Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
The Time at Hand
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:Mark 1:14-20
Imagine Simon the fisherman going home to his wife that night. She asks, “How was your day?” And how might he have responded?
He might have said, “This guy came to the docks trying to get me to do a mid-life career change. Like we don’t have enough stress in our lives with the business and the family already. As if I could bail on Andrew like that.”
Or he might have said, “This rabbi was looking for new students among us fishermen. He’s got a different message from any other rabbi I’ve ever heard. I kind of wanted to just drop my nets and go with him, but I didn’t.”
Or maybe when Mrs. Simon asked if anything interesting happened, Mr. Simon said, “No, how ‘bout for you?”
It could have happened like that, but it didn’t. Instead, Simon, Andrew, James and John dropped their nets, walked away from their family fishing guilds and followed Jesus. For thousands of years now, people have wished that Mark had provided more details about how and why that happened. How could these grown men, with established families and lives, “immediately” change course to follow Jesus? And if it could happen to them, could it also happen to us?
Jesus very first words in Mark’s gospel are found in verse 15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The time is fulfilled, he says.
There are two words for time in Greek. One word is chronos. It forms the root of our word chronology. It refers to sequential time unfolding in hours, days, weeks, months, years. The more interesting word is kairos which means a decisive moment that “provokes a radical response or urgent choice or a fundamental reorientation”.
Jesus’ first words are “The kairos is now.” These four fisherman, and many others believe it right away. Fred Craddock describes kairos as "a special time, an opportune time, a time in which the constellation of factors creates an unusually significant moment."
What I am interested in today are the constellation of factors that create the kairos moment for Jesus’ first followers and for us. I’m interested in the things that might come together to get our attention in a new way, so that perhaps we understand that this call, this moment, this urgent choice is from God.
First, the constellation of factors for those first century fisherman. I have to note that different people would consider different things. Some might be interested in the birth order of these fishermen or what they had for breakfast or what they dreamed about the night before or how the planets were aligned. We don’t know any of those things and they’re not the things I would find important, but that is one of the risks of my methodology. I might overlook something that is very important. I might focus on something that really is not so important. (As a sidenote, I would say this is probably true of many theological conflicts – the inability to agree on what is essential and what is trivial.)
Let me suggest some longer term and shorter term factors leading into this pivotal moment for Simon, Andrew, James and John. One long term factor is Rome’s occupation of Israel. For the last 90 some years, Israel has been governed by the Roman Emperor. As the years have passed, there have been uprisings and rebellions, but the Emperor’s grip has only tightened. This is at odds with another factor, which is the Jewish anticipation of a Messiah, someone who will deliver them from Rome, much like Moses led an earlier generation out of Pharoah’s bondage. To say that they are looking for a Messiah is to say that they are anticipating freedom.
John the Baptist has been arrested for proclaiming that the Messiah is coming soon. Our reading began with the words, “Now after John was arrested, . . .” I have always thought those words were ominous and probably a deterrent to following Jesus. If John was arrested, it is likely that he will die in prison or be executed. And if Jesus has picked up where John left off, then it seems obvious that a similar fate will await him. But, today, I wonder if perhaps John’s arrest is not a deterrent but an inspiration. An inspiration that standing up to Rome’s oppression might be worth it, even if it did mean risking prison and death.
Rome’s control was felt by everyone, mostly in the form of taxes. I have sometimes heard James and John described as middle-class because they employ other workers, but this was not a free enterprise system and they were not middle class. The fishing industry was entirely under the control of the Empire. All fishing was state-regulated. You had to have a fishing license and you paid taxes, levies and tolls every time the fish were sold. The fishing families were at the lower level of the economy, even though they were vital to it. Most of what was caught was exported, leaving local communities full of hungry, suffering, impoverished people. Herod Antipas was the Jewish client-king serving under the Emperor. The first century historian Josephus called Herod Antipas “a lover of luxury” and he got those luxuries by extracting resources from Galilee on their way up the food chain.
Simon, Andrew, James and John were feeling the squeeze. Their neighbors were suffering. Jesus comes along, speaking their language, talking about fishing for people. Being Jewish, they would have heard those words differently than we do. They would have known how the prophets used them. From Jeremiah 16 “I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, . . .” From Amos 4 – “they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks” and Ezekiel 29 “I will put hooks in your jaws . . .” In each of these texts, God is speaking against rich and powerful people who oppress the poor and needy. When Jesus invites them to fish for people, he is inviting them into a resistance movement against their oppressors.
