A few years ago, on spring break, many students went down to Florida. Luka Minglu, however, decided to stay in Saint Louis, Missouri. He was one of fourteen students who chose to participate in Urban Immersion, a five-day immersion experience in the urban landscape of the city.
Luka was a student in political science at Washington University. Only now, for five days, he found himself immersed in experiences of housing and homelessness in Saint Louis. Through this immersion experience, Luka changed. He said he saw homelessness in a new light. It was “more personal” and “intimate.” Instead of “numbers and statistics,” he began to see “individual people and stories.” Suddenly, a city where he attended school became something more: An opportunity. After his five-day experience, Luka went to the shelters to find out how he could volunteer.
I like Luka’s story because it reminds me how we learn in different ways. Homelessness looks one way when studied in a classroom. It becomes something else when experienced in life. The same is true for faith.
Whether we like it or not, Christianity can sometimes be reduced to a body of teachings. It may be covered in catechism or explored in bible class, but it remains a matter of intellectual study. And when Christianity is a matter of teachings, then faith becomes a matter of knowledge, and God’s people are reduced to students going to school one day a week.
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus pushes us outside the classroom and into the world. He invites us to see faith as an immersion experience that forms us as disciples as we follow our Lord.
Jesus invites us to see faith as an immersion experience that forms us as disciples as we follow our Lord.
Mark begins by setting the scene. He tells us John the Baptizer has been imprisoned. John’s imprisonment is a result of prophecy colliding with politics in Galilee. John was baptizing by the Jordan and all the region of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him. Now, however, John is placed in prison and Galilee is no longer a safe place for prophets.
Into that unsafe space, Jesus comes, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. Notice how Jesus does not retreat. In the face of political and cultural opposition, Jesus does not go off to a different part of the country. He does not begin His service where it might be calmer. He does not retreat to a place where He will be accepted. No, Jesus comes into the land that imprisons prophets and publicly begins to call His disciples there.
I find great comfort in this action of Jesus. Jesus is not threatened by political or cultural opposition. He engages it. He does this because He knows that, ultimately, He will triumph over it. After He has been killed and placed in a tomb, He will rise and reveal that His kingdom is not of this world. His Kingdom is of God: Eternal and indestructible. Jesus rules overall. He can enter any hostile territory and claim people as His own, giving them life that is everlasting.
Jesus rules overall. He can enter any hostile territory and claim people as His own, giving them life that is everlasting.
This is comforting for us because we have seen how our cultural setting has become hostile toward Christianity. We are not being put to death like Christians in other parts of the world, but we are publicly mocked for our beliefs on TV, in social media, and during protests. It makes one nervous. How can I enter into that world and live as a believer? Christianity is much easier if I just reduce it to a teaching I know and something I do for an hour or two on Sunday.
But Jesus comes to us today and reminds us that He has the power to make disciples in the midst of conflict and suffering.
In doing this, Jesus does not gather those who might make His mission easier. That is, He does not gather soldiers to defend Him or wise men to explain Him or social influencers to persuade others to receive Him. No. Instead, He calls fishermen who are casting and mending their nets. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” God makes disciples from ordinary people. It is not our gifts or our talents or our work that make us disciples but God’s work on our behalf. In baptism, God immerses us in the death and resurrection of His Son and claims us as His own. We are now disciples, called by Jesus to follow Him.
Notice how, as we follow, Jesus forms us. These fishermen would write gospels. They would testify before tribunals. It would take time, but God would work and shape them into the witnesses the world needs. In Christianity, we learn by doing. When we follow Jesus, we are changed. The places where we work become holy. Our lives are opportunities for others to encounter our God. Christianity becomes “intimate” and “personal” as we walk with Jesus into His world.
By God’s grace, discipleship is an immersion experience. In baptism, God immerses us into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Not a part of our lives is separated from Him. We are completely, totally, wholly His. And He leads us, as His disciples, into His world.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:14-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:14-20.
Lectionary Podcast- The one and only Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:14-20.