Believe in the Good News!

Mark 1:14-15

Believe in the Good News

January 21, 2018          Maple Grove UMC

 

          This worship series is called “Do You Need a Fresh Start?”  Do you need a way to start over, a new or renewed relationship with God?  We started with baptism.  When you face temptation or depression or troubles, remind yourself:  Baptizatus sum.  I am baptized.  Come what may, I am beloved and pleasing to God.  Last Sunday it was about the life-changing excitement of meeting Jesus, getting in touch—or back in touch--with the passion and excitement of knowing and being known by Jesus Christ.

          Do you need a fresh start?  Today we turn to the start of Jesus’ ministry, what Mark reports as his very first sermon.  And here it is: “The time is fulfilled,” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  That’s it.  That’s the whole sermon.  You don’t have to say it; I’ll say it for you:  Why do I need fifteen minutes, when Jesus got by with 19 words?  The better you are, the fewer words you need.  Jesus was pretty good!

          You could memorize this sermon in a couple of minutes.  In fact, let’s do just that.  There are three phrases:

 

 

          The time is fulfilled

          The kingdom of God has come near

          Repent, and believe in the good news.

It's short, but it's packed.  The time is fulfilled.  The Greek language has two different words for time.  One is chronos, as in our English word 'chronological.'  It’s time as measured by a clock—minutes and hours and days.  The other word is kairos.  It means an opportune time, a critical time, a decisive moment.  Which word do you think Mark uses when Jesus says, "the time is fulfilled"--chronos or kairos?  Right—kairos.  When Jesus speaks, it's not just any time; it's the time.  If you're looking for a fresh start, don't wait for someone to say something, don't wait for something to happen to you, don't wait until you somehow get your act together.  It's time, Jesus says, right now.

 

The time is fulfilled, Jesus says . . . and the kingdom of God has drawn near.  What is this kingdom of God?  Mark's readers would have understood it in contrast to the kingdom of Caesar, the Roman Empire, in which money talks, might makes right, and peace is kept through fear and domination.  In the kingdom of God, however, love talks, forgiveness makes right, and peace is made through suffering and service.  The kingdom of God is like Martin Luther King's Beloved Community, in which all people are worthy, all people have food and shelter and health care, in which our diversity enriches rather than divides us.  This kingdom of God, Jesus says, has drawn near—that is, it's come right up close, so close you can feel it and taste it, so close you can live in it if you want to.

The nearness of God's kingdom relativizes all other values and concerns.  How can you worry about money or status when God's kingdom is right here?  How can you put yourself above others when God's kingdom as so close?  How can you shut out the homeless and strangers when God's kingdom is right here? 

Carolyn and I used to know someone who wrote a song about being in love, called Everything Changes:

Everything changes when I see you--

I was doing just fine a minute ago,

I'm not doing nothin' any more.

Everything changes when I see you.

Have you ever been in love like that?  The presence of the one you love changes everything.  Whatever else you were planning to do doesn't matter any more, if they show up.  Whether or not you've got money or accomplishments or success doesn't matter, so long as you've got that person.  Everything changes.  The kingdom of God drawing near is like that.  Don’t be afraid to take a stand—the kingdom of God is right here.  Don’t worry about pride or success—the kingdom of God is right here.  Don’t give up hope—the kingdom of God is right here.  What else matters, when God's kingdom is right here?  It changes everything!

 

The kingdom of God is so near, Jesus says, that it warrants your response—in fact it demands a response.  With the power and presence of God so near, with life the way God intends it to be within reach, you can’t just keep on living the same old way.  Our response to the nearness of the kingdom, Jesus says. is . . . repent and believe in the good news.  But in English, this word ‘repent’ carries a lot of baggage.  It conjures up images of groveling on the ground, of making long lists of sins, of public humiliation at the altar.  Repentance could be like that, but it’s not what the Greek word means.  The Greek word means literally ‘to change your mind.’  One translation puts it like this: “Change your whole way of thinking!  Heaven is already here!”1  “Repent!”—that can sound like a threat.  “Change your whole way of thinking because heaven’s here”—that sounds more like an invitation. 

 

Repent, Jesus says, change your whole way of thinking . . . and believe in the good news, or ‘gospel.’  In Jesus’ time this word especially referred to a message about a victory in battle and so it was associated with the emperor and military power.2  In Jewish circles, the idea tended to mean the end of Roman occupation and oppression, being delivered from the bad guys.3  But Jesus clearly has something else in mind—not deliverance from suffering but God’s power at work in the midst of suffering.4  This kind of good news is not always easy to see.  (That’s why we have the We Spy God project—to learn to see it.)  One writer asks, How can there be good news when the Romans are still here?  How can there be good news when racism and poverty and abuse happen all the time?  How can there be good news, he asks, when my dad just died?5 

The good news Jesus brings is not that we are rescued from trouble and pain.  His good news is that the kingdom of God has drawn near, a whole different way of life is right here.  That whatever happens, God is in it with his presence and power.  With the kingdom so close, everything changes.  Bad things will happen, but the kingdom of God is right here.  Bad things will happen, but they’re not the only reality.  Bad things will happen, but we choose to believe in the good news.

 

In a few moments Marialice Bennett is going to share with you and invite you to make your wellbeing covenant, your commitment to a healthier, more abundant life.  Here is one way of thinking about that:  how can I live right now in light of God’s kingdom being right here?  What in my life just really doesn’t matter, what feels possible, how can I dream life to be, because in Jesus Christ the kingdom of God is right here?  The covenant card is an opportunity to change your whole way of thinking and believe in the good news.

 

1 Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 147.

2 See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 123.

3 See Suzanne Watts Henderson, “The ‘Good News’ of God’s Coming Reign: Occupation at a Crossroads,” Interpretation 70/2 (April 2016), 155.

4 See Henderson, 156.

5 Elnes, 148-49.

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