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Jesus brings us Good News and invites us to share it
A sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA
by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, January 24, 2021
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B,
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The Collect of the Day: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20 After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

This week, offices changed hands in the White House and the Senate, ending a long and intense political season. In a year so often absorbed with the crisis of the moment, it is starting to feel like we’re looking toward what is next, and starting to be less focused on a current crisis. For sure, there is still a lot of progress to make, especially with the COVID pandemic. But I kind of feel as if the vaccine progress has us less bogged down, and more looking forward.

Last weekend was our vestry retreat, and I think we left feeling a little bit of that same forward posture. On the one hand, many of the challenges of 2020 will be the same challenges to face in 2021. On the other hand, God has blessed us and strengthened us to creatively adapt and work to sustain our ministry and Christian fellowship. Many of the solutions to our challenges boil down to solutions that are key for non-COVID times as well: a focus on deepening relationship with God, deepening relationships in Christ with each other, and deepening relationships in Christ’s name with the world. These bedrocks of Christian faith and life are what churches need in order to thrive.

We see this in themes from today’s readings. The Collect of the Day sums them up well. That’s what a “collect” is: a prayer that collects the themes for the day at the beginning of the service. In today’s collect, we prayed for grace to answer Jesus’ call to proclaim the Good News of his salvation to all people. This prayer collects the themes in the readings.

We started with a passage from the end of Jonah. After Jonah returns from running away from God, God repeats his original call to Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. And Jonah’s preaching draws people back to God, and God has mercy on them. In the Gospel reading, Jesus begins his preaching, saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Then he invites some fishermen to follow him. And he invites them to become fishers of people.

The reading from First Corinthians and the psalm relate to this Good News that Jesus preaches. In his letter, Paul is concerned about the pressures and cares of the world getting in the way of a deeper relationship with God. The Psalm reminds us not to put our trust in the things of this world either, whether it is people in power, or wealth. Rather, the Good News is that steadfast love is found in God—God is our rock, the one in whom we can put our trust.

In the midst of the challenges of life, the stresses of this world, God reaches out to us with love and care and strength. Jesus brings us the Good News of God’s love to make a difference in our lives. In the midst of the untrustworthy kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of God is breaking in and changing lives. Jesus brings us this Good News and invites us to share it with others.

Let’s look at three things that Jesus does in this reading. Jesus proclaims the Good News: he tells people about God and what God is doing. Then he invites others into relationship with him. And he invites them to share the Good News as well.

Jesus starts by sharing the Good News. The Bible has many stories of how Jesus cared for people’s needs. But Jesus also had a message to share. He told them that the kingdom of God has come near—that God is making a difference in the world. He called them to turn back to God and to believe in his Good News. So, when Jesus calls the fishermen to fish for people, he has a message to share and he entrusts them to share that same message.

We can learn more about God, and we can share what we learn with others. We can grow more in our relationship with God, and we can share our experiences of God with others. Sometimes we call these experiences “God Stories.” These stories come from the heart rather than from a canned speech. They come from our own experience, so in part they share with others a piece of who we are. Sharing what we have learned and experienced helps others see an authentic and honest example of God alive and at work in someone’s life, even in a small way. When it is honest and authentic, we’re sharing our questions as well, the things we still don’t know about God, the ways we want to learn more.

Jesus was bold in his proclamation, and he was also joyful. This is Good News that Jesus shared, and he wanted others to benefit from what God is doing. He wanted them to know the Good News and feel the impact of that news in their lives. There is more to life than the struggles we face, and in fact the God of the universe loves us and wants to make a difference in our lives. Jesus came to share that Good News with us. From our own growth and our own experience, we can share that Good News with others.

Jesus not only told people about God, he also invited people into relationship with him. We have many examples of how Jesus did this, and today’s reading is just one of them. We don’t really know what these fishermen knew of Jesus before he came to them. It sounds abrupt and immediate, but Jesus came to them personally and called them to follow him. We see in other cases how Jesus personally invites people into relationship with him. We see this with the woman at the well, with Zachaeus, with Bartimaeus, with Mary of Bethany.

Personal invitation sounds so simple, and yet it is a powerful thing. The number one reason why people visit a church is that someone invited them. The number one way that people get involved in learning or in ministries is that someone invited them and gave them a friend to share the experience. The number one way that people develop into ministry leadership is that someone invited them to share in a leadership role. We sometimes hesitate to make that invitation because we don’t know that it will be welcome, but often people are delighted to be invited, even if they say no the first time. Our personal outreach, our personal invitation can make a powerful difference in people’s lives. Jesus brings us Good News and invites us into relationship with him.

Jesus also invited these fishermen not only into relationship with him, but he invited them to become fishers of people. Jesus invited them to share this Good News. Indeed, he invited them to invite others. He invited them to be part of the work he is doing in the world. He invited them to share in the joy of seeing God make a difference in people’s lives. He invited them to share this Good News and to invite others to know Jesus and the blessings he brings.

And so they did. These and other disciples shared their experience of Jesus, and they invited others into relationship with Jesus and with them. These relationships became the church—the Christian Community. They reached out with personal invitation. And of course, they invited others to invite others.

This is our calling as well. We share what we know and what we’ve experienced with God. We personally invite others to share in that experience. And we invite others to invite others. That last part may sound like the hardest part if you’ve not tried it before. Think of it like this: let’s say that you are involved in Stephen Ministry.

Stephen Ministry is a fantastic ministry of pastoral care to folks who are going through a hard time in life. If you know how God blesses people in this ministry, you share that news and invite others to experience that ministry as well. And you invite them to invite others. You can encourage them that their experience is worth sharing, that sharing their experience make a difference in the life of others. This work is part of how the Kingdom of God comes near. God the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us. The more we personally reach out to others and share this blessing, the more of a difference we see in their lives. Jesus brings us Good News, and he invites us to share it with others.

So back to 2021 and the struggles of our time. You may feel that you cannot change things in Washington, or in our widespread cultural problems and divisions. These issues may feel beyond you. But you can make a difference! Who better than the God of the universe knows what our world needs? And God invites you to participate in his work of renewal. Simply by personal connection and personal invitation, you make a difference in people’s lives.

This year, take steps to reach out to others. Share with others from who you are. Share how your life is better with God. Share what you’ve learned and share your questions too. Share the joy of discovering a living God. Personally invite others to join with you in that experience, and invite them to share their experience as well.

Jesus brings us Good News, and he invites us to share it with others. This is a blessing for us, a blessing for others, and the path forward for us as a church.