What Paul is saying, is the world is uncertain, and if we are to be faithful – if we are to truly follow – we need to engage all aspects of our lives with the mind of Christ. So when we are mourning, or loving, or working, we do so with the radical love, justice, and compassion that Jesus would.
Message by Rev. Jenny Carter
January 21, 2018
(Based on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
As some of you know, I am moving out of my condo and into a house next week. It’s all rather exciting. It’s also a lot of work! My home is filled with boxes newly packed – and since I am trying to make it easier for the movers, these filled boxes are lining my hallways and encroaching on the kitchen.
Packing up a household is an exercise in uncertainty and melancholy. The melancholy comes from going through all the stuff, remembering the event or person that they represent – and then deciding whether or not to keep it, give it away, or toss it out. Every item, except for maybe Tupperware, has some kind of emotional attachment to it, at least for me, so making those decisions brings a sense of melancholy to the task.
The uncertainty comes with having to make a lot of decisions – not always sure you’re making the right ones. How big a moving truck do I need to rent? Will I have enough time to do all the work? Do I open those Tupperware filled with food from goodness knows when, that have been living in the back of my fridge for far too long, or do I skip the middle step of checking, and just toss them out? Will that one neighbour in my strata who reports everyone for every perceived strata violation – real or imagined on her part – report me for periodically leaving things outside my door? (She reported me for not sweeping the dust off my part of the sidewalk last spring, so it’s a real concern!)
Then there is the uncertainty that comes with having stacks of boxes in your hallway – and how that messes with your life. I get up early, and because my place is small, and I’ve been getting up there for two and a half years – I don’t bother to turn on the lights until I get to the kitchen. Well, when you’re moving – that’s a mistake. Just this morning, after running into a stack of boxes filled with books, knocking my glasses off in the process and chiding myself at my foolishness, I took two more steps and banged my shins on a little stool that was lurking in the dark. Strange how familiar territory can become an unknown country overnight. How the certain can become uncertain in an instant.
In the grand scheme of things, moving residences is a small, very small thing. Yet there are other events that bring uncertainty into our lives in bigger ways. We have all had moments where our lives have seemed set, and we were certain how we would be living – only to have something happen – the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship – and suddenly, as if overnight, our lives are filled with uncertainty. Times where we ask ourselves, “What am I to do now? How do I live now?”
Our story from Mark, where Jesus calls some fishermen to follow him, and “immediately” they drop everything and follow seems, on the surface, to be a story filled with certainty. I mean Simon and Andrew, James and John, just dropped everything to follow him – James and John even left their poor old dad Zebedee sitting in the boat! So they must have been fairly certain about the “rightness” of what Jesus had been teaching and preaching. They left everything behind. They left their loved ones, their occupations, and their family obligations (which would have been a very big thing in first century Palestine) in order to follow the man Jesus. You would have to be convinced that he was preaching the truth, and living into the kingdom of God was worth it, in order to do that.
Yet what Jesus was calling them into wasn’t certain at all. Jesus and these newly minted followers were from Galilee – a backwater province, a place of hicks and sticks –in a nation under occupation by Rome, and where powerful elites were making the religious and political system work for themselves at the expense of the people. The status quo had become corrupt, and the future that Jesus was calling his disciples into was one where they would challenge the status quo. They would challenge Rome’s authority, the authority of the Temple elites, and the authority of the king.
That is the trifecta of uncertainty! They had no insider status in Jerusalem, they had no army with which to challenge Rome, and they were from the wrong part of the country and would have spoken with thick, accented Aramaic. They had no certainty that their work would be successful. They had no guarantee that regular people would listen to what they were saying and decide to follow them. In fact, the only thing that was certain, was uncertainty! Jesus called the disciples into an uncertain future – and they followed him into this unknown future. I wonder how many times these guys asked themselves, “What am I to do now? How do I live now?” during their days as disciples of Jesus?
We who follow Jesus, or a spiritual path, are called to live into an uncertain future. We are called to examine our hearts and lives – and make changes where needed – and this can affect relationships and change the focus of our responsibilities and our lives. And we are never going to be sure and certain that the changes we make will work out beautifully for us or those in our lives. We simply don’t know. We may hope for the best, but we have no guarantees that everything will work out. We simply don’t.
What we can know, with some degree of certainty, is if the direction we are heading into is a faithful one or not. In our reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing the church in Corinth. I like these Corinthians! They were some interesting humans for sure! You see, they had embraced the message of Jesus whole heartedly. They loved the whole “freedom in Christ” thing. So much so that they began to live with abandon – in all things. They were free and saved and so the rules of life no longer applied to them. At least that’s what they thought. They had misunderstood Jesus’ message, and the significance of his death and resurrection, reduced his teachings to some well-crafted slogans about marriage, celibacy, and salvation. It’s easy to live up to a slogan, it’s much more difficult to live into ethical teachings.
So Paul, that apostle we so often misunderstand, is offering them a corrective. He isn’t trying to impose new rules onto them – he is trying to help them refocus their communal and faith lives. When he writes that the “world in its present form is passing away’ he isn’t saying that there is no aspect of their lives, or our lives, that is of no value. He’s not saying that mourning the death of a loved one, or loving our spouses, or engaging in our livelihoods, is not of value.
What he is saying, is the world is uncertain, and if we are to be faithful – if we are to truly follow – we need to engage all aspects of our lives with the mind of Christ. So when we are mourning, or loving, or working, we do so with the radical love, justice, and compassion that Jesus would. We are not to abandon earth and human responsibilities – yet our worries and our concerns need to change. We are not in this life for ourselves, and what we can get out of it. We are in this world for one another and for the kingdom life – where all will have what they need to live and be free.
That is the direction we take as people of faith. We don’t know the future – and how our living faithfully will help create the kingdom is uncertain. Yet that is what we are called to do – live faithfully and truly in difficult times with no guarantees of success – however it is we measure success.
Jesus calls to each one of us, and to all of us, and asks us to “come, and to follow.” What we are being called into is a new way of living. We so often look for certainties – we are careful beings – we look long and hard before we leap – and we want to know what our leaping will achieve before we let our feet leave the safety of the ground. In fact, we are all masters at finding compelling reasons not to leap. We can find a million reasons not to do something. The good news for us – the good news Jesus proclaimed in Galilee and beyond – is that we don’t have to worry about outcome.
Our worry, our concern, is found in how we live in the here and now. The future is uncertain – and trying to predict exact outcomes is an impossible task. Yet we can take a leap and love our neighbours. We can take a leap and work for justice. We can take a leap and leave some things behind if they interfere with living a value filled, ethical and love filled life. So, are you ready to leap? To take a leap of faith, to answer Jesus’ call to follow, is as simple as those first fishermen made it seem. There are no guarantees in this life, but there are some really good ways to live it.