Psalm 62:5-12, Mark 1:14-20 “Remaining Faithful”
There’s a question I’ve heard lately. In one way or another, it seems to be all over the place. Maybe you’ve detected it as well. It’s come up in conversations. Sometimes it’s asked because someone is curious. Other times it’s asked because of what someone has read in the Scriptures. Most of the time it comes from someone's experience.
I’ve heard this question asked throughout the news. It’s asked when we read stories about how our country's confidence in our government is approaching all-time lows. It’s asked when stories explain how the stock market is soaring, yet wages remain stagnant. It’s asked when there are stories about the opioid crisis, sexual assault, and false alarms of a nuclear attack.
I’ve heard this question even asked in the church. It’s asked when people start discussing church attendance. It’s asked in the midst of people’s frustrations and sorrows. It was even asked on Wednesday at Zion and St. Paul’s “God on Tap,” when people gathered together to have a beverage, alcoholic or not, and discuss theological topics.
Again, in one way or another, it seems to be all over the place. Regardless of where I’ve heard it, it’s become an ear-worm. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself many times over the last eight and a half years. Just when I thought I wouldn’t have to answer it anymore it just came back.. Perhaps you already know the question. Maybe you don’t know, but underneath you do. The question that I keep hearing is, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?”
This question isn’t easy to answer. Many times we try to answer it with simple cliches. We might tell someone or tell ourselves, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Or, “God will take care of it.” Or, “This is to test our faith.” Specifically, in the midst just trying to get through our daily lives, sometimes we will listen to these sayings just to grasp at something for comfort. I will admit it; there have been times that I’ve not only heard these sayings but also did a miserable job and said them to others.
In the end, these sayings fail to provide any comfort. If anything they make us feel annoyed and dismissed. Then we are left more frustrated and still with the question, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?” Of all of the questions that’s the one, I would’ve loved to ask Jesus’ disciples.
There are many questions I would’ve liked to ask them. For instance, “What was the most important thing you learned from Jesus?” Or, “What made you marvel more; Jesus teaching, preaching, or performing miracles?” Or even, “How could you make a fool of yourself so much?” But that original question is the primary one I would have loved to ask. “When life is full of chaos, how did you remain faithful?”
They knew what it was like to experience the highs and lows of this world. After all they experienced, after seeing Jesus crucified, after becoming apostles and dying themselves, more importantly after they left everything to follow him, how did they remain faithful?
As we heard in our Gospel lesson, when Jesus 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.” Immediately they left and followed him.
This story sounds almost too good to be true. What did the disciples know that we're not seeing? What made it so compelling to leave their profession and follow a stranger? Did they not like to fish? Were they bored out of their minds? Regardless of the reason, it sounds almost too romantic to leave what they did and follow Jesus.
Picture it if you will. Imagine for a moment being at home, at work, or at school. We are in the comforts of our daily routines. Although we are stressed out with deadlines, packed calendars, and the pressure of excellence, we are relatively content. We have a place to sleep, food on the table, and heat to stay warm. For some of us, we have plenty of money in the bank, pensions, healthcare, and retirement accounts.
Then imagine out of nowhere a stranger coming up to us and says, “Follow me. I will make you gather and instruct other people.” It already sounds strange. We don’t know anything about this person or where she or he came from in originally. We don’t know why she or he came up to us personally or why they share this with us.
Then this unknown stranger said there is a catch. The catch is that we have to give up our houses, our families, our pensions, our careers, our phones, and the internet. By the way, I’m going to take you on a journey where you will experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows. You'll be placed in harm's way, you will meet people you don’t associate with now, and there’s a chance you will be killed.
I’m guessing for most of us there would be warning signs in our heads that say “Go the other direction.” For these first disciples, they didn’t go in the other direction. These first disciples followed Jesus. Whenever we want to refer to the disciples of Jesus in a positive way we often go back to this story.
We often forget that the disciples didn’t always remain faithful. Just because they left everything and followed Jesus that didn’t mean life was comfortable. They abandoned Jesus during his crucifixion. Still, he knew this ahead of time. I’m sure he knew this when he first called those disciples that fateful day as they were fishing.
Perhaps that’s why Mark didn’t start Jesus’ ministry with the disciples following Jesus immediately after his baptism and temptation. Again, as we heard, Jesus came 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.” Jesus wasn't threatening us as we might tend to think; instead, it’s a promise.
