Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
This past week will be one for the history books. One president and his cabinet officers and officials completed their term of office, while the next leader arrived with his advisors in Washington D.C. began organizing a new administration.
The inauguration of a president offers a time to both reflect on the past and look forward to our nation’s future. In a farewell message, Donald Trump summarized his accomplishments achieved over the previous four years. On Wednesday in his inaugural address, Joseph Biden set a new tone and direction for the next four years. We have been spectators to these historic events.
More than two hundred years ago George Washington used the end of his administration to deliver a Farewell Address, calling upon American to put their regional and partisan differences aside and unite behind the great democratic principles of our nation. Later, Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address emphasized the evil of slavery and the need to bind up the nation’s wounds. These are significant moments of national self-definition.
Recently women across the United States gathered to emphasize changes they believe our society needs to realize American ideals. Taken together these events set an example of democracy in action and evidence the continuation of a debate about our national values, priorities and destiny.
On the one hand, there is nothing new about what we have witnessed. Every year other nations go through a similar process of reordering their nation. Some countries embark upon a more conflicted process. For example, after weeks of negotiations and facing the threat of a regional military intervention, a defeated president agreed to step down. He ruled a tiny West African country for years but lost an election last recently. He gave a brief speech on state television announcing, he would finally step down. We are fortunate our transition process concluded as it did, though not without its obvious problems.
Interestingly our Gospel for this Sunday picks up on these themes. Previously this Epiphany, we have read about the arrest of John the Baptist by King Herod. Jesus receives news of John’s arrest and immediately withdraws to the safety of neighboring Galilee. Mark believes this change of place is not accidental but fulfills God’s greater purpose. Isaiah prophesied the beginning of God’s work of redemption would commence in Galilee.
John the Baptist proceeds Jesus, but the time came for a transition to take place. John proclaims the coming of the Messiah, while Jesus represents the realization of God’s intention to redeem his people. I wouldn’t exactly call it an inaugural message, but Jesus sets the tone for what he intends to do. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He speaks about the need for personal change in anticipation of God’s coming transforming work. A new day will dawn. The old ways will change. God intends to do new things in Jesus Christ. We must be ready for that coming by making necessary changes in ourselves.
The announcement of the coming reign of God has a powerful effect upon those who hear the message. We read about that effect today. Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, when he sees two brother, Simon and Peter. They are fishermen. Jesus says to them “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. They leave their nets and follow him. A little later two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee also encounter Jesus. Jesus calls them. They too leave their nets to become his disciples.
The beginning of the ministry of Jesus is summarized this way: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” His impact is immediate and astounding to all who come to hear him speak or see him heal.
I want to draw a parallel between the Gospel account of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the inaugural events over the last few days.
First, we note the inaugural process relates to the transfer of human power from one regime to the next. The laws and people of a nation work the process out to serve their own end. A new direction is set for the next four years.
With the coming of Jesus, however, the change he brings begins with God and his purpose for us. We don’t speak about a new administration, but about the kingdom of God. We live in a democracy. Every two- or four-years representatives are elected or re-elected to govern our country. But with the reign of God, it is God’s will that counts and not just for a short span of time, but for all time. God’s work does not depend upon us voting for or against what he intends to do. God reveals to us in Jesus Christ what his agenda for us will be.
Furthermore, like the disciples in our Gospel for this Sunday we are called to participate in this process. Yesterday, I read the reactions to the riot in Washington. Some people felt called to travel to Washington DC or other cities to express their point of view on the great tasks facing our nation. On the other hand, I also read messages other people argued rather than participating in a march, people ought to devote their energy and resources to helping the poor and homeless and needy.
Interestingly, according to scripture before us today, both points of view are correct. On the one hand proceeded through Galilee in his own march proclaiming the coming reign of God to all who would listen. On the other hand, he cured disease and fed the hungry. It wasn’t a choice between one or the other.
The point is that you and I have been called today to be witnesses to Christ and the coming reign of God. We are the Peter and Andrew and James and John of our own time. We witness to the truth. But are also called to put that truth into practice. We are to go out into our own community and let others see the coming kingdom of God in our own ministry and mission. The kingdom of God does not come in spite of us but through us. You are to be fishers of men. May God’s kingdom be revealed in us daily in both our words and our deeds. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.