Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
“This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.” That is the way that J.R.R. Tolkien’s book the Hobbit begins. If you are not familiar with it, the Hobbit is a short novel that tells the story of how the unassuming Bilbo Baggins joined the company of Thorrin to journey to the lonely mountain in order to reclaim the treasure and Dwarven stronghold from the dragon Smaug. The story is whimsically narrated which fits the character of Bilbo as the sheepish hero. A few years ago The Hobbit was adapted into movies. Overall, the lasting reception of these movies has not been great because they took a small book and stretched it out over three movies. Doing so involved a lot of filler and slow pacing. When it comes to the Hobbit I am in the “book did it better” camp. However, there are some scenes and images that the magic of movies can capture and convey better than words on a page. I think the moment that Bilbo decides to join the company is one such moment:
Bilbo is a character that a lot of us could relate to. When Biblo was first approached in the book about going on an adventure he said they were nasty business because they tended to interfere with dinner. He had a nice house, which he had decorated just perfectly with family heirlooms. Bilbo was content with life, and he was comfortable. A lot of people can identify with this. We tend to expend a whole lot of energy to ensure that we are content and comfortable. Yet like many people who are comfortable, there is a part of us, a part of our heart that longs adventure. We want to explore the great wide somewhere, and we want more meaning and purpose than what a comfortable life can offer. We want to go on an adventure. In the Hobbit, Biblo is invited by Gandalf to go on an adventure. This morning’s scripture is our invitation to adventure, because the time has still come, the kingdom of God has come near, and someone still needs to proclaim “believe the good news!”
In the gospel of Mark this scripture kicks off the public ministry of Jesus. So Mark begins by essentially stating Jesus’ thesis statement. Verse 15 summarizes the primary message that Jesus taught and proclaimed: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” There is a lot in these three sentences. For instance, the first sentence “the time has come” is one that is loaded with meaning. Many of the prophets write about the day of the Lord. They write of a time of reconciliation and restoration. They write of a time of when a messiah will come, and they write of a time when sin will no longer reign. Jesus is proclaiming that time has come. That through him the words of the prophets will be fulfilled.
The next part is extremely interesting. The old King James translation renders this “The kingdom of God is at hand.” However, all of the more recent translations have it as “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is an important distinction, because the more modern and accurate translation, makes it clear that Jesus is referencing himself. The kingdom of God is the new reality that Jesus brings about. The kingdom of God is the defeat of sin and death forever, it is the offering of forgiveness for all, and it is reconciliation with our Creator. The kingdom of God is the establishment of God’s rule in the hearts and lives of his people. The kingdom of God is the start of a renewed creation, where those who have received God’s grace are made new creations. The kingdom of God has come near, because Jesus was present. It is only through his mighty acts of salvation that this was opened up. Jesus himself never shied away from this fact either. He boldly proclaimed that he is the way, the truth, and the life.
The final part of Jesus’ message was repent and believe the good news. To repent is to turn away from, it is to do a 180. When Jesus says repent he is saying to turn away from the old way of life and instead turn to the kingdom God, which is good news! The gospels are full of parables, miracles, and teachings of Jesus. However, if all of that was to be summed up into only three sentences about what the core message of Jesus is, it would be hard to do a better job than is presented in this morning’s scripture.
Right after we are given this mission statement of what Jesus is all about it is followed up by an invitation. Jesus invites Andrew and Peter to follow him. He tells them he will make them fishers of people, or in other words they will join Jesus in sharing the good news so that people can find new life in the kingdom of God. As a child I always found this story kind of confusing. This scripture (or the version found in Matthew) was a popular one in children’s church and vacation bible school. However, the way I pictured it as a child did not make much sense to me. I envisioned this as a sort of cold call, where Jesus out of the blue shows up and simply says follow me. With little to no explanation as to who they are following or what they are doing they just leave their whole life behind. The whole thing struck me as if something was missing.
It turns out something was missing, Jesus had met Andrew and Peter before he fatefully called them out of the boat. In the gospel of John we are told that Andrew spent a good part of a day with Jesus, and afterwards he immediately introduced his brother to Jesus. This means Jesus was not just calling his disciples at random. He must have had a good idea that Andrew, Peter, James, and John were good disciple material. Perhaps Jesus knew that even though they had content and comfortable lives, they were willing to go on an adventure. In the same way, when Jesus called his first disciples in this morning’s scripture, they had some idea of what they were committing to. They knew there was something that about Jesus that was worth following. However, it is probably fair to say that they had no idea just how much of an adventure they were in for when they left their nets and stepped out of their boats.
