A sermon from Mark 1:14-20, preached on January 21, 2018.
[Note: due to audio issues with the original recording, this recording is not from a live worship service]
It was 1986 when my parents moved into the house where we would spend the rest of my childhood and teenage years. It was new construction, and the kitchen was built to accommodate the very latest technological advances. For example, the cabinets had a special cut out in them, right above the oven, and that space was specially designed for the installation of a transformational device—the microwave oven.
I looked this up. In 1986, only about 25% of American homes had microwave ovens. Which is to say, my generation was the first one that can’t really remember a time before microwave ovens. And that, of course, is what is wrong with me.
I heard it all the time, growing up. “We have a microwave society now, everybody wants instant gratification. Nobody has any patience anymore; we just want to push a button and ‘zap’ it’s done for us.” Microwaves were blamed for all kinds of social ills—short attention spans, bad grades, greed.
Fast forward a few decades and the tone of the complaints are the same, even if the objects are different. The internet is so fast that nobody bothers to learn basic facts anymore; communication is so fast and so effortless that it interrupts everything; rather than being doled out week by week, more and more television shows are being released as an entire season, all at once. Which is great if you have an entire day with nothing to do but binge watch, but there is a special kind of dread that comes when you are afraid someone will spoil 10 hours worth of entertainment for you, only two hours after it was released. The same goes for movies. Jennifer and I both love the Star Wars series, but this last December we couldn’t make it to the movie theater for almost 3 weeks after the movie came out. Every morning I’d do my quick scroll thru Facebook just to see what is going on in my friends' lives, and I'd have one eye closed and a hand over my face so that no one could give anything away.
With every single day, our cultural conversation moves faster, so fast that it’s hard to keep up. We take it for granted that there is this ever-present possibility that our technologies may become, or may already be, too fast.
But the truth is, in many ways, the more pressing problem is that they are too slow.
This last Wednesday morning, I woke up wondering how cold it really was. I could have grabbed my phone, checked my weather app, waited a few seconds for it to load. I could have seen that number in the twenties, and I could have compared that with the day before and with the previous night to give myself a sense of the temperature. But instead, I opened my door and stepped outside and instantly a million temperature sensors all over my body came screaming back with all the information I needed: it was too cold. If I was more patient, I could have looked up more accurate or precise information, but I am from the microwave generation. I need instant feedback. That blast of air to my face was so much faster, and it told me all I needed.
A smartphone company recently announced that their computer chips can recognize faces by processing 30,000 points of light in just a couple seconds. Which sound really impressive, until you realize that even before an image hits your brain it has passed through your retina, which has 100 million neurons processing every single thing that it sees. Your eye can process 10 images, each of them with a million points of light, in a single second.
I don’t care how fluent you are on you emoji keyboard, I promise I can say more with one eyebrow raise, and I can say it faster.
And let’s pause just a moment to think about the phenomenon we call “video on demand” which is all well and good until it becomes “video-on-hold-every-time-you push a button, and wait…. push a button… wait. buffering, buffering… buffering…” you can waste 10 seconds or more that way.
In the stone age, when we used VCRs, every single interaction gave you instant feedback. You picked up the box and knew instantly if the tape was in it, you could tell by the weight and the sound. You shoved the tape in the machine and instantly you heard “ka-chunk” if it went in properly, or you felt a too-soon bump if a child had left their peanut butter and jelly in the player again. When you needed to rewind, you pushed a button that actually moved underneath your finger, you felt every micrometer of resistance letting you know the button had been pushed, and then you heard the whine of the rewinder getting higher and higher as it drew near the beginning. Every single moment of the experience gave you instant feedback. You never wondered whether the issue was in your own wiring, or in the neighborhood, or down at some server in another state. You never just sat around waiting, wondering, hoping something would happen.
The gospel of Mark has no time for waiting. We’ve just come out of the season of Advent and Christmas… that time when we build the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We slow down; we dream; we wonder what it will be like this time.
Mark ain’t got time for that. There is no Christmas story in Mark - he skips right over Mary and Joseph and little baby Jesus. He drops us right in the middle of the action. And one of his favorite words is “eutheos” —“immediately”- some translations will say “at once” or “right away. The word is used about 80 times in the new testament - half of them are in the gospel of Mark. It shows up 9 times just in the first chapter.
Jesus calls to Simon and Andrew and “immediately” the left their nets. Jesus sees James and John and “immediately” he calls them.
Today’s passage begins with a summary of the gospel that Jesus preached. As Mark describes it, this is Jesus' stump speech: “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near you, repent and believe the gospel.” The King James version says “The time is fulfilled”; Eugene Peterson's translation puts it this way: “Time’s up!”
If all the promises of Christmas are true — if Jesus really is “God with us” — then there is some sense in which we are done waiting, and it’s time to follow.
Maybe that’s what you want. Maybe you woke up this morning saying “I want to follow Jesus,” and then maybe you’ve heard where Jesus wants you to go, what Jesus wants you to do, who Jesus wants you to hang out with and you began looking at your calendar for a more convenient day to follow. "You go on, Jesus. I'll catch up. I'm almost done mending these nets, just a few more squares and I'll be done. Then, of course, I need to fold them and put them neatly on the shelf for the person who comes after me. Don't worry, I'll catch up, hopefully, tomorrow."
There is someone here today who has heard Jesus calling them out of an old and death-dealing way of life. Calling you out of destructive relationships, calling you out of habits and secrets that you’ve gotten so good at hiding. "Jesus, I'll catch up just as soon as I make sure these secrets are good and buried." But Jesus says, "Let the dead bury the dead, come and follow me."
There is someone else here who has heard Jesus calling them out of a life that is cozy and familiar and incredibly comfortable. Jesus is calling you to do things that you know you won’t do well, to follow him on trails that are a bit beyond your fitness; Jesus is calling you to love some unlovely people.
And in response we say, “Sure thing Jesus, just give me some time to really understand my neighbor and then I’ll love them.” And Jesus says “the time is at hand.” Stop trying to understand and just go love ‘em.
We ask “Jesus, where are you headed with all this?” And Jesus says, “That’s not the point. The point is that today I am here. And the point is that wherever I go tomorrow if you follow you will be with me.”
We ask, “Jesus, but will everything that happened yesterday be wasted?” and Jesus says, only if it keeps you from me today.” If everything that has gone before has prepared you to say yes to Jesus today, then the time is fulfilled and nothing is wasted. But if all that has gone before is your reason for letting Jesus go by, then not only will your past be wasted, but also the eternal life that Jesus is offering to you.
We say “I want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons, I want to feel it in my heart” And he says, "the right reason is that I said it. Trust my heart, and I’ll take care of yours."
And the more we talk to Jesus, the more we discover that our plans, our expectations, our timetables and even our precious patience can become a buffer that we use to keep Jesus at a safe distance, where he can’t ask too much.
There comes a time when the only way we are going to learn the way of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the power of Jesus - is if we walk so closely that we have 24-hour continuous and instant feedback that comes from touching the people he told us to embrace, and listening to the unfiltered word of God that challenges us and comforts us in equal measure. There comes a time when we say that we are waiting for Jesus, but he’s already come by and already told us to follow, and he’s gone on ahead, and the longer we wait the less we’ll be ready.
Sometimes, it turns out that waiting until we feel it in our heart is just another buffer.
Sometimes, we just gotta follow. Immediately.