The Good NEws
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
Today I am excited to preach this sermon. Because the opening words of the Gospel of Mark point to the theme of this Gospel. “The beginning of the good news [the gospel] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
The beginning of the good news! Woo hoo! Good news. We could all use some good news.
But this just isn’t any good news - it is specific Good news.
Proclaiming the good news of God - What does good news mean? The Good news of God is that God is here. The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come. The words “fulfilled” and “come near” in this passage are in the perfect tense, which means that they have already happened and it is also on-going in the present. That is the good news - it has happened - it is here in Jesus. The kingdom has come. A new page in history has been turned. A new era has begun.
This is the gospel for Mark.
What is the kingdom of God then? Kingdom of God is not used in the gospel of John - vaguely referenced in John 3, and vaguely referenced in passion narrative - but not here. The Kingdom of God is mentioned 162 times in the New Testament.
Much can be said about the kingdom of God, but in Mark ,the Kingdom of God is where the will of God has taken hold - where the power of God has been and is being manifest. Where the presence of God is actualized or can be seen or be witnessed distinctively from other empires or kingdoms. It is when and where God’s intentions are being brought to fruition. God is actively at work.
Another major them of Mark is immediacy - a sense of urgency with the breaking in of the kingdom of God there seems to be an urgency to expand it, or bring it about.
Mark opens with an adult Jesus on the scene,
first being baptized by John in the Jordan River, the heavens being torn apart, then Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and then taking the first steps into his public ministry.
For the remainder of the first chapter, we find Jesus engaged in a whirlwind of activity: preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, from dawn until the setting of the sun. And it all begins with those first words he utters, words of invitation and challenge: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
It is a bold proclamation! Notice, he did not say, "Keep doing what you're doing, the kingdom of God is a ways off yet" or "the kingdom of God is what you will experience after you die."
The kingdom of God is not a place separate from this place. It is God's reign--God's presence and power and peace.
In the new declaration that the kingdom of God is here, the immediacy is the call.
Jesus encounters four fishermen, he finds them, like us, working hard, earning a living, fulfilling their family obligations. And like some of us, perhaps he also finds them struggling to hold it all together, looking forward with worry, looking back with regret. There are bills and taxes to be paid.
For the sons of Zebedee, there is a father who relies on them. For Simon Peter, there is a mother-in-law with health concerns. Whatever the case, his call to follow him is a call to recognize the time of God-with-us, to welcome God's reign in our lives, to "repent, and believe in the good news.” There is the understanding that this is not going to be easy.
“Follow, me, I will make you fishers of men” and immediately they set down their nets and followed him.
Immediately. I think of Zebedee - James and John left their father.
This is a boundary crossing God. Relationships, family and such, those are not necessarily going to withstand - they will be reordered, not function in the way we thought they were supposed to function.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
In the Old Testament Hebrew, repent means a turning around, a feeling of being contrite about something. Here in the Greek New Testament, it also means, “to change your way of thinking,” “to reconsider.” “To change one’s mind, to change our way of seeing and doing things.” Wrap your mind around this new way of thinking. Wrap your mind around this new reality. Change the way you used to think about the world you fishermen.
The Good news of God’s presence - a good news that your reality is changed - come to see it this way.
To repent means to dare to believe the good news that God is still God, still the Creator who can make all things new, still the Redeemer who can bring light and life where it seems like there is only darkness and despair, still the Advocate who stands with us and gives us strength, but now the time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is here now.
The good news is that my reign, my time of having to be totally in charge, struggling, worrying, regretting, is over! God's reign is at hand. The time is fulfilled. So repent, change the way you see everything, and trust in this very good news that God truly is with you.
How do we do this? How do we begin to change our mind, change the way we see our situation or things and let God be God?
Dorothy Day, the Christian social activist, said that "by little and by little" we come to God. Focusing on the "small amounts" of time means living fully in the present... embracing the Now.
When our focus is on the past, with all that we have done or not done...when our focus is on the future, with all that we must do or will never be able to do...then we have little room in the ever-shrinking space of our heart to allow God to be God on this day. And this day is the day that He has given us.
You may have heard the saying that life happens when you are making other plans.
Life is about the every day living. The being fully present with those we interact with because it is these moments that make up our lives.
I received a call this past Monday from the secretary of West Iredell High School in Statesville, NC, “Cricket”. Cricket has been the secretary there for well over I have no idea how many years. I was the Bible teacher there many moons ago. I also coached cheerleading. Cricket, who also had her CDL and could drive the bus, and I took the girls on a cheerleading competition and she drove the bus up to Virginia Tech with me. The bus broke down. Many stories and a fun time - it was well over 22 years ago. Life has moved on for both of us, her husband has since died, I have had four children, etc. etc. She shared with me she still has a picture of us from that trip on her desk. I haven’t spoken to her in over 20 years. I left there in 1999. That little bit of life meant something to her.
Let us look around us for the Kingdom of God now. The Good news of the Gospel is that God’s kingdom is present now - Jesus brought a new era. It is not just some distant thing.
In this time of unprecedented quarantine, a time where our church has never experienced a time where we have been unable to worship in the walls of our church weekly since it was formed in 1881 I am willing to bet, let us remember that God’s kingdom is still here. In our waiting to regather in person, let us not forget that the God is moving, God is here now.
Let us remember that the call requires sacrifice, much as it did to the fishermen. Following Jesus may require us to break ranks with those we love and it most definitely will require us going into a place where we don’t know. The fishermen didn’t know what Jesus was fully calling them to or what life would look like. None of us can predict the future. We do not know in a real sense if this time of uncertainty what tomorrow brings. But let us remember the Good news. Let us act with immediacy. Let us pay attention to the life around us. Let us trust that the Kingdom of God is truly at hand. Amen.