Immediately!   (Mark 1: 9-13)

by | Jan 24, 2021 | Sermon Text | 0 comments

Jesus is baptized by John. Immediately, the Spirit descends upon him like a dove. Immediately the Spirit drives him into the wilderness for forty days of testing and temptation. He returns to walk along the Sea of Galilee and calls two young fishermen to become his disciples. Immediately, they drop their nets and follow. He sees two more young fishermen and invites them to join the cause. Immediately they leap out of their boats in response. They go into Capernaum. On the Sabbath they immediately go into the synagogue. Jesus reads Scripture, and immediately, a mentally disturbed man confronts him. Immediately Jesus heals him. Immediately, Jesus leaves the synagogue. Immediately, he enters Peter’s house, and immediately he is acquainted with Peter’s mother-in-law’s serious illness. Immediately, he heals her. Immediately, she jumps up and serves them supper. All these “immediatelys” are just in Mark’s first chapter. Immediately occurs forty-one times in Mark’s short Gospel. The saga of Christ, as Mark conceives it, moves breathlessly, surges frenetically, until time comes to a screaming halt on the cross, punctuated by an anguished scream, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthanai!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Events succeed each other like a string of firecrackers, ignited by a divine flame.

Since everything in Mark’s Gospel happens immediately, we must conclude that he is saying something about time. Indeed he is, more than any of us might know. As soon as John is arrested, Jesus comes into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” The kairos has come. The kairos – the fullness of time — has arrived. We generally live in “chronos” time, where life is measured in seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months and years. But when Jesus comes – when the time is fulfilled! — time can no longer be measured in minutes and days and months. The kairos has arrived. Time in the presence of Jesus can only be measured in meaning. The time of Christ’s ministry is time fraught with meaning, teeming with divine possibilities, suffused with significance. The time is fulfilled!

We have all occasionally experienced kairos time. We have all had moments of absorption and concentration when time ceased to exist for us, when we “lost track of time,” or more specifically, we lived unaware of chronos time. As the old saying goes, “Time flies when you are having fun!” Or, as Mark would phrase it, “Time flies when it is full of meaning.” Some years ago I read an interview with a famous historian who lived in Hungary during the aborted 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union. She said, “My life knew more meaning in those three months than it was to know in the next ten years.” She knew the kairos had arrived! The fullness of time had come, and the world teemed with possibilities and was suffused with significance.

Someone once asked me a profound question: “How does it make intellectual sense to believe that the coming of the Christ changes God’s relationship with creation forevermore?” This person wanted to know, “How does Christ’s coming make redemption possible for humanity in a way that it was not possible before?” The first answer to this question is that Christ’s coming did not change the nature of God. God was no more loving, no more forgiving, no more redemptive or merciful after Christ’s coming than before. But when the Incarnation was made manifest through Christ, God’s redemptive purpose and power and God’s direction were made evident and accessible to us in a way that they had never been before. Christ embodied the Personality and Personhood of God in a way that was unique and unprecedented. In the person of Christ, coming as he did in the fullness of time, the nature of God was in our midst, accessible in a direct manner like it had never been before. Christ came in the moment that had been prepared for him. He came when the Roman Empire covered the known earth so that a truth introduced into one corner of that empire could spread to every corner within a hundred years – as it did. The coming of the Christ meant that time could no longer be measured in chronos time, but must be described as the kairos – as time fulfilled. The Kingdom of God was at hand!

Our Lord sees two fishermen casting their nets and commands, “Follow me.” Immediately they drop their nets and follow. They walk on a little farther and see two more fishermen, and Jesus says, “Follow me,” and immediately they leap out of their boats and follow. They enter the synagogue on the Sabbath, and immediately Jesus is confronted by a disturbed man, and immediately Jesus heals him and immediately Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes next door to the house of Simon’s mother-in-law and immediately Jesus heals her, and immediately she rises to prepare them a meal. What is going on here? In the presence of Jesus these people are filled with enthusiasm! En + theos = “enthusiasm,” “God in you.” In the presence of Jesus these people are filled with the Spirit of Christ, and they respond with alacrity, joy, zeal and enthusiasm! When Jesus commands, “Follow me,” he exudes a divine urgency, a divine impatience, and he expects divine impetuosity in return. Fishermen leap out of their boats, a disturbed man presents himself for healing, a sick woman receives healing and hops up to serve supper, because when Christ’s Spirit fills you, you respond with enthusiasm! We are called to answer the divine impatience of Jesus with divine impetuosity.

We often praise patient people. Yet I remind you that history has been changed as often by impetuous acts as by reflective ones. Nobody planned attacking the Berlin Wall with sledgehammers. It just happened – and the wall fell. A lone Chinese dissident didn’t leave his house planning to stymie tanks in Tiananmen Square. It just happened, and the world marveled at his courage. Rosa Parks didn’t awaken one morning in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954 planning to get arrested, but she did when she wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus to a white patron – and thereby started a movement that changed the character of our country. So, too, the Kingdom of God has been changed by divinely impetuous acts. Abraham acts upon the call of God to leave everything he knows and strike out in search of an unseen promised land. Moses answers a summons from a burning bush and heads to Egypt to liberate his people. David impetuously volunteers to fight Goliath. Barnabas hears of a young man’s experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and when the Jewish Christian leader in Jerusalem will not accept him, Barnabas impetuously champions the authenticity of Paul’s conversion. Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door, and when he is called before the Council at Worms to recant his views he responds, “Here I stand! God help me, I can do no other.” There are times when people know that the Kairos is upon them, and they must answer with divine impetuosity.

