Christina Kukuk Sermon: “Follow Me” (Jan 12, 2020)
Rev. Christina Kukuk
January 12, 2020 // Narr 2.19 Epiphany // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // First Congregational UCC, Ashland, OR // “Follow Me” // Mark 1:9-13; Mark 1:14-20
One of the most interesting conversations we have in UCC 101 is the first one, when I ask the group to imagine explaining to intelligent, alien, extraterrestrial visitors: What is a Christian? How do we define that label that can be applied to everyone from Pope Francis, to the evangelical pastors who prayed over Donald Trump in the Oval Office, to Julian of Norwich, to Oscar Romero? What is a Christian? The group usually produces all kinds of responses: some of them definitions commonly used in our culture and some of them our own deepest convictions about what a Christian is. We usually come around to the most basic definition of a Christian, which is “one who follows Jesus.” The next logical question is, “Well, who was Jesus?” Which is another way of asking, “What does it mean to follow?” When it comes to following, we have a divided mind. Especially in ruggedly individual, North American white mythology, we follow sports teams or popular personalities on Facebook – in public or creative work, we may try to gain “followers” on social media – but when it comes to religion, “follower” can have a negative connotation. Kudos go to instigators, innovators and entrepreneurs, independent thinkers. And yet at the same time, how many millions of followers did Ram Dass have throughout his life’s work before he died last week? Or who among us would not respect a follower – someone who tried to learn from and live out the teachings of – Grandma Aggie, one of the original 13 Indigenous Grandmothers who lived here in our very community. (Pause)
Do you follow me? It’s one way of saying, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” But Jesus, in today’s story, is not just asking for ideas, correct thoughts, right thinking. The Common English Bible translates it this way:
After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news,
saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom!
Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
Last week, John the Baptist called people down to the river to change. This week, our storyteller Mark introduces us to Jesus, who tells the people how that change happens. Mark is telling us right off the bat his deepest convictions about who Jesus was and what Jesus was about, things that characters in the story as it continues will be completely oblivious to. When Jesus begins his ministry, in Mark’s storytelling, his first words in the NRSV sound like “The time is fulfilled. And the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and Believe the good news!” Repent and believe the good news. When I lead discipleship huddles – basically, small group spiritual direction experience for people who want to grow in their journey with Jesus – I always have to translate those two words to get us closer to their Greek roots: Repent and Believe because they have so much baggage. Repent meaning turn around or reorient (like we talked about last week) and Believe, which is not at all some unquestioning intellectual assent to a truth statement, but rather the act of living as if, what I and the translators of the CEB mean by “Trust.” Mark is telling us in this first chapter exactly what he believes to be the truth about what God is saying in Jesus. In this call – the center of Jesus’ life and work – Mark hopes that every time we hear “the good news” later in this story, we will remember this first message: Turn around, God’s kin-dom is near. Turn and Trust.
In this call, Mike Breen and friends recognized a familiar pattern. [show circle] You may have seen it in works of psychology. It’s the cycle of change, the wheel of transformation, the model that illustrates how human beings actually get from ideas and desires to changed lives. Though we are used to time as chronological time, the Greek word Mark uses here for time is Kairos, meaning a moment where eternity breaks into the temporal, where Kairos time interrupts Chronos time. What we’ve learned in Huddle is a Kairos moment can be life-shattering, the way death and loss disrupt every last thing. They can also be small, whispering moments we are sometimes too busy to attend to. The truth is, we might have ten in a week or be hard-pressed to think of even one in a year. In my experience, God keeps trying. And if we don’t take the first opportunity to turn aside and trust, Spirit sends another. We’ve also learned that it very often takes a community to support this transformation. Every time one of these Kairos moments happen, God extends an invitation to Turn and Trust and be changed. Every one of these Kairos moments is an invitation to live a little deeper in that kin-dom God says is so near. Every time one of these moments happens, we are offered an opening to grow more deeply into the identity we share with Jesus – that of Beloved children of God. Each Kairos moment is eternity breaking in to say, “Now is the time!” (Pause)
Simon and Andrew, James and John, must have heard that call. They make some big changes. When Jesus invites them to “Come, follow me,” they leave their nets, their businesses and their families for a new vocation. The ways we turn and trust typically don’t have to be that radical to change us. In fact, the more we practice the smaller opportunities to turn and trust, the more prepared we will be for radical calls like signing the Barmen Declaration, walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, praying and providing pastoral care to migrants in Tijuana, as my colleague Kaji Djousa has done, accompanying a friend to an ICE check-in, being with a friend as their marriage disintegrates. In today’s story, Jesus goes further, making it clear that as he has called people to share in this transformative life, those he calls will share in that ministry. He invites these folks to be “fishers of people.” “Fish for people” sounds strange. It replaces the old “and I will make you fishers of men,” a positive step forward because clearly Jesus called more than just men to follow him and invite others to do the same. But “Fish for people” calls to mind that aphorism “hook, line and sinker,” sounds like catching religious suckers and dragging them along. But remember again the Good News Jesus is preaching, that the time is now, that the Realm of God is near, that we can turn and trust in that Good News, that it will change our hearts and lives.
Jesus offers to make those fishermen – not scholars or scribes or lawyers – but wildlife watchers and harvesters. He offers to make them fishers of people. And wouldn’t you like to catch some bodies and minds in the cause of alleviating Climate Change? Or ending Mass Incarceration? Would you welcome gathering a few more followers in the movement to end Systemic Racism? Or the Nuclear Arms Race? Or Gun Violence? Gendered Violence? Or addiction. The Time is Now, Jesus says. (Pause)
In a very few words, so swift a transition it passes almost without unnoticeably, Mark leaves us a clue to why it might be that Jesus shows up when he does. I read in these five words a brief description of Jesus’ own Kairos moment:
“Now after John was arrested.”
John. Arrested. How did that upend Jesus’ life? To hear the news that the one who most understood what was going on, the prophet in Jesus’ time who spoke out what needed to happen for people to change, the one who called the people out into that wilderness of transformation… that John, the baptizer, had been imprisoned? Maybe that was a turning point for Jesus, his own Kairos moment. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God.” (Pause)
Perhaps you’ve had a Kairos moment like that this year. Perhaps you had one in 2016, during our last Presidential election cycle. Perhaps you had a Kairos moment when Tamir Rice was killed. Perhaps it happened when your partner or friend received that diagnosis. Perhaps it happened when you quit that job. Or when you got the new one. Perhaps Kairos time interrupted your daily grind when your child said those words, or you found yourself facing the bathroom mirror and saying out loud, “I can’t keep doing this.” That’s when the eternal broke into the temporal. When the cosmic perforated the mundane. When Spirit whispered your name: The time is now. God’s Realm is near. Turn, and Trust this good news.
After John was arrested… After Martin was assassinated… After Kaji was detained… These were Kairos moments. We’ve had others, and will continue to. God’s Spirit continues to break in. Those waters of baptism give us power to follow the Spirit when it calls, “Now is the time!” Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture (3DM Ministries, 2011).