A Moment and a Lifetime

The Sunday Sermon:  Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018

Scripture:  Mark 1:16-20

A Moment and a Lifetime

We’ll subtitle this morning’s message “A Moment and a Lifetime” for reasons that I trust will be clearer when we’re done, though I hope may already be a bit self-evident after we read our scripture. I want you all, in the moments ahead as I read and “set the stage” for this week’s message, to think about the times in your life when you heard God’s call to follow. Multi-task, now – think while you listen, first for the Word of God.

Read Mark 1:16-20 … The Word of the Lord.

Now, a little bit of set-up. We’re reading, and I’m preaching, from the Gospel of Mark in the weeks ahead. (Lectionary, as it turns out. Go figure …) I’ve always appreciated the brevity in Mark’s writing. Being the earliest Gospel, at least among the four we have canonized, he doesn’t seem to have much need for explanation or “proving” the claims for what would become early Christianity. And, so far in the first chapter, at least, Mark is just reporting “the facts.”

There’s no birth narrative like Matthew and Luke. No angels or dreams. No adoration of shepherds or Magi. No need to explain how Jesus is divine and who he comes to save. Mark assumes his community, and we, know all this. In his Gospel, Jesus’ story begins not with an explanation, but with a proclamation, one that all our Gospel writers get around to, eventually:

Someone is coming who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.

This one, then, arrives and is baptized, and is claimed by God as Beloved. In Mark, Jesus’ story begins where our own story does, at baptism. The moment at which we recognize, through the promises of parents or sponsors, or in the professions of our own, that God has claimed us. The moment in which it is acknowledged (again by parents and church community or by ourselves) that we, too, are Beloved, that God is pleased with us, too, with humanity, and that because of that, we have some work to do. Parents prepare us as children. We prepare ourselves as youth and young adults.

Jesus prepares by going out into the wilderness – being “driven out” as it is written. And in two short verses in Mark, Jesus is ready. No long narratives of triadic Satanic questioning intended to address the breadth of the creatures worldly compulsions. And then, in only two more verses, Jesus’ ministry begins. I admit, I miss Luke’s reminder of what we’re supposed to do in chapter four of his Gospel from Jesus’ reading of the Isaiah scroll, but again Mark assumes we don’t need that reminder. “Good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, the proclamation of God’s favor? Do you really need me to explain that to you again? You know what the Lord requires!”

Mark moves right into the call of the first disciples. Fourteen verses into the story, not four chapters into it or not after a journey through the cosmos of time. Fourteen verses and we discover ourselves in God’s story, being called by Jesus to follow him.

Pray with me … (it’s never too late!) …

So, these first four disciples make it look so easy and so natural, don’t they. In Mark’s trademark brevity, there is no prior contact with Jesus written about that may explain why the fishermen’s response is so immediate. We aren’t told whether these men enjoyed their work or hated it. We don’t know if the two pairs of brothers got along with each other, or how the sons of Zebedee related to their father. Once again, Mark doesn’t waste time explaining. We already know this: When the call comes, we are to follow.

That’s powerful, that clarity and succinctness, but it tends to make us focus on a moment, the “moment” of our call, and we being wondering if we’ve had it. Many of us don’t remember it quite that clearly or succinctly. We begin worrying that we’ve missed it. I mean, we didn’t give up our jobs. We didn’t change our lifestyles. We haven’t left our families. Maybe we haven’t gotten the call yet. This where Mark’s brevity, his “succinctness,” may not be so helpful. Because we have, each one of us, has been called. The problem is that, unlike Mark’s call to the first disciples, ours wasn’t just a moment in our life. It was, it is, our life. Let me use a personal illustration.

I don’t remember my first call, my baptism. We talked about that a few weeks ago. Many of you do remember yours, though if you can remember your baptism, I’ll bet it wasn’t your first call from God. Something got you to the font, or the pool, or the river. I don’t remember mine, but I have my certificate from the Mont Vernon Congregational Church in New Hampshire. I remember a picture of my mom holding me, standing next to my dad in his clerical robes just behind a font not unsimilar to this one. I don’t remember not my actual baptism, but I was baptized.

