Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Time is Fulfilled

Psalm 62:
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
 for my hope is from him. 
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
 my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
 my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
 pour out your heart before him;
 God is a refuge for us.

9 Those of low estate are but a breath,
 those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
 they are together lighter than a breath. 
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
 and set no vain hopes on robbery;
 if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken;
 twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, 
12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
 according to their work.

Mark 1
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and 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 lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks Be to God

I’ve heard this passage, and the corresponding texts in the other gospels, preached a number of times. Each time the focus has been on the calling of the disciples. Either they had enough faith to drop what they were doing, and we should be like them, or that there must have been something special about our God to just make them abandon their obligations to join this man Jesus on his journey. We’re even left with a somewhat comical image of Zebedee looking around for his sons after they’ve seemingly disappeared. But the focus for me is on verses fourteen and fifteen, which set the pattern for the rest of Mark’s gospel.

There’s no Christmas story in Mark, our birth narratives come from Matthew and Luke. Mark’s gospel is filled with “immediately,” and everything happens quickly after the preceding event. Mark only has time for the most important stuff, and chooses to start with this man John, who is out baptizing, using the same words as our call to worship this morning: “Prepare a way.” And here we are, with ten verses in between, and this seemingly central character we’ve been introduced to has been arrested.

There’s no fanfare here, no story about how Herod had him arrested so he could later be executed, no account of why, he just disappears. Because this isn’t the Good News of John the Baptist, it’s the good news of Jesus Christ. John is not the story, he prophesied about the story that was coming. And Jesus is in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

The Common English Bible, which is quickly becoming my preferred translation, has three exclamation points in verse 15 of our Mark passage. It reads “Now is the time! Here come’s God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” These words are not just a call to action, they’re not something to sleepily read in a morning devotion, Haven’t you heard? Jesus is on the move!

We live in a world where our churches are in decline, and some are even dying. But we also live in a world that is waiting to hear God’s voice. In everything we do, if we are not acting out God’s voice, we’re just performing a party trick. Our accomplishments may impress us, and it is indeed easy to put our trust in visible touchable things. But the psalmist tells us that they’re just empty air. For God alone is our rock and our salvation, and we shall not be shaken. Like the old hymn says, You can have the whole world, just give me Jesus. You can keep your securities, your mutual funds, your fishing nets that I’ll just have to end up mending, all I want is a God who is my refuge, a God who is worth waiting for. Just give me Jesus. The psalmist says “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” Our world has so little that we can really know. But I know Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is on the move.

We’re in a world that sometimes is spinning out of control and other times is mired in a mess that we can’t break ourselves out of. But the thing we can hang all of our faith on is God, who is our rock, our salvation, our fortress. In a world that we don’t understand, Just give me Jesus, because I know that God is a refuge for us, but it’s not a refuge where we can just sit around, waiting to be picked up by our heavenly mother to take us home. All that time spent waiting, and we know it’s worth for, and now the time is fulfilled, Because Jesus is on the move.

Jesus is moving from the wilderness to Promised Land, crossing the river Jordan into Galilee, and then Jesus will move to Jerusalem, the seat of the promised land. But the promised land is a shadow of the promise that is embodied by God-With-Us. The time is fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the source of all our hope. And Jesus is on the move.

He’s moving in new church developments, and in century old churches bringing new life into communities that all reason says we should just abandon. He’s moving in our communities, bringing us together over a meal, or helping us to clean fallen limbs out of our yard after a storm. He’s moving through peacemakers and warriors, even though they do not understand one another, Jesus is moving in both of them, acting in love so that neither peace nor war will need to be made. Jesus is moving through a world that is waiting for the time when it will be redeemed from it’s fallen state. Jesus is on the move, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.” It’s not some far off dream, it’s not a day to await, it’s already here, happening all around us. So come, Jesus says, “Follow me.” Leave behind what you know, what you have resigned yourself to, because I’m on the move, and even though you have no idea what it will look like, in following me you will be transformed. You can stay stagnant, but Jesus is on the move.

Not too long ago, I was met outside the chapel door by a Korean artist and worship leader. Right before we entered he addressed all of us who would be worshipping that day saying that we were required to participate in worship, and that none of us would be permitted to spectate. For me, it was a wake-up call. How many times had I attended worship and merely watched Jesus move past me. You have the option to stay stagnant and spectating, but Jesus is on the move.

So here we are, the church, in the world but not of the world. We are the body of Christ, we are the face and hands and feet of Jesus. And we have long thought that we could expect our church to grow without really working at it. We could just wait for the time when our pews would be filled like they once were, when we couldn’t get that new building fast enough. When we would prepare ourselves to be disciples with pulpit lectures and passed plates. Then when the day of the Lord came we would be swept up like the faithful church mice we were. Our task was to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. John’s message is one of preparation. But it’s too late to prepare, because the one for whom we were preparing has arrived. The Time is fulfilled because Jesus is on the scene, and Jesus is on the move. With Jesus on the move, we cannot expect to keep up just by being passive. The time is fulfilled, Jesus is on the move, and wants us to go with him.

We are the body of Christ, and we are part of a movement. We are not individuals taking a stand, we are not waiting for the Day of the Lord foretold by the prophets. At least I hope not. Because this is not the good news of John the Baptist, it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ. Because if the church is just waiting for the world to change, it’s going to pass us by. The Psalmist speaks to this, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” We’re not supposed to wait for the world to accommodate us, we’re supposed to wait for God. With Jesus on the scene proclaiming that the kingdom is at hand, we no longer have to wait for God. John pointed to what was coming, but now The time is fulfilled. God-with-us is on the move.

Columbia Seminary has a January term where one takes a single course and does nothing but that for the month of January. So the professor’s have to pack a semester’s worth of information into about three weeks. The course I’ve been taking is Transformational Church and Urban Ministry in Atlanta. And we’ve been looking at various different models for what a church can look like and still be a church. Because the world is changing around us and traditional models don’t speak to everyone.

In studying the various contemporary church models, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one “right way” to do church, and that is as faithfully as possible. Whatever model we use now and in the future, so long as we act in faith, our offering is pleasing to God. We can’t stand still just because we’re afraid of what might happen, as Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote in his book Lament for a Son, “Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it.” But we have to walk out over the chasm, because that’s where Jesus is, and Jesus is on the move. So we must step out of our fishing boats and follow wherever our God calls us, because power and steadfast love belong to our Lord. Even when it is scary, and it will be. But when we step onto that bridge of faith, we are one step closer to a God who is too loving and powerful to just stand still, but is always active in our lives, even when we aren’t active ourselves.

Jesus is on the move, and the gospel message isn’t passive, it’s an urgent message to the people of God that we are no longer enslaved to sin and death. We have been purchased by God, and although on our own we are only a breath, God says we are valuable enough that God moves through us even in our brokenness, for no other reason than God loves us. I’m not sure what it will look like to fish for people, but I want to be on the move with the God who loves us all that much.

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