The Language of Faith
I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit - Amen
What do you base your understanding of faith on?
Is it a feeling?
Is it something that you could articulate, something that you could communicate to others?
I suspect, if you were to explain your faith, you would undoubted use words
There are not too many of us that are gifted in the arts that we would paint a picture that would tell the story of our faith or act out a story that would communicate faith without the use of words
For most it is words that we would use
Today, I have titled my sermon “the language of faith” because our passage from the Gospel of Mark carries with it some powerful words and terms that have the weight of faith in them
It is a short reading – only 7 verses long – but many of the key concepts of the language of faith are there:
· the good news of God,
· The time is fulfilled
· the kingdom of God
· the kingdom of God has come near
· believe in the good news
· Follow ME
And with the Gospel of Mark, differing from the other gospels there is the term – Immediately
The word "immediately" is used 17 times in Mark.
Mark's immediacy attempts to sets the stage for us to understand just how dramatic and challenging Jesus was to the people of the ancient middle-east
Mark begins without a nativity story and we are "immediately" into the ministry of Jesus with the baptism of Jesus and the voice from heaven
Then the engagement with Satan in the wilderness and the establishment of the cosmic battle, which is present throughout the Gospel of Mark …and all still within the first 13 vs of the 1st ch
Perhaps it is a day like any other day in the life of those who fish these sometimes treacherous waters.
Wind storms come up quickly as a Northwester blows in from the Mediterranean Sea and over the hill country that surrounds the northwestern shore of the lake.
Simon and Andrew, perhaps weary from a night of fishing, are still plying their nets when a stranger approaches them on the shore in the person of Jesus.
The dialogue is brief. In fact it might have appeared to them that this stranger was not that familiar with their trade.
Jesus' words must have sounded strange as he doesn't talk about the usual fishing for lake trout but fishing for people?
Now to rugged men of the sea this would have no correlation with their experience.
The text gives us no clue to what is going on inside their heads at such a strange proposal.
There was no preparation.
The only note we get from the text is the second occurrence of "immediately" in the Gospel of Mark, as Simon and Andrew "immediately leave their nets and follow him"
All we can say about the call is that "the kingdom of God" has broken into their lives in the immediacy of Jesus' call.
There are also two other fishermen on the shore mending their nets, James and John, sons of their father Zebedee.
The call of Jesus to them is the same and their response is the same.
They leave their livelihood and their father and "immediately" follow this stranger
These are epiphany moments early in the Gospel and the reason we have them at this time of the year
As readers and hearers, we too have no preparation this early in the Gospel for such a story.
Like the first four followers, we too have been caught off guard.
But then isn't this why we identify with this story?
God in Jesus Christ comes to us in our most unexpected moments.
God's kingdom, God's kingly reign and rule in our lives breaks in even "immediately" as pure gift.
The next term in our brief visit on the language of faith is: proclaiming
For us today in our over communicated world – with media of all varieties assaulting us wherever we go – we might be completely at home with the notion of proclamation
It is said that we are communicated to by over 3,000 unique messages everyday
I wonder if we, today, could even hear the message of a man coming out of the desert to set the world to rights
It is no wonder that over 70% of churches are losing the competition for attention in our world with all the distractions available
And yet, proclaim Jesus does
Nearly 2000 years ago… and the world is still listening to what He declared
Jesus’ proclaimation is not as we hear our advertisers
It is a time altering moment – it is the coming nearer of God
It is teaching of a world beyond its ‘present form and understanding’
It is ‘aligned and in continuity’ with God’s work through the prophets
It is the fulfillment of all God’s promises – it is nothing less than the hope of the: past, present and future
This is… ‘the good news of God’ – our next phrase in our language of faith lesson from Mark
God, in the form and flesh of Jesus son of Joseph & Mary and son of God
Entering into the world to claim it personally
No longer can God be seen in any way what-so-ever as distant – Jesus the Christ was… and is… amongst us
The good news of God – is Jesus… come … proclaiming, teaching, healing, experiencing life as we know it – God in the flesh
The time is fulfilled… here we are called to hear this statement in scripture like the ripples in still water when a rock assaults the normal peaceful state
The announcement that "the time is fulfilled" also has a ring of tradition.
Luke similarly begins his account of Jesus' Galilean ministry with Jesus preaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth about the "year of the Lord's favor"
That Isaiah had prophesied, seen in Isaiah 61:2
Jesus then said, that time had been fulfilled in the people's hearing that very day (Luke 4:19, 21)
And the ripples continue with Jesus on the Cross declaring that “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:30)
The time is fulfilled begins with Jesus and concludes with his saving act of grace and mercy for all
And yet again the ripple assaults us finally and completely with apocalyptic vision of John in the final book of the bible and in the second last chapter where Jesus proclaims to John:
“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev 21:6-7)
And just what is it that is fulfilled and finished and completed that we get our beginning glimpse in this the first chapter of Mark… it is: ….the kingdom of God
The kingdom of God has come near
This is another way of stating what we have already heard declared – the Good news – The Gospel
The incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas and the revelation to ‘the world beyond the Hebrews’, which we celebrate now in this time after Epiphany
The kingdom of God is an announcement of God’s reign
It is the breaking into the world as we know it and the revelation of a world beyond – a world of hopes – a world of ambition-beyond the present – to the ideals of God
The Kingdom of God is the focus of the best desires imaginable and unimaginable
Desires aligned with … and of… God
Announcing that God's reign is near has the consequence of an urgent call for repentance, that is, aligning one's values and way of life with God's ways.
