walk through to salvation. "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." Knowing sin is repentance. Claiming salvation is righteousness.
In The Repentance of Believers Wesley lifts up the need for repentance. But he also warns that though sin will not rule, it does remain. Justification after repentance is necessary. Believers celebrate "our advocate with the Father who is constantly pleading for us." Still after justification is sanctification. We remain in a sense of helplessness, so we live by faith in Christ as our priest and king.
Walter Burghardt and Gail R. O'Day both connect the text with the lectionary text of Jonah. Burghardt describes repentance as a turning. Three turns necessary. The first turn is to self, as is illustrated by Thomas Merton's turmoil over his vocation within the monastery. Merton asked himself after thirteen years in the monastery "should I leave?" He was tempted to live as a hermit, but his superiors would not allow it. His agony was the groundwork that allowed the inner conflict to be redirected to focus on the sin and suffering of the world. He was freed to speak in "passionate protest." Physical ailments followed the spiritual struggles as Merton continued the search. Burghardt notes there are times we too may seem to be in a spiritual desert. It is difficult to turn inward, yet it is necessary. Answers to the question "Is this the way God wants me to live?" are only available if the possibilities are considered.
The second turn is to Christ as St. Augustine describes baptism as spiritual birth. Augustine's moral crisis began when he was fifteen, and an intellectual crisis began at eighteen. These reached their climax when he experienced a conversion at age thirty-three. He started life anew in baptism as he turned toward Christ. The turning to Christ is not only a turning away from sin and temptation. It is going deeper into the waters of baptism. Every day is a day to turn toward Christ.
The third turn is toward Jesus and service for others. It is exemplified by Dorothy Day's life work. Her love of the Church was not rooted in the institution but in Christ. She identified with the poor and did the work of social welfare. Because of this she was set against powerful people both within the church and outside it. Not everyone walks the way of a Dorothy Day. But the call of Christ leads all to love and service. Day observed, "Hell is not to love anymore." The place of love is in community.3
O'Day connects Jonah's dislike of the Ninevehites by asking if Jesus liked the disciples? Jesus had an important word to share. She describes the calling of the disciples as picking the first characters that Jesus came to that day. The personal characteristics and attributes of the Ninevehites or the fisher/disciples don't matter. God wasn't interested in Jonah's self-fulfillment. When Jonah does speak God's word in a city of iniquity something strange does happen. The people do respond, and Jonah pouts. Jonah's case speaks to how God crosses boundaries we will not cross. God does through Jonah what God also does through Paul—open the word of salvation to those excluded from the community of faith.
The disciples were an exclusive group chosen by Jesus. But O'Day ponders how exclusive their selection really was: "Jesus was out for a walk; the brothers were by the lake; Jesus saw them; Jesus called them." Did Jesus like the disciples? It really doesn't matter. What mattered was the word Jesus was sent to proclaim, the gospel. This word is a word of hope offered to those in Nineveh, to the fishermen, and to the rest of us.4
"What matters is that Jesus had a word to proclaim, and Peter was given the chance to hear and respond."
David S. Bell asks what a contemporary version of Mark's "A Fishing Story"5 might be like. Youth at camp suggested that the fishermen may have followed because the fish weren't biting, or there was excitement exuded by Jesus. But, then, what about us? Why are we in church? Routine, duty, expectation, to be with people—these are all reasons people go to church.
Whatever the reason, he challenges hearers to consider the challenges Jesus will lead us through. A college friend of Bell's played the saxophone. He gave no indication of being interested in church life. But in an alumni magazine Bell discovered this friend had gone to seminary and was now a minister of music in a church. Through his life experiences, both for the good and ill, this man found that God prepares us all for our own form of discipleship. He was able to call others to follow Jesus with his horn. For each of us the way of issuing the call will be different, but it will also be life-affirming.
Joel L. Alvis, Jr.
1. The Works of John Wesley, vol. 1: Sermons (Nashville: Abindgon Press, 1984), pp. 217-32. 2. Ibid., pp. 335-53. 3. "Hell is Not to Love Anymore," in Best Sermons 2, edited by James Cox (Harper and Row Publishers, 1989), pp. 207-214. 4. "Preaching the Gospel in Nineveh," Pulpit Digest (July/August 1991), pp. 33-35. 5. Best Sermons 7, ed. by James Cox (Harper: San Francisco, 1994), pp. 18-22.