January 30, 2000
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. William A. Kolb
Mark 1:14-20, 21-28
are called. I am called. God calls us. God's call is like a
telephone that rings all the time, while we, being human as we are, often
say, "Father, I'd rather do it myself." But God is not saying
that we should become pietistic automatons; God is saying, "Give
up your agendas and take on mine."
recall, in last Sunday's reading from Mark's Gospel, that that's approximately
what Jesus said when he called Peter and Andrew and James and John
follow him. He told them, in effect, that they were to drop their life-agendas
and adopt the agenda that He, Jesus, would unfold for them. And they
But perhaps in their impulsiveness, they were not totally sold. Bear
in mind that they had left friend and family,
life's work and familiar surroundings, to follow an itinerant preacher.
They had not taken weeks to ponder and pray, They had not consulted
anyone. They had just dropped everything and followed.
As we look
in on them this morning, they are still in their home region,
walking along a dusty road, following Jesus. They are in Capernaum and
it is time for Sabbath worship. And so they follow Jesus into the
Synagogue. There, Jesus establishes His authority, over people and over
spirits of all kinds. His teachings amaze the Congregants and the new
How did Jesus'
teachings differ from that of others? Rather than quote
scripture and then quote known authorities for interpretation, as Rabbis
did, Jesus quoted only scripture and then taught about the meaning of
that scripture on his own authority. He also demonstrated his authority
by driving from a tortured man the evil spirits that had made his life
living Hell. That is a dramatic example of evil spirits.
was the person whom I call, "the man who stood up." On a
Sunday morning last spring during the reading of the Gospel, a large man
with a large voice stood up in a rear pew and starting screaming obscenities
at and about all of us present at that worship service. It was scary.
But scarier than that was the moment, earlier that morning, when I encountered
this man in the parish house, and saw him go from well-mannered and soft-spoken
to the man we later saw in Church. I saw his eyes change. It was as if
a "demonic spirit" had taken hold of
him. It was quite clear to me that his new, verbally violent behavior
was not of his own will.
an example of a rather dramatic instance of evil spirits. But
in our everyday lives we all face struggles with temptation, with evil.
We are all capable of doing evil. Many Auschwitz guards were, before
the War, ordinary citizens with families and ordinary jobs. WE ALL need
an authority in our lives who will "strengthen us in all goodness"
help us defeat the human tendency to act only out of self-interest.
Creator, and for Christians, God in Christ, is that unique
Authority. Jesus' powerful strength and truth in the synagogue had made
Him totally authoritative for the disciples, and he is totally authoritative
for us today.
And so the
disciples had been called and had followed, and now they knew
they had an authority for their lives, a God-sent leader whom they could
trust and follow. They followed Him their whole lives long after that,
and were instrumental for doing much that kept Christianity going in its
early years, to become a powerful faith community that has now lasted
two thousand years. Each of us, in our generation, has some
responsibility for passing on our faith to those who will be here after
we are gone.
had become converted, convinced, convicted by their experience
in the Synagogue with Jesus. And that lasted for them, all their lives.
It strengthened their faith in dark times, the recollection of His teaching
and healing in the Synagogue. Can you recall a time in your life when
God was first real for you? A time perhaps when you were so aware of God's
presence that you remember it to this day? I can: One night in November
of 1966, Canon Bryan Green, a traveling Anglican evangelist from England,
was preaching the third or fourth of a five-night "preaching series"
(it really was a revival but we Anglicans don't call it that!).
And that night I stood up and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
I even signed a card to that effect. I remember that Canon Green was preaching
about the blood, sweat and tears that were part of Jesus' hanging on the
incident from that era was when I was "advisor" to our parish
youth group. We had traveled to Roanoke, Virginia, about fifty miles away,
for a weekend conference. I was sitting in a pew at a "folk mass"
(it may have been my first one), and our teens were coming back from the
Communion rail, and this warm, gentle glow just came over me. It was so
special that I recall it today, more than thirty years later. And while
faith clearly cannot be based on the "warm fuzzies," such experiences
can bring light from a mountaintop experience to the darkness of a
valley through which we must later go.
disciples, we, too, are called. That phone rings all the time.
And I'll tell you a truth of my life, and I believe it is true for you,
too. I have been called by God many, many times to pick up that
phone. And I have to KEEP picking it up, time and again, to stay on the
path. We listen and follow and then we get comfortable and figure we are
doing the right things for the right reasons, and we relax. But the Truth
is that we must wrestle evil spirits all the time in order to live at
peace with God and our neighbor. The old cartoon cliché, showing
a devil on one shoulder of a character, and an angel on the other, is
all too true. Because we are human and because we too are subject to a
few evil spirits, we may find ourselves off the path and in need of another
completed phone call.
things are going well, there is, in being human, a sense
of angst. Angst from the German, meaning to be a little
uncomfortable in our earthly skin. To be human is to long for the
authority of someone or something to follow, to believe in, to give
power and strength to our trust in the meaning and purpose of our
life. There are many golden idols and false prophets that may lure
us for a time, but answering that phone, again and again, puts us
in direct contact with the One, all-loving God who can do that, who can
give meaning and purpose to our lives.
another sense in which we are called. It is being called to
a vocation. That is, God calls us to do work that God needs doing.
It is not necessarily to lay down the tools and trappings of our
present lifestyle and go full-time into a religious vocation, although
sometimes is does mean that.
who worship God and want to follow, vocation has
to do with "blooming where you are planted." It has to do with
being God's person more and more, being for others a resting place, a
listening ear, a worker for those who are in need, a volunteer who seeks
to follow Jesus by increasing the amount of goodness and mercy and kindness
in the world or reducing the amount of evil and pain.
How do we
know we are called? How do we know to what we are called? An age-old question
to which a wise minister and author has given us an answer worth pondering.
Frederick Buechner, in his book,"Wishful Thinking," says it
well. He says that a good rule for finding one's vocation is this. "This
special mission in our life is usually a) that which we need most to do
[preacher's note: or love to do and it flows from us rather than being
pulled from us like wisdom teeth]; and b) it is work that the world most
needs to have done." Buechner says that if we really get a kick out
of our work, we have probably met requirement a), but if that work is
writing TV deodorant commercials, chances are that's not going to
be how we'll meet requirement b). If our work is being a doctor in a
leper colony, we probably have
met requirement b, but if most of the time we are bored and depressed
by doctoring, the chances are we have not only bypassed a), we probably
aren't helping our patients much, either.
concludes this subject with these words:"neither the hair
shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls us to, is the
place where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
each of us with the only true authority for our
lives, God calls us to new life each day, God calls us to victorious
living when pain and evil spirits threaten to undo us, and above all God
calls us to be useful to God by helping others whenever and however we
are, by the Grace of God, able to do that.
2000 Calvary Episcopal Church
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."
passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting
a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow
me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their
nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of
Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the
boat with the hired men, and followed him.
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered
the synagogue and taught.
They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having
authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue
a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to
do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who
you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be
silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing
him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed,
and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching--with
authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of