Mark began Jesus’ ministry with the promise of God’s good news, which is God’s kingdom coming into this world. In other words, it’s about God remaining faithful in our changing world, our society, and our lives. So, maybe we are asking the wrong question, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?”
Maybe the question we are really asking is, “Where’s God in the chaos?” When life is in shambles, when we don’t know where to turn, when we can’t explain how to continue, when there aren’t any mottos left to latch onto, when there aren’t any signs, that’s when faith comes into practice. But it isn’t our faith in God; instead, it’s God’s faith in us. When everything is in disorder it’s about God promising to remain faithful to us as our God. It’s about God remaining faithful as our rock and our salvation.
We hear those same words in our Psalm for today. These words that are from God and to God help us articulate that God is our rock and salvation. Our Psalmist wasn't just telling about his own experience. He proclaimed that God is everyone’s hope and refuge and we shout those same words.
The Psalmists didn't just say these to make the next cliche. He spoke out of his own experience. The Psalmist was describing that out of his hardships and chaos he ultimately trusted God to deliver him. Don’t you see what this means? These words aren’t just a fantasy or dream; these words come from someone’s reality. The Psalmist experienced it when God delivered him through those chaotic times. The disciples experienced it when Jesus called them before they followed. Other people have experienced it first hand that God remains faithful to them.
That’s what many people encountered one Spring Monday morning. It was graduation day at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. That day there were hundreds of students receiving their diplomas. The late nights, the long days, and overwhelming work finally came to an official end. This was the day all of us were waiting to arrive. Perhaps some of you have experienced this through your own educational experiences.
Each of us began seminary in a similar situation. There was an the inner and outer feeling that we were supposed to do something else in our lives. Some of my other classmates left lucrative careers. I remember some of my classmates shared with me what they did before they entered the seminary. Some were engineers, a few were lawyers, and a couple of classmates were doctors. One of my classmates told me, for many years before seminary, she was a teacher and lived in a camper in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home.
Each of us came to the seminary with our own story. That’s what most people ask when someone wants to know why we enter into it. But that’s not the fascinating part of our stories. What’s the compelling piece is why some of us stayed.
Throughout my time I heard what some of my classmates endured. A few of them got divorced because their spouses didn’t want to be married to a minister. Some of my classmates had numerous family members die while they were in school. Some of my classmates fell on financial hard times. Some of my classmates even fell into deep depression and anxiety. Still, in the midst of all of this, each of us continued on this path.
Well, when I got to the campus we had our first ceremony. The whole university was gathered together in the courtyard. Every school was there - the business school, law school, medical school, theology school, among many others. Once that ceremony finished, each school had their own ceremony. After a couple of hours passed, it was our school’s turn. We met in a large Methodist church just off of the campus. Like many other graduations, we lined up in alphabetical order and proceeded to the church as a massive pipe organ played Pomp and Circumstance. Upon walking in, I noticed every person, graduate, family member, and professor with smiles on their faces. After a few prayers and speeches, each of us walked across the stage and received our diplomas.
When I got back to my seat, I noticed every student had their arms around each other. Then the professor of pastoral care stood up and gave the final prayer. In a soft, calm tone, he began. “Gracious God, we thank you for this day. Every day has been your day. Every day from now until eternity will be your day. But today is their day. It’s the graduates day.”
Then those smiles turned to tears. Every parent, spouse, student, and family member was crying, but not because they were sad. Everyone was in tears because of the overwhelming joy of God carrying them through those years. Underneath, everyone understood what God could do to bring everyone through those difficult times. Underneath, everyone witnessed first hand how God was their rock and salvation. Underneath, everyone experienced the promise of God’s good news.
Being in the Christian faith isn’t about God promising to remove hardship, pain, or death. It’s about God promising to remain faithful to us through those hardships, that pain, and even death itself. It’s about God promising to be our rock and our salvation. It’s about God promising us good news of Christ’s resurrection.
Being a Christian is not about evil being defeated before our eyes, but rather that, in the words we heard near Christmas, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That’s the good news. The good news is not, finally, a word of obvious victory but rather of sustaining courageous hope. The good news is experiencing the fullness of God’s kingdom when everything looks empty. The good news is God sending others to step in and lift us up. That’s the promising good news of God’s kingdom. That’s the promise I want everyone to hear today. The promise is not that God is a God of control. Instead, God, the God of grace and mercy, has, does, and will remain faithful in bringing resurrection and redemption.