The difference between Christians and non-Christians is simple. Christians acknowledge that the kingdom of God has come near, we repent, we believe the good news, and we have responded “yes” to when Jesus said follow me. Following Jesus, should always lead to an adventure. The byproduct of following Jesus is that we should go to unexpected places and do unexpected things. It is not hard to find to stories and biographies of regular Christians doing extraordinary things and having the most amazing adventures. From Mother Teresa to Billy Gram to John Wesley to the countless missionaries who have traveled the world in the name of Christ, they all have one thing in common. They cared more about sharing the good news than being content and comfortable. If we want our faith to be an epic adventure worth re-telling, one of the first things we have to do is sacrifice being comfortable.
Many believers do not enter into faith looking to be comfortable. Often when someone first has an encounter with the living Christ they full of passion to follow God, full of urgency for the lost souls of others, and compassionate on the downtrodden. Yet, far too often the flames of a burning hot faith cool to embers. I have heard numerous call stories of fellow clergy members, and a lot of second career pastors have similar stories. The details are, of course, different but there is a similar thread. When they were young, when they first accepted Christ or they claimed the faith as their own they felt called to ministry. They were invited on an adventure, but they said no. They lived a different life, one that was comfortable but they were never truly content. No matter how many years they ran, there was a restlessness in their spirit because Jesus kept saying “follow me.”
Far too often we have been invited on a faith adventure, but we have chosen to pursue being comfortable instead. There is a scene in the Hobbit movie that draws a lot of inspiration from some of Tolkien’s words in the book. Bilbo Baggins is very comfortable in Bag’s End, and Gandalf challenges him. In the scene he says to Biblo: “You've been sitting quietly for far too long. Tell me. When did doilies and your mother's dishes become so important to you? I remember a young hobbit who was always running off in search of Elves in the woods. He'd stay out late, come home after dark, trailing mud and twigs and fireflies. A young hobbit who would've liked nothing better than to find out what was beyond the borders of the Shire. The world is not in your books and maps. It's out there.”
I feel like for some of us Jesus could say the same thing to us: “You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long.” In the same way, I greatly value corporate worship and bible study, but a life changing faith will not be found just in our hymnals and bibles. It’s out there. It is not enough for us to know about God’s love, we have to practice that love. We are to be conduits of that love, so that through us other people know and experience God’s love. We are to share the love of God by being the hands of Christ that serve a needy world, and we share the love of God by being the feet of Christ that bring the good news to a lost world that the Kingdom of God has come near. It is only when we do that we get to truly experience and grasp, even in a small detail just how deep God’s love for all creation truly is. When we stop sitting quietly, when we get out of our proverbial boats, and follow Jesus wherever he is leading, then we will be going on quite an adventure.
Of course it has to be said that going on an adventure is an exciting idea it can also be an anxious one. The scene where Gandalf continues urges Biblo to stop sitting quietly continues with Bilbo asking “And you promise I will come back?” Gandalf replies “no, and if you do you will not be the same.”
Often the reason we end up pursing comfort is because it is comfortable, it is a safe quantity. An adventure is anything but safe. It is risky, and it will always leave us as different people than when we started. While I have nothing against Christian music, I think far too often we settle for a “Christian radio” faith. Every Christian radio station makes the same claims about themselves, usually in a jingle. They all claim to be safe, positive, and encouraging. Which is fine for music I suppose, but we have bought the lie that safe, positive, and encouraging should be the only words that describe our faith. Faith in Christ is not about feeling safe and being told how good you are, faith in Christ is about knowing that no matter good you are not, God still loves you. Faith is about repenting and turning to that love, and then going on a great adventure to tell others through our words and deeds the good news, the Kingdom of God has come near, and the savior is here.
Faith is meant to be an adventure. Adventures, by their nature, are stories that worth telling. If you have been setting quietly and comfortable for too long, then may you go find your story. Jesus still calls out to the people who will make great disciples, “follow me”. May you follow him. It will be risky, you will do unexpected things, but it will be the adventure of a lifetime. May you go on an adventure!