January 21, 2018
Our assignment two weeks ago was to read the first chapter of Mark's gospel. And I mentioned last week that Mark uses a certain word forty-two times in his 16 chapters, 4 in chapter one. In our reading today, it is used twice. Do you remember the word? Immediately. Mark emphasized this idea. Here's a list of synonyms to give us a fuller view of Mark's view: straightaway, at once, right away, instantly, now, at hand, promptly, forthwith, this (very) minute, this instant, without delay, without further ado, posthaste. It certainly seems that Mark saw a real sense of urgency in the mission of Jesus.
I was laying in bed last Sunday night thinking about this sermon; and this idea of urgency, the need for things to happen immediately. And my mind went to the end of the Vikings game. I can't imagine any of you don't know the story by now. I remember in the heat of the game wondering how they could possibly get everything done they needed to in 10 seconds.
Back to a sermon...Mark writes that the Kingdom of God is at hand. For the
Vikings, the end of the season appeared to be at hand. “Is at hand” suggests something coming sooner rather than later. The end wasn't here for the Vikes and we know that the world hasn't ended yet and the full kingdom of Jesus the Messiah has not been ushered in yet. So was Jesus wrong? It appears the kingdom of God was not at hand, but a long way off, almost 2000 years now.
Of course, it depends on what we mean by the kingdom of God. What did Mark mean by it what are to make of it today, 2000 years later? Is it heaven? Is it when Jesus will be crowned as king? Is it the apocalyptic destruction foretold in prophesy...which many today see in the news and as the sign that God's reign is very near. Is it the final judgment Jesus speaks of in Matthew 25? Is it the new heaven and new earth where peace reigns? Is it the change within each of us when we are called by God as children; the Holy Spirit bringing God's kingdom to us? Did it come when God became human and dwelt among us? Maybe. Maybe to all of it, well, yes to all of it. The kingdom of God is not defined by one certain thing but is made up of many parts. God's kingdom began to be fulfilled when Jesus came. This kingdom was lived in the day to day life of the followers of Jesus. The kingdom comes for us when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need for a Savior and we say yes to Jesus. The Kingdom of God is coming in fullness when Jesus comes again to judge the quick and the dead. The kingdom is not an instance or a place, it is a person and a relationship. It is both present and future.
“ Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'” The time is fulfilled, the time has come, the Messiah is here. And what do we have to do? Repent and believe. Our verse of the month--“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Everlasting life equals the kingdom of God, too.
We are studying John's gospel in our weekday Bible study. We read the portion with our verse of the month in it on Tuesday, it was said to the Jewish rabbi Nicodemus. This religious leader could not understand the message Jesus was bringing. Finally, Jesus got it down to this truth...God loves us. God loves us so much that he gave. God's love is a gift. My hope and prayer is that everyone hear has received and accepted this gift. There should be a sense of urgency to receive God's gift of salvation. We do not know what tomorrow brings.
Repent and believe. Don't put it off. But Jesus didn't stop there, he called those men to follow him. And they responded to that call as well. Immediately. We are called to follow Jesus. And in Mark, we get a real sense of urgency to heed God's call. Our reading today has the call by Jesus to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. And we get Mark's favorite word for their response, immediately they left their nets, immediately Jesus called them and they followed. And we convey that sense of urgency in living the Christian life. Not just for salvation, but in living together as God's children and God's ambassadors.
You accepted that call to follow Jesus when you joined the church. Our Book of Order says this, “Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ is a joy and a privilege. It is also a commitment to participate in Christ's mission.” Our leaders take additional vows, we installed an elder and deacon last Sunday and have two more to install. They did or will answer the installation questions; but most of you have answered these same questions: “Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ? Will you seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and love your neighbors? Will you seek to serve with energy, intelligence and love?” Action words. Words we shouldn't take lightly. Jesus didn't, and we don't, ask the questions without expecting action. There is the view of the Christian where being born again is the be all and end all. Too many see faith as sitting and contemplating Jesus and praying and singing and just feeling the wonder of God's presence. Kum Ba Ya. And that is a wonderful aspect. But that is not what we learn our walk with God should look like when we read how Jesus lived. Oh, he sang and he contemplated God's will and he prayed, more regularly than we do. But he didn't stay on the mountain praying and being with God. He came down the mountain and went to work touching lives.
Let's just look at some of the ways Jesus touched lives while including Mark's penchant for urgency. A leper came to Jesus asking him to make him clean. Jesus touched him, said “'Be made clean', immediately the leprosy left him”. There was a woman with a hemorrhage who, in faith, touched the cloak of Jesus, “immediately the hemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed.” A deaf mute, Jesus touched him, said “'be opened'. And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly.”
It's exciting to read of these healings, and the excitement it garnered. The people healed immediately, the disciples followed immediately, everything urgent. And Jesus calling people to follow him; calling us to follow him.
S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells the story of a young woman who wanted to go to college. She was filling out the application and the question read, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious, and not really being a leader, she wrote, "No," and returned the application. She honestly expected that her saying she was not a leader would mean she would not get accepted. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."
Leadership is important, and churches look for experienced leaders. And we understand we need leaders, but more important is how disciplined we are in following Jesus. Jesus asks us to follow his lead. We tend to forget that it was a small band of followers of Jesus Christ that brought the world the good news of the kingdom which we are still celebrating today. The church today does need leaders, but even our leaders must be followers that are accessible and usable to God. True leadership rises from the ranks of those who know how to follow and who never forget to keep following Jesus.
A man approached the minister and said he wanted to join the church. “But,” he explained, “I have a very busy schedule. I can't be called on for any service such as committee work, teaching or singing in the choir. I just won't be available for special projects or to help with setting up chairs or things like that.”
The minister thought for a moment, then replied, “I believe you are at the wrong church. The church you're looking for is three blocks down the street, on the right.”
The man followed the preacher's directions and soon came upon an abandoned, closed up church building; gone out of business.
We well know that it takes everyone doing their part, following the leaders of the church who seek to follow Jesus for us to get church done. Remember, we have made a commitment to participate in Christ's mission. We are small, but we are serving the Lord. Continue to serve as called, look for opportunities to serve here and in the world. I pray that God will bless us as we urgently seek to follow Jesus--to do the work of the Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love 367 PH