“Answering Yes” Colchester Federated Church, January 24, 2021, Third Sunday after Epiphany (Mark 1:14-20)

There’s a poem I love called “God Says Yes to Me” by Kaylin Haught and it goes like this:

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes[1]

It’s a remarkable poem—to consider that God says yes to us.  It’s nice to not exclusively use masculine language for God, of course.  It’s good to think of God expansively and not box God in as we are so often inclined to do in the Church.  But more than that, it’s important to truly believe that we are loved and accepted exactly as we are.  “God Says Yes To Me” brings that message home so beautifully.  That God affirms our lives in even the tiniest of details.  That God affirms if we’re melodramatic or short or wear nail polish (or don’t wear nail polish) or paragraph our letters.  God sees us.  God knows us.  God says yes to me and to you.

Today’s Gospel story is one we know well—it’s a story about God saying yes to people and people saying yes to God.  It’s another story of Jesus calling the disciples like we heard last Sunday in the calling of Philip and Nathanael from the Gospel according to John.  This Sunday we’re exploring the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark.  And the way that Mark tells the disciples’ call story. 

Jesus passes along the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers—Simon and Andrew.  They’re fishermen, throwing their fishing nets into the sea.  Jesus sees them and seeks their yes, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”[2]  Right away Simon and Andrew leave their nets behind and follow Jesus.  After going a little farther along the shoreline, Jesus sees James and John in their boat repairing some fishing nets.  Again, Jesus calls them.  James and John say yes.  They follow Jesus, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.  It’s a story about answering yes to the call of God in our lives.  Though it’s always worth remembering what they were saying yes in response to.

New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell relates that the reign of God is a central theme in Mark’s Gospel and Jesus talks about it more than anything else in the pages of this particular book of the Bible.  Think about it, Jesus is already discussing God’s kingdom in Chapter 1: “Now is the time!  Here comes God’s kingdom!  Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”[3]  Reign of God is actually a more accurate translation from the Greek than Kingdom of God so we’ll go with it here.  Over all, it’s a concept that was taken from some Old Testament writings.  But Jesus made it his own. 

The Gospel of Mark goes so far as to begin with Jesus declaring that the time is now, and the reign of God has come.  The followers of Jesus are told to believe in this good news from God and to change their hearts and lives in light of the reign of God.  That’s what repent means after all, to turn and return to God.  Let’s not forget that this is how Jesus begins his ministry at 30 years old in the region of Galilee: now is the time, the reign of God has come, change your hearts and lives, trust this good news, follow me!  Answer yes to this call!

The phrase reign of God refers to God ruling and Mark presents this concept as a lived reality now.  Every week when we pray the Lord’s Prayer (the Prayer that Jesus taught us) we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Christians are actually asking for the same thing twice when we pray these words.  Because God’s reign always comes when God’s will is done. 

If we understand that the reign of God means God ruling our lives in the present, it helps us to better comprehend a lot of Gospel stories.  It ends up that Jesus talks about the reign of God all the time.  Here’s one example: remember when Jesus says that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God?[4]  It’s not exactly a popular teaching in some Christian circles.  Though what Jesus is getting at is that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for God to rule a rich person’s life.  Kingdom of God in this passage isn’t about a rich person having a hard time getting into heaven in the afterlife.  It’s about how hard it is for a rich person to radically change their hearts and lives and start living the way that Jesus was teaching us to live here and now.[5] 

It’s hard to live in such a way where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where the poor and hungry, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed as Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes.  To live in such a way where the lowly are lifted up.  Where we are commanded to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  Too often Christians focus on being saved and getting into heaven, not on helping Jesus create the reign of God here on earth—the teaching that Jesus talks about more than anything else in the Gospel. 

Let God rule your life now.  Answer yes to follow Jesus.  And not just to get saved for later, but to help Jesus himself create the reign of God on earth.  To live out the love and justice of Jesus.  That’s the good news—we can help Jesus co-create heaven on earth by being his hands and his feet, by looking at one another with his loving eyes. 

At the end of the day, these teachings of Jesus are supposed to affect us and change our lives if we would only let them.  That’s why Jesus begins his ministry by talking about the reign of God and then immediately calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to get to work helping him create it.  Jesus meets them where they are and invites these fishermen to come along in a way they will understand.  Jesus says, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”[6]  These disciples immediately leave their nets to follow Jesus.  Because this isn’t work that Jesus can do alone, this creation of the reign of God on earth.  Jesus needed people who believed in his vision and dreams, who believed his teachings to be true and worth altering one’s life to follow.  Jesus needs us still.  It ends up that God does say yes to us.  Over and again, God says yes to us.  Will we say yes to God? 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

[1] Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes to Me,” https://www.loc.gov/programs/poetry-and-literature/poet-laureate/poet-laureate-projects/poetry-180/all-poems/item/poetry-180-126/god-says-yes-to-me/
[2] Mark 1:17, Common English Bible.
[3] Mark 1:15.
[4] Mark 10:25.
[5] Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to The Gospels, 50-51.
[6] Mark 1:17.

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz.