Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
When I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I was desperate to find a job. Short on money, I responded to an add selling vacuum cleaners, door to door. The sales pitch aimed at showing people how dirty their home was. I finally sold one to a family that clearly couldn’t afford it. I felt so bad about it that I quit. Next, I took a job as a limousine driver. One time someone asked me to take them to McCormick Place in downtown Chicago and I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know where anything was. Mostly, it didn’t matter, because 90% of the time I either drove people to the airport—or home from the airport. The days were long. The food was lousy. It was mostly fast food. I took on all the risk. I covered all the expenses. There were no benefits. Selling vacuums and driving limousine’s they called me an ‘independent contractor.’ For me, what that meant was you can work for 12 hours, just break even, and go to bed with nothing to show for it.
We read today that Simon, Andrew, James, and John immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. Why would they do that? One good theory is they were not business owners but more like independent contractors. They lived under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Probably, they were not entitled to the profits of their labor.
The gift of the promised land, the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, and the dream of becoming a light to the nations had run aground on the sandbank of empire and religion co-opted by hypocrisy and corruption.
Or maybe they had heard of John the Baptist arrest. Who would pick up the prophetic mantle and rekindle hope? The national longing for a Messiah in those days was already centuries old when Jesus came walking along beside the Sea where Simon and his brother Andrew were trawling for fish. It was an opportune time.
Disillusionment and discontent make good kindling for gospel to catch fire. It seems incredible to us these men were ready to respond to Jesus’ call to completely disrupt and re-order their lives at a moment’s notice. It was incredible, but the time was ripe.
The bible gives us a new word for this. Jesus called it a “kairos moment” (v. 15). We don’t have a good English equivalent for the Greek word ‘kairos.’ We’re very familiar with chronos or “clock time.” Or we speak about the experience of “flow,” when we become very focused, and the passage of time seems to disappear. Jesus told the disciples it was karios time and that the kingdom of God had come near (Mark 1:14-15). We don’t have this word but, probably, you know the feeling. Kairos is a word used to describe a fork in the road, a critical moment, a rare opportunity, or hinge-point in life, that calls for an urgent choice, or perhaps a fundamental reorientation.
Jesus’ call to discipleship is a karios moment because it opens a door to a new life. We find ourselves standing on the horizon of a new world. We discover a new version and better version of ourselves. We find fellowship in a new humanity which Jesus called the kingdom of God. The Βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ is not like earthly kingdoms with a castle, an aristocracy, and a standing army. It is more like a family or ‘kindom.’ It is a parallel reality hiding in with and under our everyday lives.
Perhaps it would be better for us to call it the Circle of God. The famous prayer of St. Patrick was a circle prayer in which the Βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ becomes a kind of three-dimensional circle or sphere. ‘Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me, Christ above me, Christ below me, Christ in my waking and in my sleeping, Christ in my living and my dying.’ In Christ we join the circle of the Holy Trinity. We become a living part of the undying life of God. What then, will I fear? How can I not be changed? With love and mercy as my constant companions. Are you ready for this? This is your kairos time.
The Βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ opens in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, as in immediately when the disciples left their nets. The key that opens this door is faith. The door opens and closes again at Jesus’ invitation. The door opens when you believe and closes again when you don’t. Here again we need help in translation. This believing comes not from reciting a list of theological absolutes, but by beloving—by entrusting yourself –your life, your goods, your honor, your time to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Follow me, Jesus says, to take your place within new creation.
Just how wide can this circle of God get? The prophet Jonah in our first reading was startled and even disgusted to discover the circle included his enemies, the hated Ninevites. You and I can draw lines to exclude others whom we don’t like but then we will find ourselves once again outside of Circle of God. This is a bargain many religious people seem comfortable making. It is easier and frankly less troublesome to avoid getting involved with people with whom we disagree, or in the chaotic lives of the poor and suffering, or in changing our personal habits to preserve life on the planet. Yet, what is the Βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, the Circle of God but life, beyond the stars, beneath the sea, within each cell, in every breath, here now with us, on the way, at the table, and to the end? Are you ready for this? As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The kairos is short… this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29a).
The American historian and philosopher, Hannah Arendt, famously taught us that the origin of totalitarianism is loneliness. Loneliness is at epidemic levels today and it’s killing Americans the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warns. Could this be an opportune moment, a Kairos time, to proclaim the good news? We are urgently called to engage and to provide the living sanctuary we proclaim in our mission.
God can use even our failures to teach us something new. Disillusionment, discontent, and dead-ends helped the disciples hear the Good News. Jesus said to them, the time has come. The kingdom of God, the Βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ is near. Come join the circle within the warm embrace of God. Share the good news. As springtime naturally follows winter, find again the healing and power to re-weave the fabric of community and belonging in us and among us –and let God’s people say—Amen!