Sermon on 21st January 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 21 JAN ’18

Revd Andrea Price

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

Mk 1,15 : “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;

repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

Do you remember your playground games? Do you remember playing “What’s the time Mr Woolf?” It is a form of catch but as all games uses an activity to help children think about this world. Games are never a waste of time.

Mr Wolf is the catcher and when asked commands different sized steps: 3 baby steps, or 5 rabbit hops or  2 giant steps. Mr Wolf stands turned away from those coming closer and has to guess without looking when someone is near enough for him to shout “Dinner Time” and then attempts to catch someone before they touch the wall or tree where he is standing.

What’s the time Mr Wolf?

This year we will make our way through the gospel of Mark and Mark is very concerned with time it seems. When you read Mark there is a sense of breathless urgency in his bringing us the good news of Jesus.

Like a newspaper seller Mark seems to shout at his listeners: Good News – listen up!

In the first few verses of his gospel Mark takes us through the Old Testament by referencing first of all the five books of Moses in V1 – the beginning of the good news;  then he refers to the prophets by quoting Isaiah in V2-3; thus he has embraced all the Old Testment.

Only then he starts his narration with the preparer of the Way John the Baptiser in V4-8 upon which Jesus of Nazareth steps out of the crowd, is baptised and confirmed as the beloved, is tempted in the wilderness in V 9-13 and then in our passage today begins his ministry in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God.

Mk 1,15 : “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;

repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

“The time is fulfilled…”

For the Hebrew knowing the time was not a matter of knowing a date, hour, minute or second. It was more a matter of knowing what kind of time it was.

Remember the famous verses in Eccl 3:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;….” and so forth.

 

To misjudge the time was not about missing the bus or train but to misjudge the mood of events. To continue to mourn when it was a time of blessing would be like sowing at harvest time.

 

John the Baptist and Jesus both came to announce the same:

Time’s up! Or: The time is fulfilled!

 

But the consequences they come to, the conclusions they draw are quite different. John it turns out was still old school, the supreme prophet and forerunner of the One coming, still caught in this world.

 

In contrast Jesus was the new, the divine interruption of normal proceedings.

 

John baptised with water,

Jesus with the Holy Spirit,

John was a prophet,

Jesus the Son of God.

 

And so John says: repent and encouraged fasting and doing penance.

 

Jesus says: repent and issues invitation after invitation to follow him into feasting and celebration of life.

 

 

John prophesied judgement and doom.

 

Jesus prophesied salvation (that is to do with health and life) and good news.

 

 

When you think about it, it is utterly outrageous. Is God not about perfection, about law and order? Will God, the Almighty not want to clean up this earth and all that is going wrong among its people and creatures?

 

The OT has many times where God is understood as loosing his patience and bringing physical judgment onto the earth. Think of the Flood wiping out all but one family and all in the Ark!

 

Think of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire for its violence and abuse of God’s law.

 

Nineveh is threatened by Jonah with the same fate for its violence.

 

But then Jonah tells people what is coming and they repent – and God changes his mind – to the consternation and annoyance of Jonah, who goes out of town expecting a great fiery spectacle as in Sodom and Gomorrah maybe and cannot believe that God might indeed relent!

 

Can you see the difference between John and Jesus, one preaching doom and gloom, while Jesus invites all and sundry to join him in a new dance?

 

 

Time’s up, or rather: the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near. Jesus says that because God’s rule is near it is worth absolutely everything, a priceless pearl, a great treasure.

 

Is it?

 

Those who first heard Jesus say these things, see nothing changed at all. The Romans were the occupation power, the elite ruled from Jerusalem, the religious pestered the ordinary people and made life increasingly difficult.

A new time? A time fulfilled and God’s rule begun?

It must have sounded like a poor joke! Good News?! Bah humbug, many might have said.

 

And yet those who met Jesus of Nazareth experienced something which made them behave in ways, which were not normal, not sensible or rational.

Fishermen left their nets at once. They got up and left workmates and relatives and a secure income behind.

For what? To follow a wandering preacher into an insecure future, confusing, misunderstood and frightening.

Jesus must have had something extraordinary about him to draw his disciples from their homes and the securities of their incomes to become his companions and pupils.

 

Mk 1,15 : “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k]

repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]

 

How about us? Does Jesus still address us with his words? Is the time fulfilled and the kingdom of God come near? Do we need to repent and believe the good news?

Certainly much time has passed and some things have got better since Jesus’ day. Humanity has learnt a little about how to live together well and in peace. We now know about human rights, the rule of law and the worth of every person and creature and the whole of the universe. And much of this learning has been sparked through inspiration by the Word of God.

But, and it is a big but, there is still so much violence, oppression and evil, greed and fraud, abuse – and disaster which is nobody’s fault.

The kingdom of God is…where?

 

Well, wake up and smell the coffee: Jesus did not say the Kingdom of God is here but it is NEAR! He did not invite us to lie back and be served, but invited his friends to follow him into an unfolding future full of insecurities and adventures.

 

The Greek word of repent is metanoia and has nothing to do with penance and castigation but means: to turn around. Jesus calls his friends to radically re-orientate their lives, their economy, their occupation and relationships. God in Jesus interrupts our normality!

 

What does this mean for our time: turn from wasting the earth and its resources to caring for God’s creation.

Turn from being driven by consumerism to being mindful of God’s love and live forgiveness, sharing and friendship.

Turn from self-fulfillment to fulfilling the will of God, his love in all ways.

Dance the dance of life to the tune of God’s will, turning gladly.

 

In 1848 Joseph Brackett (1797 – 1882) wrote a tune and one verse and refrain on this theme of turning around. Brackett lived in Maine and was part of a spiritual movement called the Shakers, who used dance in their worship as a form of devotion. His father’s farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement.

 

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

 

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[4]

 

Shaker manuscripts indicate that this is a “Dancing Song. The references to “turning” in the last two lines are dance instructions. When the dance is performed properly, each dancer ends up where he or she began, “come ’round right.”

 

Later Aaron Copland made the tune known through his compositions like Appalachian Spring and Sydney Carter used the tune for his hymn Lord of the Dance, which we all love.

 

Mk 1,15 : … repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]

 

Metanoia, turn, turn to what matters in your heart and mind. Turn, turn to God and take the time to listen to Father, Son and HS wanting to inspire you for your living. Take the time to pray and practice love, however challenging – the kingdom of God is near.

Turn and believe, which means place your love where it should be: taking its strength from God’s vine.

Let me finish with a poem by Ann Lewin:

 

In tune

 

Done your practice? Said your prayers?

Echoes from childhood, as though

Practice must be perfect, prayer complete.

Experience tells us neither satisfies

Till techniques spring to life.

 

Prayer is musicianship to God’s beat,

Drawn to the rhythm of his will,

Watching his cues for

Rest or entry; listening,

Aware of others’ harmony, or

Seeking in discord sounds of

Resolution; accepting occasional

Transposition to enable others

To join in; through many modulations

Learning the beauty of the minor key

Offsetting major’s splendour.

Then secure, daring to improvise

Above the steady groundbass of God’s love.

 

Amen