The Kingdom of God has come near…

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What Jesus proclaims in the opening verses of the Gospel is meant to be good news, and good news for all.  This Word from God transcends all time and all people, giving hope to human beings throughout the centuries.  This news can seem so big and so broad and so far away and so not for me, and yet…“The kingdom of God has come near!”  In this place.  Among us all.

 

Third Sunday in Epiphany, January 22, 1012

Jonah 3.1-5,10; Psalm 62.5-12; 1 Cor. 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace to you and peace beckons us to follow, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

An arrest…a proclamation…an invitation…immediately…following.  Movement…something is happening in this story.  Something is happening in this story, in this world, in our lives.  Good new has come.  It is announced again to you and to me this day, as it was announced to those who left their nets and all the securities in their lives to follow the one who called out their names.

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (Mark 1.15).”

Good news.  Don’t we all long to hear good news?  And not the news that is, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?”  In the midst of the challenges of life, we need to hear the good news. 

But what is good news?  I can say, “It is January 22, and we still don’t have any snow on the ground.”  Some of you might jump up and down and say, “Halleluiah!  That’s the best news I’ve heard all winter.”  Or others might say, “Climate change is weirding me out, and winter is not looking like winter around here.”  And some of you might say, “I love snow!  Snow, where art thou snow?”  Good news is only good if it is true for you.

What Jesus proclaims in the opening verses of the Gospel is meant to be good news, and good news for all.  This Word from God transcends all time and all people, giving hope to human beings throughout the centuries.  This news can seem so big and so broad and so far away and so not for me, and yet…“The kingdom of God has come near!”  In this place.  Among us all.

When Jesus invites those who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, he simply says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  It’s a curious invitation, is it not?  In the invitation to follow him, Jesus offers a new way of being.  He doesn’t say, “I am going to make you do this.”  He really says, “I am going to make you new.  I am going to turn you into someone who cares about the people of this world, even more than your own self.” 

Now what might be even more curious than Jesus’ invitation are the fishermen’s immediate response and the leaving of the life and the securities they have always known, even their father.  This is something we can barely begin to wrap our minds around, and yet, when the good news is proclaimed and Jesus calls, we too may find ourselves surprised at where we might go and what we are willing to let go of.  “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near…”  Simon, Andrew, James, and John must have believed that the good news was true, and that it was true for them. 

Personally, I have been surprised where I have been led throughout my life, as I have danced, struggled and sometimes stumbled along this way or this road following Jesus. As Christ has been gradually turning me into a fisher of people, and really what I mean is leading me to be in relationship with other human beings whom God deeply loves, I find it to be incredibly life-giving, and many times very difficult.

In the recent years of my life, I have found myself being led to Haiti.  As you know, I just went to Haiti for the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in which my husband, Ben died.  Traveling to Haiti for me is far from a vacation, and after being in the earthquake myself, it is like entering back into the most terrifying situation I have ever experienced.  In a way, every time I go, I feel I need to leave my nets, my family, and my life as I know it. 

And the only way I have found I am able to do this, is because of the good news Jesus proclaims.  I believe the good news that God is with me, and with all of you, and in some great mystery, this promise gives the strength and courage to do or go where one is called to follow Jesus.

Yes, Jesus calls us to follow him to places like Haiti, and other places where poverty, hunger, and natural disasters have devastating effects.  Jesus also beckons us to follow him in many other ways, like: out of the life of addiction and into a new way of being that relies on the promise of God’s presence to fill you up with strength and love instead of things that leave you feeling hollow and empty. 

Jesus says, “Follow me out of the life of violence and into a life that says no to it.  Follow me out of the life that believes suicide is the best option to end the pain, and come with me and I will give you purpose, meaning, and healing.”

Jesus says, “Follow me out of your anger and bitterness towards someone, and I will help you forgive and reconcile.”  Jesus even says, “Follow me out of thinking you know everything about God and I will teach you who God really is your whole life.”

The call to follow Jesus is anything but boring and easy.  We will spend the year of 2012 hearing in the Gospel of Mark about what happens in the life Jesus and the ones called by him.  I don’t want to spoil too much of the story for you, but after the men left their nets to follow Jesus, it wasn’t all rainbows and roses. 

The disciples’ lives were full of times of incredible confessions of faith and also denial; of great joy and great fear, of healing and witnessing miracles and at the same time, death.  There is incredible grace in following Jesus because we can see from the lives of the disciples, following and failing seem to go hand in hand. 

I imagine that many of you have had experiences in your life in which you didn’t know where to turn, didn’t know which decision to make, just plain didn’t know.  These times come more often than we’d like even if we already believe in Jesus proclamation that God has come near.  The call to follow Jesus doesn’t take away the realities of suffering, what Jesus does is promise us that he will be with us through it.  And this is what we are called to believe.

Believe the good news that God in fact has come near, is near, and is with you and me to the end of our lives and then beyond.  When you and I believe this more than we believe in anything else, God gives us the courage to follow Jesus wherever he calls us. 

The beauty about the proclamation of the good news and call from Jesus is that the response to the invitation to follow “is not a private choice, but means joining others who have responded as well (Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark, p. 76).”  For example, I feel led here by God to be with all of you and we get to follow Jesus together. 

I hope that when we gather on Sunday morning for worship, you feel the presence of God in this place and among all of us together.  That the good news fills your ears and hearts so that you know it to be true deep in your bones.  And we will do this walk together following Christ.  This dancing, sometimes stumbling walk that we are privileged to do. 

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (Mark 1.15).”  Amen.