In today's epistle reading of 1 Corinthians, Paul similarly calls for an examination of our priorities in light of the Good News.
This leads us into our sixth and seventh terms in the language of faith: Repent & Believe in the Good News
Jesus' call of ‘engagement in God's rule’ is present in two imperatives.
The first is a call "to repent" expresses immediacy at a point in time; it is time to turn around in response to the call of discipleship.
This call is followed up with a second imperative "to believe," which expresses a continuing response to the obedience of following.
The object of believing is "the good news" of God's reign present in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are two sides of the same coin
Matthew Henry in his famous commentary on the whole bible circa 1708 explains it this way
[John the Baptist and all the prophets that went before him are testaments to the fact that] they had not made use of the prescribed preservatives,
And therefore must have recourse to the prescribed restoratives.
By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them.
By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended;
By faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins.
Both these must go together;
We must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ,
Or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives.
Christ has joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder.
Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues;
Still the call is, Repent, and believe,
And live a life of repentance and a life of faith.
Here is an illustrative story that might help in thinking about the grand concept of repentance and believing and with that… transformation
In England there is a paper factory that makes the finest stationery in the world.
One day a man touring the factory asked what it was made from.
He was shown a huge pile of old rags and told that the rag content was what determined the quality of the paper.
The visitor wouldn’t believe it.
In weeks he received from the company a package of paper with his initials embossed on it.
On the top piece were written the words “Dirty rags transformed.”
…The same is true of the Christian life.
It is a process of transformation from what we were into something new and wonderful.
John Wesley has this further to say about repentance:
It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion;
That they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom
And this may seem to be confirmed by the great Apostle
Where Repentance is seen to frequently mean an inward change, a change of mind from sin to holiness
But we now speak of it in a quite different sense,
As it is one kind of self-knowledge, the knowing ourselves sinners, yea, guilty, helpless sinners,
Even though we know we are children of God.
The final phrase in our ‘language of faith’ is maybe the toughest of them all: …Follow ME
Not of course for understanding the words and idea of it, but the challenge of practically living up to the seemingly simply instruction
It is striking that these four men would drop everything to follow Jesus if they did not already know him.
Indeed, some scholars have felt the need to speculated that they actually knew Jesus, or knew about him, before He called them into discipleship
This is, I believe, a modern desire to explain what seems unexplainable
There is a story quoted in baseball circles about Earl Weaver (when he was manager of the Baltimore Orioles) and his experience with a born-again outfielder named Pat Kelly.
As the story goes, Kelly is said to have told Weaver he had learned to walk with God,
To which Weaver is reported to have glibly replied, “I’d rather have you walk with the bases loaded.”
….The Christian walk is incomprehensible to those who are not motivated by Christ.
Whatever the history of the relationship between Jesus and Simon, Andrew, James and John may have been
The story gives effective expression to the urgency of the call to discipleship.
What we do know is that there was something compelling enough about Jesus and His message that prompted these four -- and later many others -- to follow Him,
To become His disciples, students of this teacher and servants of His mission
What do you think that might be?
What would be compelling enough to draw you away from all you knew?
Even more, what would be compelling enough to draw our people to new lives?
I think that'd be an interesting question to ask and have some conversation about.
Because the thing about this passage that makes it kind of hard to preach is that while most of us may admire what the disciples do, few of us would consider following their example.
Kelly and I sometimes disagree on the odd thing – one of those things is the handling of our bank cards
– you see in my wallet, everything has its own spot and even if something is there but in the wrong spot I can be fooled to thinking that it is lost.
Kelly on the other hand is forever taking her cards out of her wallet and using them as need be, leaving them in jacket pockets – pant pocket, the sun visor of the car, wherever.
She is also, about monthly, losing her bank card.
Sometimes to be found a day or two later, sometimes she needs to get a new card from the bank.
Just this past week, I suggested that if she changed her habits and simply always returned her card to her wallet, she would not have that worry.
She immediately, and with a smile, said yes, you are so right…
But history and nearly 15 years of marriage would tell me differently.
It is not enough to agree with an idea – it matters only when we act out that ideal.
Such is the call of the disciples… Jesus did not ask them to agree with a philosophical idea about the Kingdom of God
He did not persuade them with well thought out arguments – He simply said – Come… follow me… and in doing… in living out what they were called to do, they became disciples
And of course so it is with us… it is not in the thoughts alone are we disciples but ultimately in the following
Christ appears as a teacher here and is calling His disciples.
Consider this important detail for the past and for every age… Christ will have followers.
If He set up a school, He will have scholars;
If He set up His standard, He will have soldiers;
If He preached only, He will have hearers.
But Christ called followers 
To follow is to live ‘within society and for society’ as the master would lead
We are disciples when we follow – when we do – when we are Christ for others, as Jesus was for us
Simple instruction – “Come… Follow me…” - yet a lifetime’s learning in the striving to live into
This is the language of faith, on which we are to be the faithful students
God of all time and times, may the language of faith live deep within us… and make us instant in our response to your call to us, discerning of those occasions when it is you who are addressing us and responsive to follow you…, so that living as you did, beyond ourselves, we may see those to whom you are directing us … and that we may be partners/disciples of the Kingdom of God. Amen
 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (1708-10)
Green, Michael P.: Illustrations for Biblical Preaching : Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1989
 John Wesley – Sermon – Repentance of Believers
Green, Michael P.: Illustrations for Bilical Preaching : Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1989
 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (1708-10)