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“Who Would Follow Jesus? Anyone Who Longs for the World to Change” (January 21, 2018)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth as recorded in Mark are in this text, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” His first words are also his first “sermon” and is pretty short. If I was Jesus, maybe I could be that short, too. But since I’m not . . .

I’m kind of caught by two things in this text that I’ve not really paid attention to before. One is a phrase from Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near.” Come near. When the Kingdom of God comes, it means that God’s life and peace and justice are established in the world. It means an end of poverty and injustice. It means no fear of enemies and enough food for everyone. And Jesus says it’s nearby. Not actually here, just kind of in the neighborhood. What does that mean? If you go two blocks west you’ll find God’s peace? Or it’s just a little bit late, but if you wait fifteen or twenty minutes, our enemies will put down their weapons? What does it mean that the Kingdom of God has come near?

He says it’s close, but there’s no evidence of it. Too many people are still poor, Israel is still occupied by a foreign oppressive government, Herod, although a Jewish king in Judea, was doing whatever Rome told him. Life is still extremely hard and unjust. Nothing is different. Apparently, the Kingdom of God coming “near” doesn’t really change anything.

That’s one thing. The nearness of the kingdom of God.

The other thing that is grabbing my attention is that all four of these fishermen that Jesus calls to follow him left real and significant lives behind in order to do so. They had jobs, families, friends, and homes. They were settled in a lifestyle and a routine that had been part of their lives their whole lives. They knew who they were and what they were about. Yet they left everything they knew behind to follow Jesus. Why?

It’s even more fascinating when you put both of these things together. These fishermen dropped their familiar, comfortable lives to follow Jesus when there’s no evidence at all of this Kingdom of God he talks about.

It seems like a huge risk. For them to give up everything for this so-called Kingdom of God when there’s no evidence of it. Why take that kind of a chance?

Not to mention that Jesus give no instructions to these fishermen at all. They are called away from the familiarity of their lives into an uncertain future with no guarantees whatsoever. Who would do that?

Yes, who would do that?

I’ll tell you who. These four fishermen would. And when you really think about it, so would anyone who hopes for a better world. Anyone who believes that greed and selfishness are not the way to real life. Anyone who has seen that humanity hasn’t been able to bring about peace and justice on our own. Anyone who is willing to work with God to make this world a place where all are valued, all are respected, all have a place. Anyone willing to give love a chance. Anyone who has longed for the world to change. Anyone who feels this just may be bigger than humanity can do on our own. Anyone who has the imagination to consider that perhaps in this Christ, this Kingdom of God’s peace and compassion really has come near.

Just think what it would be like if fear and death and violence were finally put to an end. Think about a world where anyone can go anywhere without worrying about safety. Think what life would be like if anything that opposed God’s peace and life and sharing were put away forever. Think what it would be like if there was a God who was committed to doing this among us.

Wouldn’t you follow one in whom this was possible? Wouldn’t you leave behind those things that work against God’s work? Wouldn’t you lay down the parts of your own life that aren’t helping God’s vision? Even if those pieces of your life are familiar or even comfortable? Wouldn’t you be willing to walk away from prejudices, political views, family dysfunctions, or fears? Wouldn’t you put all that away to follow one who brings that hope so close we can taste it?

That, I believe, is what Simon and Andrew, James and John did. It’s not that there was no evidence of this Kingdom of God; it’s that in this Christ there was a real and present hope for it.

You see, God has not given up. In the midst of the violence and the threats and the racism and the misogyny and clamoring for power in our culture, God still comes. And the good news Jesus brings is a real hope that God is still here, that God’s peace will still come in fullness, that the kingdom of God comes along side of us especially when it doesn’t look that way.

Jesus brings hope. When all evidence points away from peace and away from compassion and away from justice for the vulnerable among us, Jesus brings those very things right in front of us.

We are called to be part of this hope. We are called to leave all else behind. We are called to follow. Because in Christ, the good news of God’s kingdom is here.

“The time is fulfilled, “Jesus tells us. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Come, follow me.”

