Small Steps on a Large Journey

3 Epiphany B, Mark 1:14-20

A small girl had recently learned how to dress herself.  One day her mother found her crying on the edge of her bed.

“What’s wrong, dear?” the mother asked.  “Do you feel sick?”

The little girl shook her head.  “Do you know,” she wailed, “that I have to put my clothes on every day for the rest of my life?”  She fell back on the bed in tears.

That little girl had seen the lifetime of shirts and skirts, of dresses and pants, of socks and shoes.  The enormity of it all was more than she could bear.

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

We can smile at her predicament.  But wait.  What is that massive, overwhelming pile of worry that blocks your path?  What is that giant load of doubt that paralyzes you?  What is that task too great to even contemplate?

If you think about those questions, then you are ready.  You are ready to stand next to Jesus’ first disciples.  You are ready to hear the Master’s voice.  You can begin to see the large journey of small steps.  For that is what it means to be a Jesus follower.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

Jesus announces that God is on the move.  The Kingdom of God is at hand!  And Jesus is the one to make it happen.  So he recruits followers.  They are the foundation of God’s renewed people.  They are the evidence that things are changing.  They will cast God’s nets to rescue a world drowning in sin, death and evil.

Notice the invitation.  “Follow me!”  Jesus invites them to take the first small step on a large journey—just the first step, nothing more.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

In college I spent time as a dedicated atheist.  The result was days of drunkenness, disorder and despair.  I considered putting an end to such a miserable, pointless existence.

At that moment God spoke three words to me.  “There is more.”  I listened and took a small step.  Then one day, God spoke three more words to me.  “Go to seminary.”  Again I listened and took a small step.  I had no vision or command or destiny beyond that one step.  At that moment, one small step was a huge effort.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

So the first question is this.  What is your next small step?  It likely doesn’t involve seminary, although for a few of you that may be a waystation on the journey.  More likely, the call is to much smaller steps.

Who is the person who needs to hear my apology?  What is the regret that needs repair?  Which habit must I change?  Which service may I offer?  What risk should I embrace?  What dream shall I trust?

What is the next small step on your larger journey?

Timing is important in such questions.  Sometimes the next step means waiting.  The first disciples were the latest in a long line of waiters.  God’s people had looked for the right Messiah for centuries.  Pretenders and posers had come and gone.  Some people had stopped looking, stopped hoping.  Expecting turned into emptiness.

 Then Jesus appeared.  “Follow me!” he said.  The waiting was over.  Waiting is preparation for acting.  When the time is right, disciples take the next small step.  Hesitation can derail the journey.  Failure of nerve can foil the plan.

So here is the second question.  What are we waiting for?  If we are waiting, then we must be preparing for the next small step.  It can be hard to wait, but sometimes it’s necessary. As I write, for example, my beautiful spouse is painting our kitchen cabinets. They are so beautiful. But it takes time for drying between coats, sanding, touching up, and re-hanging. She can see the end in her mind, but Reality is taking its own sweet time.

What are you waiting for? Sometimes the best counsel is, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” At other times, the best counsel is, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Discerning the time is one of the most important things we can do. So waiting always requires patient and humble prayer. There are moments when God’s reality takes its own sweet time.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out alone.  He says, “Follow me.”  Where we are going matters less than who is going with us.

The one who goes with us is the Master of the journey.  He has been to the cross and back.  He has entered the tomb and burst free from death.  He took the worst evil could offer.  He exhausted sin and death, and sent Satan packing.

That’s our travel guide.  He goes ahead of us to clear the way and guide our steps.

At our best, we listen for his large words to shape our small steps.  So here is the third question.  Will Jesus guide your small steps on the large journey?  That’s why prayer and patience, worship and study, matter so much.  How can you take the trip if you won’t read the map?  Jesus shows us the next small step—if we take the time to listen.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

Of course, direction matters.  Most people are lost—but they’re making really good time.  Life works best when we walk toward God’s goals.

That’s what we take from that biblical comedy called Jonah.  Jonah runs in the wrong direction.  And his life becomes a shipwreck.  So it is for us.

God’s direction is always away from selfishness and toward service.  God’s direction is always toward compassion and away from hatred.  God’s direction is always toward love and away from fear.

The more we focus our energy and efforts on the needs of others, the better this church business gets.  There are those moments of almost effortless service.  There are those moments when we seem to get it right.  Those are the moments when we are moving in God’s direction.  That’s what it really means to be blessed.

Disciples take the next small step on a large journey.

So here is the final question today.  Where is God trying to bless you as you follow Jesus?  Where is God trying to bless us as we follow Jesus?  The Holy Spirit calls us in our baptism to seek the answers to those questions.  That’s where the blessing is.

One of my favorite prayers is a from the ELW service for times of travel.  Let’s close with that prayer.

O God, our beginning and our end, you kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage, you led the children of Israel through the midst of the sea, and by a star you led the magi to the infant Jesus. Protect and guide us when we travel. Make our ways safe and our homecomings joyful, and bring us at last to our heavenly home, where you dwell in glory with our Lord Jesus Christ and the life-giving Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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