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Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Third Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture: Mark 1: 14-20
Music: Jesus, You Have Come to the Lakeshore; Bathe Me in Your Light
Musician: Grant Logan
This is an interesting time in our history. With the swearing-in of Joe Biden, a dismal chapter in world history comes to a close. And yet, the deep divides that gave rise to it remain. The work of reconciling racial injustice, poverty-driven anger, and violence borne of ignorance is the work of generations, not a single administration. However, we are also seeing signals, first steps of where things are headed. Even before being sworn in, America’s new president indicated that the US would place a priority on safeguarding the environment for future generations, by resigning the Paris climate accord and cancelling the Keystone pipeline. He also held the first memorial service for victims of COVID-19, indicating that this is an administration that actually values human life. First steps, yes, and hopeful ones.
The poet David Whyte once wrote, “Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing, close in… Start with your own question… Start right now, take a small step you can call your own, don’t follow someone else’s heroics, be humble and focused… don’t mistake that other for your own. Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.”
I love the Gospel of Mark. It moves along quickly, almost breathlessly, like an old-timey radio news reporter. Throughout the New Testament, the word “immediately” is used 58 times, to show the passage of time and to stitch together related stories and events. The author of the Gospel of Mark, however, is responsible for 41 of those uses, and 11 of those come in the first chapter of that Gospel alone. Mark is focused on getting us the important details, asap.
Which is why we can end up with a sentence like the first one Steve read for us today, “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.” That’s one sentence with three bits of information – John has been arrested; Jesus has come to Galilee; the kingdom of God is at hand – and two commands: repent; believe in the good news. Mark follows this up with two immediatelys: Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and immediately they leave their nets; and then he immediately calls James and John, who do the same.
Because Mark provides no other details, I have so many questions. What did the disciples know about Jesus already? What was life like for them in those first days after they’d dropped their nets? Where did they sleep that night? How did they eat? I wonder these things because, usually, I just gloss over them. I usually just think: right, Jesus called the disciples and they went. But for a number of reasons, at this stage in life and in ministry, I’m noticing things I hadn’t before.
For one thing, I seem to wake up with new injuries, whose cause I can’t place. This summer, on my daily walks around our neighbourhood, I noticed the smell of pine more than I had ever before, partly because it was so dry this summer, and partly because it had been so long since I had just walked around my neighbourhood. I’ve also noticed that, with fewer activities to keep us busy and more time to share together, our family is growing closer than ever before. And for noticing these kinds of things, I am incredibly grateful.
This is what Jesus strives to help his disciples do: to pay attention to their lives, and to give them a glimpse of how God sees them. He points his followers to the people and world around them: notice what’s happening, he says – for you, for your neighbour, to your community, to this stranger – look; and remember that God cares for all people as beloved children. And then comes the most important step in being a disciple: what are you called to do?
Some call discipleship a journey, others call it an invitation, the church sometimes calls it God’s mission. I like the way poet David Whyte puts it as “taking a step”, which he identifies with asking a question, or risking a change. What do I want my life to be about? How can I make use of my blessings to help others? What that step is will be different not only for each of you, but different according to the world you face in this moment. “Start close in… Start with your own question, give up on other people’s questions, don’t let them smother something simple.”
Perhaps, for you, the next step is the healing of a relationship: a phone call, a conversation, a swallowing of pride or sharing your feelings. Maybe the next step is a step for yourself, taking a step back to think, to imagine, to breathe. And if you feel like you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other, to get through the day, to feed your children or do your job or just hold it together, then that is your step. It’s enough just that you’re here.
With Mark’s beautiful brevity on full display, Jesus says, “Follow me.” You are wonderfully made and have so much to offer to fellow travelers; especially love, shared in even the smallest of ways. Follow me. You are more than your mistakes, more than your family history, more than what they say you are, more than what you say you are. Follow me. Take the next step in the renewal of your life, and I will take it with you.
Sometimes we use the word Christian; other times church-goers, members, or adherents. Sometimes we even use the word brother or sister; the Quakers call themselves the Society of Friends. Whenever we accept the invitation of Jesus’, to listen for God, to follow his way, to start again, close in and take the next step, we are disciples.
That can feel like a heavy mantle to wear, because it sounds so devoted, so certain, so biblical. But remember that Thomas – the one who wasn’t certain, who wanted to believe, but had his doubts – he was a disciple. Peter, the leader, and also the one who denied knowing Jesus, he was a disciple. James and John, fishermen in their father’s business, were disciples. Philip who knew right away, and Nathanael, who was unconvinced, they were disciples. Even Judas, who in the end could not reconcile his beliefs with the others’, he, too, was a disciple.
To be a disciple is not to have it figured out. It is not to be unimpeachably faithful, or to have memorized millennia-old creeds. To be a disciple is to do one thing, and one thing only: to take the next step in the life with which we have been blessed: a step closer to what we were created to do; a step closer to our neighbour, to strangers, to each other; a step closer to peace and the justice that prepares its way; a step toward God’s horizon of hope.
We are not expected to be superheroes, or model citizens, or people who’ve got it all figured out. That is not what a disciple is. Disciples are called to see what God is working in our lives and those of others, and to consider to what we are being called next. Amen.
Inviting God, you called Abram and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Ruth and Naomi, you called Andrew and Peter, James and John and Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna and others to follow you.
You brought forth followers from the slave pens of the Delta and wealthy tax collectors to come and become fishers of people. So they would witness; to your inclusive and compassionate love, to your longing for peace with justice, to make real your desire that we may all live as your children in harmony and hope.
We ask that you open our eyes to see your desire that none should ever walk alone. Help us to better hear the questions you ask of each of us. Empower us to follow and serve you by telling others the good news of your love both as a community of faith and as faith filled followers in your world.
On this day there is much for us to give thanks: for the way that people have stayed in touch with each other, for those on the front lines who work to keep us well, safe and secure, for technology that allows us to stay connected with our neighbours across the street and around the world.
We give thanks for those who help break down walls that divide us one from the other – who open us to see the vision that you proclaim whether they be artists or others working for positive change.
In the bitter cold of this season we give thanks for those who work to provide warmth and safe shelter for all people.
We know there are many in need. The pandemic continues and many are worried and feeling insecure. We pray for; those whose economic security has been threatened, those whose health has been impacted either by the virus or because of postponed medical procedures, those who have lost friends and loved ones.
We remember those in our own community and all around the world who are struggling with homelessness and food insecurity. We think of places torn by conflict like Yemen, Syria and Palestine. We pray for the First Nations communities especially in the north who face inadequate housing and for all of those who have gone without safe drinking water for years. May all governments and people still respond to their urgent need.
We pray for those who are have faced natural disasters and the effects of climate change.
We pray too for those closest to us;
We remember those who are grieving,
Those who cannot be with us because of illness and other distress, those in hospital and care facilities,
We pray for those awaiting diagnosis,
We pray for those experiencing joy and celebrate during this time.
Be with us loving God, in all of our concerns and celebrations, as together we pray in the words Jesus taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.