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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Getting off our track to get on God’s (December 4, 2016)

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In Advent, we as the church take time to ponder what God is about to do to make the world new. We get ready to join God in whatever that is. We know that God has already come into the world in the person of Jesus, and even as we prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas, we also prepare to join whatever it is that God is getting ready to do now.

We know that whatever God does it will definitely involve the things of God: love and grace and peace and compassion. It will also involve people revealing those aspects of God in the world as they commit to living in love and grace and peace and compassion. This is Advent—watching for God and preparing to join God in the world.

John the Baptist is truly the prototypical Advent character. His whole message is exactly what Advent is all about. Get ready, he says. Watch, he cries out. God is doing something big, here, he says. You need to get on board with this. It’s major. This is the stuff that the prophet Isaiah talked about centuries ago, he tells people. It’s starting to happen now.

And John has arepentance word that he uses to describe all this getting ready, preparation, joining with God, getting on board stuff. That word is “repent.”

We’ve always assumed that word means feeling sorry for your sins and promising never do them again. It kind of does include that, but it actually takes a little different turn than that—at least as John the Baptist uses the word. “Repent” is John’s big word, and he uses it in a bold and all-encompassing way. When John tells people to “repent,” he means more than feeling bad, but actually letting go of something in order to grab hold of something else. It’s a major change, To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Since God is about to turn the world upside down, John tells us, and everything will be different. It’s imperative that we drop those things that have worked for us in the world and embrace what God is doing now. Do it now, for your own sakes, and for the sake of the world. If you aren’t clinging to God’s activity, you’re clinging to the wrong thing. Period. It’s that simple for John. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Repent, Pharisees. Let go of any notion that God owes you something because of your obedience to religious law. In God’s coming reign, everyone is loved equally regardless of their morality, their effort, or their own righteousness. Everyone will be treated with equal—and absolute—grace. Grab hold of this way that God is working. Make it part of your life. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Repent, Sadducees. Abandon the idea that you are righteous because of your parents or your ancestry or the faith in which you were raised. Just stop. Because God’s compassion will be shown to those with devout faith just as much as to those with weak. God’s will is for all people to live in peace, without fear. So judging others based on your standards means you’re traveling down a road to destruction. God’s love and grace are entering the world and are about to roll over you like a locomotive. And as of now, you’re on the wrong track. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

The Advent message of John the Baptist still needs to be heard by us in our world. The character of God is often on a different track than the one we’re traveling on. We’re often looking to get ahead, while God is looking for others to catch up. We’re looking to prove ourselves right, while God is looking to prove that others are loved. We’re looking to protect ourselves from enemies with force if necessary, while God is looking to include those enemies in God’s reign.

And John the Baptist’s cry to us is that we’ve got to abandon the track we’re on and switch over to the track on which God is traveling. Because these two different tracks go to two very different places. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

It’s no longer enough to sit quietly in our church chairs on a Sunday and think that believing in God is all God wants of us. In the reign of God that John the Baptist calls out, love, care, compassion, grace, generosity aren’t quiet, and certainly not private. Advent calls us to let go of being irritated by xenophobia, and lovingly stand up for immigrants.

Advent calls us to abandon the thought that taking advantage of the poor as distasteful, and graciously stand up for those who are economically challenged.

Advent calls us to get off the track of being annoyed by homophobia or persecution of Muslims or sexism, and desperately cling to God’s track of actively loving our neighbors, in a way that they actually know it.

That’s John’s call to repentance. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

So here’s one small way I’m repenting this Advent. One way I’m changing tracks. Here’s what I’m planning to do to reveal God present in the world. Anything I post on social media, at least during Advent, will only reveal the things of God: love, compassion, inclusion, peace. I will be trying to abandon anything that isn’t revealing God and only recognize Jesus, the presence of God.

I’ll be letting go of my agenda so that I can grab hold of God’s. Getting off my track so I can get on God’s track. Check in with me on Facebook, and see how I’m doing. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever, I invite you to join me. Maybe even consider your own version of repentance as well. The coming of Christ changes everything. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2016 in Sermon

 

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