The Hill We Climb

Mark 1: 14-20

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Today’s Message

This week, we, as a nation, began the long, difficult journey back to a place of decency, respect, and freedom. At the inauguration of President Biden we heard powerful speeches and beautiful music. But I think the words of poet Amanda Gorman were the most moving. With just 723 words, she echoed the hearts of so many and opened the door to the transformation, the unity, that we as a people so desperately need.  In her poem called The Hill We Climb, Gorman shared these words:
“When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.”[i]

She went on to share a verse from the Prophet Micah:
“Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it.”[ii]

Amazing. What a beautiful articulation of Justice and grasp of the challenge that justice seeks. I mean, Micah’s as of yet unfulfilled dream of equality for all people is so clearly imagined in this text. The Prophet envisioned that “…everyone [would] sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.” No one would make them afraid.

This is so important for us to understand and live-into as we face the injustices of our time. Fear-mongering has become the norm rather than the exception. Hate-filled rhetoric specifically and intentionally designed to divide us by making us afraid of the “other” whoever the “other” may be. And disinformation; disinformation that came from a place of darkness and fear about the pandemic, has lead to an unfathomable 400,000 deaths here in our nation since this pandemic began, with many more expected by the spring.

So, what do we do? Where do we turn? Or as the poet said, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

Well, I think we can begin to find some answer these questions right here in the gospel text we have before us today. Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” Change your hearts and lives! That’s big. That’s a key theme not only in Mark, but a thread we see running through all of the gospel accounts. Change your hearts and lives!

However, we must be careful to understand that Mark 1:15 is not a fixed theological formula, as if Jesus had only one sermon and delivered it in a variety of places. There are many other important themes and threads in the gospels. But, this core understanding of transformation allows us to both, enter the world of the gospel writers and to take a step back to take stock, and to open our eyes to the presence of injustice all around us. No matter what we’ve believed in the past, the truth is, as the poet so beautifully shared, “The norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.”

What did she mean by that? Well, consider our text for today. Two sets of brothers (Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John) were called from their task of fishing. And the key thing about this text is their response. They respond immediately and decisively. Their vocation as fisherman gives way to what John Calvin called their “higher calling;” a higher calling to “fish for people.”[iii] But that calling could not have been fulfilled if they refused to change. What if Peter said to Jesus, “I don’t know if I want to leave the comfort of what I’ve always done and who I’ve always been.” What if John said, “What if we fail?” What if Andrew said, “Prove it! Prove to me that you are who you say you are.” What if James had said, “That not the way we’ve always done it.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. I know change can be difficult. However, if we’ve learned anything from the darkness of 2020, it’s that the status quo, the refusal to accept that which is right before our eyes, perpetuates the darkness and even deepens it.

But there is hope. There is light. If we are willing to open our eyes and our hearts, seeing and feeling the plight of the “other” than we will be climbing the hill of justice. “…If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it.”

May each of us dare it! May we all endeavor to be the voice of compassion, summon the courage to be the arm of transformation, indeed, may we the people, all the people, live-into the calling of our faith; a calling to be the very soul of justice.  

May it be so for you and for me

Amen & Amen.


[i] Amanda Gorman The Hill We Climb (Poem recited at the Inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, held on January 20, 2021)

[ii] Ibid Gorman

[iii] Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elisabeth Johnson eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 2014

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