The Gospel is the Crisis

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 01/21/24, at Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture reading for this sermon was:  Mark 1:14-20 & 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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We are living in a time of crisis, with wars and upheavals and atrocities and simmering global tensions. We are living in a time of crisis, this is clear enough. We cannot see where this worldwide struggle ends, but there is no doubt that we are in one. The 2020s are a time of universal testing.

In our scripture reading this morning, the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth with a similar sense of historic urgency. Just a few lines before our reading, he writes: “I think that, in view of the present crisis, it is good for you to remain as you are.”

That is the sense of this whole section of Paul’s letter, written to the church at Corinth in a time of crisis: Don’t worry about anything – your job, your family, your possessions, your identity, your relationship status – don’t worry; because something far more important than any of your ordinary concerns has arrived. The crisis is here.

What is this crisis? For Paul, it is the coming of the kingdom of God. It is the presence of Jesus Christ – his inward presence through the Holy Spirit, and the great revealing that is soon but not yet: when the whole world will encounter the resurrected Jesus and be brought to a time of decision.

In our reading from the gospel according to Mark, Jesus’ whole ministry is a crisis. It says that, after John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel [evangelion] of God. Repent and believe in the gospel!”

The gospel is the crisis. The gospel is the message from God that comes from outside of the ordinary patterns of our world. It is the great disruption, a rupture with everything we consider to be normal. It is the anti-routine. The gospel is a strong push, the birth pangs of a whole new existence.

This is the gospel that the brothers Zebedee experienced when Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee and called them away from their family business, from everything they had ever known: “The time is fulfilled and the reign of God has come near. Repent. Believe. Come, follow me.”

And they did. That’s the miracle. It says that Jesus called Simon and Andrew, and immediately they left their nets, left their whole lives, and followed him. The crisis had arrived, and they responded with their full and undivided attention.

Simon and Andrew were ready when Jesus arrived. Jesus found them in the state that Paul, decades later, exhorted the church at Corinth to be in when he told them:

“Let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as if they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

For Simon and Andrew, the present form of this world was passing away. Their lives as fishermen, as their father’s sons, as participants in the family business – all of it was passing away. The time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand. Simon and Andrew heard the message. They repented, and believed in the gospel.

What you are doing right now, you’d be doing if Jesus were walking by the waters of the San Francisco Bay, calling out to you, “Come, follow me.” The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.

What is repentance? The original Greek word, metanoia, means to change your mind. For the Christian, it means a change of mind in the deepest possible sense; repentance is a radical shift in perspective that makes a whole new world possible. It is the revolutionary detachment that Paul speaks about, providing us distance from a social order that is in tumult and passing away. Repentance is the profound change-of-mind that allowed Simon and Andrew to leap from their father’s boat and leave their nets behind.

Repentance is an encounter with the gospel, the message of God that relativizes everything else. When we allow the gospel, the message of Jesus, to transform our minds, suddenly everything is on the table. We no longer take anything for granted. We experience a shift in mindset that empowers us to be rooted, anchored in the very substance of who God is. We become non-attached, because our center is in God. The Holy Spirit gives us freedom from the determinism of human geopolitics, economics, family dynamics, and the prevailing social order. 

Repentance makes us truly free – courageous – just like the early disciples, who abandoned everything to follow Jesus. They were uprooted from routine and the rut of their ordinary way of viewing the world. They were pulled out of the familiar and into the depths of journey with God in Jesus. The way is not easy, but it is true. It is free.

What you are doing right now is what you would be doing when Jesus walked by the sea and called to Simon and Andrew. What you are doing right now is either a reflection of being rooted in patterns and assumptions of this dying world, or it is the result of being anchored in the person and power of Jesus Christ.

Which will it be?

The presence, power, and authority of God has come near. Are you changing your worldview and believing in the message? What is the boat that you are called to jump off of? What are the nets that you will leave behind?

For me, it’s releasing fear about work in world where continuous layoffs are the new normal. It’s about believing the victory announcement of God, that Jesus is in command of my life, not my employer. It’s about loosening my grip on all the constants that I imagine give me my identity and instead allowing my life to orbit around God. It’s about being real and direct, fearless in my relationships with others. When I stop trying to please people out of desire for reward or fear of punishment, I can stop hiding and fully engage with the world as it is. That’s what it means for me to lay down the nets and follow Jesus.

What are those things you are addicted to? What is the pain that are you hiding from? How will you respond to the voice of Jesus, calling you away from the ways of thinking that have you trapped? What does it mean to walk into a life more fully rooted in God?