Sure, patience is a virtue. But sometimes, impatience is a virtue also. We can become so accustomed to the status quo that patience becomes one more excuse for inaction. Sometimes, we hear Christ’s call to faithful commitment, and we hide behind the smokescreen of reflection. Sometimes our so-called patience is nothing more than a cowardly stall. Sometimes we know that the kairos is upon us. Yet we drag our feet, even when the Spirit of Christ commands us to act – and act immediately! There are times when Christ calls us to answer his divine impatience with divine impetuosity, with almost foolhardy commitment.

When I ponder Mark’s emphasis on the “immediate” nature of Christ’s Gospel call, I think of this passage’s impact upon my own ministry, how it inspired me to do one of the most divinely impetuous acts I’ve ever authored. On my first day as pastor of my Charlotte church, the Finance Chair came into my office, dropped a huge sheaf of papers on my desk and said, “Here’s next year’s budget,” and promptly walked out the door without another word! As I studied those papers I realized the church was facing a severe financial crisis. I didn’t have to circulate long among the church leadership to realize that they were panicked. The church lacked the resources it needed to finance its ambitions in the coming year. I knew I had to do something “immediately.” So on my fourth Sunday at the church I did something divinely impetuous. I held in my hands a thousand-dollar bill and said to the congregation, “Next Sunday, on Pledge Sunday, I intend to place this thousand-dollar bill in the plate along with my pledge card, which represents my promised tithe for the coming year. And I challenge anyone who is able to do the same to mirror my actions.” The following Sunday I placed my thousand-dollar bill on top of my pledge, and on that Sunday, and over the course of the next few Sundays, forty more families or individuals placed their thousand-dollar checks on top of mine. A few of my cynical friends asked if I then slipped my thousand dollars back out. I said no, for I knew that if we overcame this crisis it would create a momentum for that church family that would allow it to achieve some marvelous things in the future. And it did.

Now you might say, ‘Whew, fortunately, we don’t face such an acute budgetary crisis in our own church right now.’ And in a sense, that is true. But we soon could be. The funds we received through the Payroll Protection Program allowed us to enjoy a measure of financial stability in 2020 despite the severe economic pressures created by the pandemic. But we are still not receiving the financial resources that we need to make this church’s future possible. We must understand, none of us know what Vineville Baptist Church will look like when so-called “normalcy” resumes. But we do know that as soon as we are able to gather again – and that could be awhile – that we will need to respond immediately to the challenges before us, to the urgent calls for sacrificial stewardship, commitment, service and outreach – or this church will not survive. The only way this church will survive and thrive is if we grow in numbers. We must realize that when normalcy returns, Vineville Baptist will essentially be a new church start. There will be things that we did in the past that we won’t do in the future. There will be things that we haven’t been doing that we will need to start doing. We will need to act with alacrity and enthusiasm! The hard truth is, the generation of leaders who have formed the financial backbone of this congregation is passing and passing quickly. Who will replace these faithful servants? We will need a whole new generation of believers, recruited to Christ’s fellowship, brought to Christ’s banquet table and incorporated into this family of God by our immediate acts of outreach. The urgent call of Christ to service, to stewardship, to sacrificial commitment, to outreach – we must answer with divine impetuosity. We must recover that old Gospel practice of going out and connecting to our friends and our neighbors and bringing them into Christ’s banquet table and into this family of God if we are going to remain vibrant. We must use this time when we cannot meet together to think creatively of how we will purposefully move forward once we are all back together.

Mark’s use of “Immediately” tells us something about the intensity of the ministry of Jesus, but it also tells us something about the direction of Jesus’ ministry. For the adverb, “Euthus,” “immediately,” derives from the root adjective “Eutheia” – which he means “straight. “Immediately,” means literally, “straight-way.” In Mark’s Gospel, Christ not only never wastes time, Christ never wastes motion. Christ goes “straight-way” in his service to God and commands us to do the same. Likewise, in Acts, when Ananias is told to go restore sight to blind Saul who would become Paul, he is told to go immediately to the Street called Eutheia. He is told, in essence, to go straight to Straight. Straight to Straight! The time has come for us as the family of God to go straight to Straight. Sometimes, we need to act with immediacy in terms of our faith and stewardship and answer the divine summons of God with divine impetuosity.

I know, it is hard to hear this message at a moment when we cannot safely gather together. I fear that it will be some time before we are able to gather safely again. But the Spirit of God can come upon us at anytime, anywhere. We can be gripped with a sense of spiritual immediacy no matter where we are. You can answer Christ’s summons to accept Christ as your Savior even today, wherever you are. You can feel the summons of God to be more involved in this church fellowship and resolve to do so, even today. You can feel Christ’s call to engage in sacrificial stewardship even today. Christ issues a call to us that resounds with divine urgency, a call that summons us to act with divine impetuosity. Christ bids us to go straight to straight. Whether it is the call to service, or creative envisioning, or sacrificial stewardship or communal outreach, we have to respond immediately. For the future of this family of God depends on it.