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I do remember Sunday school in Jackson, Michigan as a young child. Mrs. Middlebrook prayed with us after every class. “Jesus in our hearts, use our hands and feet. Help us see your face in every one we meet.”

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I remember my Youth Group at Trinity United Church of Christ n Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The “Triniteens” we were called. Still are, I bet. I remember one of our Seminarians Jeff Zok, drove a brown Mustang with a PA system under the hood that he could call people on the sidewalk with. He played guitar on our winter overnight retreat. “Happiness is to know the Savior, living a life within his favor, having a change in our behavior. Happiness is the Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I remember Hartman Center Camp in Northwest PA and a raft ride down the Juniata River. My Hogan counselor, Kerry, leading us in a prayer that invited, or re-invited as was my own case, Jesus into our hearts.

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I remember my confirmation experience. Pastor Fauth’s study, my classmates Ron Nicodemus, Howie Viersma, and Amy Filsinger, and the homemade mimeo-graphed booklet of worksheets we worked in, held together with brass brads. I remember standing in front of the congregation and, for the first time publically professing faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I remember meeting Katie, falling in love, and getting married. I remember the birth of all three of my children – Samuel, Ann, and Gabriel.

Even here, I believe, (especially here?) Jesus said, “Follow me …”

I remember applying and enrolling in the Seminary. I remember begin ordained and installed as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I remember being called and beginning ministry in this community over nine years ago.

And Jesus said, “Follow me …”


Each one of those memories is a “moment.” And put together, a “lifetime.”

We read verses like these in the Gospel of Mark, attracted to the brevity, the clarity, and the succinctness of his writing, and we tend to think that the “instant decisions” of Simon, Andrew, James, and John – “Immediately they left their nets; Immediately he called them and they left” – was all it took. But remember, this passage (and those like in the other Gospels) comes not at the end of the story, but right at the beginning. Following Jesus, that is becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime. Our faith is for now and for the long haul.

In all four of our Gospel accounts, the disciples relationship to Jesus, to one another, to their world is imperfect. That’s us. Our “moments” quickly fade. But fortunately after every moment is … another one. We are quick to respond and slow to learn. But faithful discipleship takes a lifetime.

Our call from God is often presented as a no-risk offer, a one-time affirmation where we promise to “follow” Jesus in order to stay out of trouble and to procure salvation after death. But getting right with God by following the Way of Jesus is not simply a basic factor in an orderly life or a promise of salvation in an afterlife. Discipleship will mean more trouble, not less. Following Jesus will be disruptive. It will be characterized by a costly pouring out of ourselves for the other. Anyone who answers immediately must be ready for the long haul.

We need look no further than our own community to understand this. Each one of you members here (or members in any other Christian community) said, “I’ll follow” in one form or another at one point or another, publicly professing your faith right here, reaffirming that faith right here, or providing a letter of transfer from a church where you did either before coming here. That took a “moment” (and, yes, perhaps another moment for the Session to accept it and record it. Decent and in order). But after that moment … the lifetime began, the long haul.

The dinners and fellowship to deepen relationships; the potluck dishes for those too sick or hurting to prepare for themselves; the visits, the trips, the phone calls all to check-in on one another; the car rides to community recognition events and doctors appointments; the countless Celebrations of Life for those in this congregation who have died, and; the constant Witness to new life, here and now and after our death. All moments you are remembering even now. All together a lifetime you are living … even now.

Because it’s happening again. You are being called. This is a moment. You are being asked to follow, even now. The mystery of Christmas is over. The waters of baptism have dried. The temptations have been faced. Now comes the call again.

We know how we will respond in the moment at hand. We pray that we will respond in our life ahead. Being a faithful Christian takes both – a moment and lifetime.

May our life begin again in this moment.


Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 21, 2017