“Follow Christ and God will See You Through,” Epiphany III, January 25, 2009: preached at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oakland, California
Epiphany III, January 25, 2009
Jonah 3:1-5,10 Psalm 62:5-12 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31 Mark 1: 14-20
Follow Christ and God will See You Through
Let’s hear our prayer for today again: Almighty God, you sent your Son to proclaim your kingdom and to teach with authority. Anoint us with the power of your Spirit, that we, too, may bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives: through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We can look through a window provided by Mark’s words and see Jesus doing that. Proclaiming the Kingdom the way God sent him to do. When John was arrested, Jesus stepped right in and proclaimed the good news. “The time is fulfilled. The reign of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” The good news referred to a victory for the King in Heaven. It is like the victory that our President Barach Obama celebrated last Tuesday. What a moving experience we had watching his inaugural with thousands of others in the Oracle Coliseum!
Now repentance and faith are required in spite of the opposing events that transpire. John was arrested and he would later be beheaded. We also know that Jesus would end up on the cross. But the good news is that the victory belongs to God. This belief requires that we exercise our faith, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Jesus’ preaching flings a net over the fishermen, whom he chooses as his disciples: Simon, whom he called, Peter, Andrew, and then the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They were not poor. They must have had a business, because James and John left their father Zebedee in his fishing boat with the “hired men.” They drop their fishing business and follow Jesus. If you remember the rich young man whom Jesus loved. He was too attached to his wealth to give it up and follow. His attachment to Jesus did not match his attachment to his wealth.
To understand this story, we need only think about Obama’s new administration. Hilary Clinton, Timothy Geithner, Tom Daschle, Eric Holder, and all the others that President Obama is gathering around himself, have dropped everything and are following him. And the way his name, “Barach” means the “blessed one,” we pray for God’s blessing upon him and them, because as one commentator said, “We have again given a Black man the worst job in the country.” Thus in spite of everything his new administration is up-against, we exercise our faith, and lift our prayers up to God.
Even republicans like Robert Gates are dropping everything and answering President Obama’s call to serve. He is also sending George Mitchell to reconcile Hamas, the Palestinians, and Israel. Then he is sending Richard Holbrooke against the Taliban to Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with the conflict over there. What an exercise in faith they need! What feelings the aftermath of this latest war in the Gaza strip has stirred up, I can’t even imagine. And as to the Taliban, when the new government of Pakistan sent twenty-five peace makers to them, they beheaded them all. What faith their missions require! At Bethlehem we don’t need quite that much, but we also need a great deal of faith to believe that we can grow and thrive doing God’s will and mission in this place.
We do not only have this new administration in Washington, however, because we proclaim the good news of the heavenly administration of Jesus Christ. That makes Bethlehem Lutheran Church and our exercise of faith here very important, because through prayer and our worship, we have an attachment with the almighty power of love and reconciliation. The one in us is greater than the one in the world. Whereas the power of our president is limited, Christ, the Son, who rules us from the Kingdom of Heaven and forms the beloved community around us, has a power that is not limited. And we are called to follow this Christ, who has the power to change our curses into blessings. Because what are the wars we are in, the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and our economic melt down, but very real curses that have fallen upon us. Following Jesus, we all become Barach-blessings, who live out of a hope against hope, exercising our faith, dropping everything between us and God, and proclaiming the victory of our God to the afflicted, the broken hearted and the languishing captives.
What an exercise in faith we need! Believe you me, the big names who follow Obama need the same exercise in faith, and need to hear the good news of the victory won, where Christ can change our curses into blessings.
Look at Jonah. God sends him on a mission to Nineveh to fling a gospel net around that city, which was the capital of Israel’s enemy, Assyria and it was known for its brutality the world over. This capital city is so populated that it becomes a three day walk just to get through the city. Jonah preaches God’s Word and to his dismay, the people repent and believe him. Even though Jonah cannot give up hoping for Nineveh’s destruction, God forgives them. When they repent and God sees that they have turned from their evil ways, God changes his mind about the calamity that he said he would bring upon them. You can see how important it is for us to get up, dust ourselves off, follow Jesus, and proclaim the good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim release to the captives.
Let me recall President Obama’s preacher Jeremiah Wright. I attended a revival in Philadelphia where I heard him preach three times. He is a powerful servant of God. You and I know that he did not say “God bless America!” But still if we really repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ, God will change our curses into blessings. If we do not believe and do not repent, then we can expect more calamities. Jeremiah Wright is no Benedict Arnold. A general in the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold delivered West Point into the hands of the British. Jeremiah Wright does not deliver us into the hand of our enemies, but into the hands of the living God – and that is no betrayal. That is the most secure place for us to be. Especially when our new president proclaims a new openness and transparency instead of secrecy; let us repent! He denounces torture, let us repent! And at least he is closing Guantanamo and our secret prisons, let us repent! He is not yet proclaiming liberty to the captives, but at least a humane treatment for them is in the offing. He also wants to change the mindset that gets us into all these wars. Thus I believe President Obama is setting the joy of repentance afoot among us, and in that way we can get to God’s heart, and pray that God spare us from further bloodshed here and abroad, from our economic melt-down, the coming recession or depression it is bringing, and other inevitable calamities that can befall us.
So you see how Jonah hits the target right in the bulls-eye: if we repent and believe like the people of Nineveh, then we will be spared further calamities.
We want to hear the call of Jesus and follow after him. Obama’s hope is empty, if God alone is not our rock, our salvation, our fortress, that is, our security, shelter and safety. I am now in the Psalm. Trust God at all times, pour out your hearts to God in prayer. Whether we are rich or poor, if we are poor we are but a breath, if we are rich and famous, we are but a delusion. We are nothing without our hearts set on Christ to follow him. Don’t have confidence in extortion! Like the extortion of oil from other countries. Don’t set vain hopes on robbery. The Psalm does not mince words! It is one thing to rob a bank and another if bailed- out bankers want to rob us. “Should your riches increase, do not set your heart on them” says the Psalm. Our hearts have to be set on following Christ. Money and possessions are false gods. Do not set your hearts on them. When we put God first, then our hearts are not set on our money and it is not the end of the world when we take a hit in our pensions and income. But it is hard when the bills pile up and you don’t know how you are going to pay them. But God will provide.
When we are following Christ, we are attached to him, our hearts are set on him, and then we can have a greater detachment from the things of this world. St Paul says, have everything as if you don’t have it, because the present form of the world is passing away. (Ours is too. Let’s not fool ourselves.) Paul is saying the same thing as Jesus, just the other way around. If the Kingdom of God is at hand, then the form of this world is passing away. And following Jesus, we rejoice at the good news. But people are everywhere losing their jobs, their houses, their pensions, what have you. This requires an exercise in faith. But when we repent and believe, the beloved community becomes near at hand. Again, our faith at Bethlehem is very important, because we follow the One who changes curses into blessings, when we proclaim the good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives.
Let us exercise the faith in which we trust in God, set our hearts on and attach ourselves to Christ and follow after, because that will make all the difference. “Seek ye first the kingdom of our God and God’s righteousness and all these things,” our jobs, a living wage, our houses, our pensions, prosperity in our business, “will be added unto us.” But when we place these things first, then all these things will be subtracted from us, which is happening right now in a mounting and multiplying way.
Thus you see how important our exercise of faith is here in Bethlehem to all the hope this new administration has proclaimed. Let’s set our hearts on our rock of salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. He can change any curses into blessings. Let us repent and believe the good news. God will not requite us according to our works. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! (Psalm 103.8 )
We follow you, Oh Christ, and you hold our right hand. You give us counsel and receive us with favor. Whom have we in heaven but you and there is nothing on earth we desire other than you. Our flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (Psalm 73: 23-26).
Let the nets of the holy Gospel capture us so we follow Jesus Christ our Lord and proclaim the good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives! Amen.