Have you ever been betrayed by a group of so called friends? People you thought you could trust, to ultimately discover they had thrown you under the bus and you felt lost and alone.
What did you do? How did you feel? Did you find comfort?
The psalm just read starts with just such a hurtful event, people saying nice things to your face, but cursing you inwardly. “Friends” taking pleasure at your demise, your fall from your social circle or your job, all in the hopes of shattering you (vs 3-4). We all know people can be cruel. The question remains how do we respond?
Do you change friends and hope for the best?
Do you get cynical and bitter from the hurt?
Or do you like the psalmist put your trust in God to be the constant that will never disappoint you? Often it is when we are hurting that we can be vulnerable enough to reach out to God, to open ourselves up to faith and become willing to trust. There is a depth of trust here we do not often see. “For God alone my soul waits in silence, my hope is from him” (v. 1, 5). “Trust in God at all times,” especially when things are tough. Then the typical things we put our faith and trust in are debunked. Our hard-fought battle for position in society is a delusion, words never provide confidence, and riches will not satisfy like God.
With this backdrop, let us now turn our attention to the gospel lesson. As you know Mark was the first gospel written, and with great efficiency. In the first 13 verses, we hear of John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, then Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness.
Recently Cooper and I have been watching Stranger Things. This TV show takes place in a small town and follows four 12-year-old boys who love to play dungeons and dragons. Through this game they have a shared experience and trust about rules and how to be good friends, especially in the face of adversity. As they discover strange things happening in their town and one of them goes missing and is thought dead, having a shared experience and years of trust are critical for rising to the challenges they face. We also get to know the sister of one boy and the older brother of the missing boy. As things get more and more strange, it is vital that there is a bond that connects them even when the rest of the world thinks they are crazy. They face a government cover up, an unexplained force and a creature that threatens their community. They even meet a girl about their age with amazing powers that they must keep secret. Whenever they pushed up against something that did not make sense, they found a connection to their shared experience to help give them a working vocabulary and a way of making sense of what cannot be explained.
Repent, believe, follow. As I read Jesus calling his first four disciples I was struck by how they are all from the same fishing village and he calls two sets of brothers. First, he calls Simon, also known at Peter, and Andrew his brother. Then he goes “a little farther” and calls two more brothers; James and John. We have all heard this passage many times and I have always focused on them being fishermen who will now fish for people. But when you think about what lies ahead for these four- Jesus’ inner circle- I do not think it was an accident that he called people with a shared history. These two sets of brothers all repent right then and there. They change the direction of their lives from being fishermen to being Jesus’ disciples. They changed direction, they turned towards God. But that is the easy part.
We have all just started a new year and we often set out goals for ourselves to make a new beginning: go to the gym, eat more salad, take more walks, do a daily devotional. But I think we can safely say our best intentions do not always make it past the first month, or if we are good the first quarter. We repent and change directions with our new years resolutions. But the tricky part is following through and doing what we have set out to do. Getting a work-out buddy or a walking partner greatly increases your success, because you have someone to share your experience with, and to encourage you when things get tough.
Repent, believe and follow. Believing is a lot like trusting. We started this sermon with trusting God to our core. Knowing that even when others disappoint, that God, and God alone, will be there for you. Now Jesus is asking these four men to trust in him and follow him. In a way these three steps, repent, believe and follow are the steps of discipleship. The process we do each and every day, as we turn our wills and life over to God and believe and follow Christ. Peter, Andrew James and John have just repented of their old life and turned toward Jesus and committed. They believed him at such a level, they left everything they had to follow him. And how is it that they will stay through all that lies ahead? I would say it has something to do with their shared experience. They trust each other, because they know each other. They follow, because they trust and have a shared experience.
Jesus did some strange things, miracles, casting out demons, and challenging authority. And yet his disciples stayed together, they trusted him and followed. It would seem like they might have gathered after some of the more amazing miracles and tried to talk it through. Tried to work out how this man could do all these things. Especially in Mark’s account because Jesus kept telling them to keep it quiet, keep it a secret and not to tell others. I can just imagine Peter, Andrew James and John having little meetings seeking to understand the unexplainable they just witnessed. They had turned towards Jesus and believed, but with each passing miracle it would seem like it would be hard to follow through, to continue to follow, when it cannot be explained. But that is trust and belief. Their shared understanding of the Messiah, God’s anointed one, was the framework that helped them to make sense of the unexplainable. Their belief that Jesus was the Messiah helped them to be good disciples and repent, believe and follow.
I think it matters that Jesus’ four closest disciples have a shared history and bond. The same way I think it is important that we share a bond through our church community.
The more we know each other the more we pray for each other, the more we share our stories with each other the greater the bond we have as a church and it helps us to follow and to follow through.
Because we all will have tough times, times when we need the support of our church family. Times when we ask ourselves, “How will I respond?” Do you turn towards God trusting in God alone as your soul waits in silence? We can only do that when we have a community of trust. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann observes, “Fish need water in which to swim, birds need air in which to fly, and we as human beings need trust in order to develop our humanity. Trust is basic element in which human life exists. Trust is always a mutual affair, and this is true of trust with God too: We trust God because God trusts in us.” (Feasting on the Word, B1, p. 275).
We have a shared story. Our story is the story of God’s people found in God’s Holy Word. We have a shared community that helps to strengthen our bonds of trust and faith so that we can repent, believe and follow. But the source of it all is God. God alone holds us in the darkness, God alone will never disappoint. It is our belief in Jesus that connects us to God and to each other; to be the hand and feet of Christ to each other and the world. That is why we repent and turn towards God, believe and truly trust in Jesus Christ and follow and follow through because our trust is absolute. “For in God alone my soul waits in silence, my hope is from him” (v. 1, 5). Amen.