The words that Jesus says are a factor and so is the fact that he comes to them. They are ordinary people, low on the economic ladder. They are Galileans, considered “hicks from the sticks” by the powerful elites in Jerusalem and Rome. But Jesus comes to them and invites them, summons them, calls them into this kairos moment.
A quick summary of the some of the things I see that might have enabled them to hear this as a call from God and to seize the kairos moment:
* Long-term Roman Occupation
* Anticipation of the Messiah
* Arrest of John the Baptist
* Suffering and exploitation within the fishing industry
* Prophetic message about fishing for people
* Jesus invitation to ordinary folks
And then, moving to look at our own situation, what are the factors that might alert us to our own kairos time? Are we at another critical moment where God is calling us with particular urgency? Again, I offer my list, which might be different from yours.
Long-term factors might include the ideas that we are citizens of a great experiment in democracy and that we are creating, a more inclusive, more just society. It was less than 100 years ago that women were guaranteed the right to vote, roughly 50 years since the Civil Rights Act began to dismantle Jim Crow, less than 3 years since the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples have the same marriage rights as heterosexual ones. But recently, against the anticipation that things were getting better and better, comes the rise of overt racism and misogyny and homophobia.
Like Andrew, Simon, James and John, we don’t have to search hard to find suffering and exploitation. In fact, we would have to intentionally insulate ourselves to be unaware of the mass incarceration of brown and black people, the tearing apart of families by increasingly aggressive and punitive deportations and xenophobic immigration policies, our government’s refusal to enact meaningful and just immigration reform, to provide healthcare for its citizens, to care for the poor and marginalized. The hundreds of thousands of people, who marched in cities and towns across the nation and the world, yesterday bear witness to a long list of atrocities and systemic injustices and the desire to do something about them.
Many of those were people of faith who understand that work as a calling from God. I said earlier that John the Baptist’s arrest might have been an inspiration to those who followed Jesus. I note the arrests of water protectors at Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter activists and of the Rev. William Barber and those with him advocating for the rights of the poor and many local activists right here in our own community. And I wonder if we might be inspired by them. As one of their signs said, “So they persecuted the prophets before you.”
Another factor that I note is the decline of the church in our culture. Over the last decades, mainline church leaders in particular have been sounding the alarm about our loss of status and influence and members. What does that have to do with a potential kairos moment? Well, I think it could be that we are more ready to return to the basics of Jesus’ teachings. It could be that we are motivated to find better ways to share the gospel with our neighbors, to connect the way of Jesus with everyday life.
Jesus’ first followers acted immediately. They dropped their nets and followed him. From our point in history, it seems that there have always been Christians, that the church has always existed, but if not for those who followed and continued to follow through the centuries, it could have been otherwise.
Susan B. Anthony was one who seized her own kairos moment, working for years for voting rights for women, which she did not live to see enacted. On her birthday in 1894, she said “We shall someday be heeded . . . and everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.”
Jesus’ life and teachings were heeded and many people think it was always so, but stories like this one tell us that God’s call and a handful of ordinary people who responded in a critical moment made it happen.
What is God’s call to you in this moment? What is God’s call to me? To us? We often tie ourselves up in knots trying to discern that. Let me offer a final story.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and writer, talks about a time when she struggled with her sense of call. She could not figure out what it was that God wanted her to do and be. Did God want her to be a writer? Did God want her to be a priest or a social worker or a teacher? She simply did not know. And in her frustrations and exasperation, one midnight, she fell down on her knees in prayer and said, “OK, God. You need to level with me. What do you want me to be? What do you want me to do?” She said that she felt a very powerful response, God saying, “Do what pleases you. Belong to me, but do what pleases you.” She said it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch that place of greatest joy, that she could be called to the thing that pleases her the most.
Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner says that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
May we find that intersection between deep gladness and deep hunger and belong to God there. For the kairos is now. Amen.
 Daniel B. Clendenin at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20060116JJ.shtml
 Fred B. Craddock et al Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year B, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, International, 1993), p. 87.
 K.C. Hansen, “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition”, originally published in Biblical Theology Bulletin, 1997 http://www.kchanson.com/ARTICLES/fishing.html
 Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 110.
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, (New York: Harper & Row, 1973),