Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mark 1:14-20

It’s Done, And It’s Just Begun!”   

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, OH

www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Hear the Podcast of this sermon:  120122SermonPodcast

What does it mean for the carpenter to be hired, only to find that the house had already been built?

What does it mean for the nurse to be employed, only to find that the patient was already well?

What does it mean for the factory worker to be brought on the job, only after the product line was completed?

What does it mean for the teacher to be engaged at the school after all the students had graduated?

What does it mean for the disciples to be called only after the “time has been fulfilled” and the “kingdom (kindom) of God has come near?

This selection of scripture is one of the most compelling and least understood texts for modern Christians.  It essentially says that the work of God is completed, and now we are called to our ministry.  It’s done, and it’s just begun!  If the first “it” which is completed is the Beloved Community, the Reign of God, then what is the second “it” that has just begun?  What’s left to do if the kindom of God has come near?

Well, looking a little closer at the specific words used helps.  The word for time in this scripture is the Greek word “kairos,” which, while appropriately translated into English as “time” really means much more.  It mean’s “God’s time,” the special moment when the breaking in of the divine happens.  It’s different from the kind of time we normally live in, which is, in Greek, “chronos” from which we get our word, “chronological.”

Madeline L'Engle

Madeleine L’Engle, the children’s book author and theologian, makes a wonderful distinction between kairos time and chronos time.  Kairos time is:

“That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time.  In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we’re constantly checking our watches for chronological time.

The artist at work is in kairos.  The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos.  In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation. (1)

So, from the beginning we must acknowledge that Jesus doesn’t work with our common understanding of time.  When he announces that the time has been fulfilled, he’s not telling us that the hands of the clock have reached a certain point on the clock face, nor is he telling us to tear off another month from the calendar on our refrigerator.  He is telling us that the mystery of God is hovering nearer to us than ever before.  The Celtic understanding of “thin places,” where the presence of the divine is so close we can almost feel God’s breath upon our cheeks, or a brush of the Holy Spirit past our bodies comes closer to illustrating this sense of kairos time.  In Isaiah 6:1-6 you feel this when Isaiah is in the temple and the angels cried out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory,” and the thresholds shook and the temple filled with smoke, gives us a sense of liminality or kairos time.

Kairos Time (this is a painting by Mark Rothko)

What’s particularly powerful for us, then, in Mark’s gospel, is that the very first words out of the mouth of Jesus are these.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.  Come, follow me…”  These words are, likewise, misunderstood.  Repent, which is, in Greek, “metanoia” is not a sense of moralistically feeling sorry for getting caught and then, in the words of blogger, John Petty, “crying your eyes out at what a jerk you’ve been.” (2).  Repentance isn’t beating yourself up for the bad things you’ve done.  It is, rather, the sense of simply needing to turn around, and doing something different than you’ve been doing.  Metanoia, or “repent,” is less about confessing a list of sins you’ve committed (or good you’ve omitted) and more about finding a new direction: the way of Christ, the path of Jesus, living into the Beloved Community.

But that’s not the only word we need to reenvision.  The word “Believe” is a really a poor translation of the Greek pisteuete.  Contrary to popular belief, the word pisteuete does not mean “intellectual assent” or something like “theological agreement.”  It should be understood as “faith-as-a-verb.”  I know that using faith as a verb sounds funny in English which is how we got in the bad habit of translating pisteuein as “believe.”  The word should be thought of as meaning “radical trust” – trusting with all of who we are; giving ourselves over to God.  And thus we “believe” or “faith” the Good News that Jesus brings, which is the sum total of his life, his teachings, his deed, his hopes, his dreams.  All that Jesus is becomes Good News for those who follow him.

Chronos Time

And in choosing a new direction, we are eager to tell others about it and invite them on the journey with us.  “Come, follow Jesus!” we cry out.

> So if the kingdom is more about feeling and knowing God’s presence is nearer to us than our own breath than it is a moment in time that comes and goes…

> and if  repentance is more about changing our path, finding a new direction…

> and believing is more about radical trust in the Good News Jesus is bringing us from God.

> Then following must be more about heading out on the journey and inviting others to join us.  It’s the great biblical image of “fishing” for men and women who would join us on the journey.

And one of the fundamental ways of following this path, living in kairos time and not chronos time, is in how we treat our neighbor.  Susan B. Johnson, pastor of a church in Chicago, says it surprisingly, when she writes, “We cannot be fishers of men and women if in our hearts we are haters of them.” (4)  She cites Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work with non-violence as a very tangible way of sharing the Good News of Christ and inviting others to follow.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Johnson writes, “In a… sermon…, King remarked how “happy” he was that Jesus had not said, “Like you enemies,” because there were some people that “I find pretty difficult to like . . I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out.”

But he could love them, he said, and King articulated what was at stake for him in loving those whom he could not like, those who would be so much easier to hate. “We will not only win freedom for ourselves [through nonviolence], we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” King believed that to abandon nonviolence was to lose not just the double victory but any victory. “Hate is injurious to the hater as well as the hated,” he said. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

This takes us right back to the concept of kiaros time.  Madeline L’Engle later references the famous stage play by Thornton Wild, “Our Town,” when she writes,

In Our Town, after Emily has died in childbirth, Thornton Wilder has her ask the Stage Manager if she can return home to relive just one day. Reluctantly he allows her to do so.  And she is torn by the beauty of the ordinary, and by our lack of awareness of it.  She cries out to her mother, “Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me… it goes so fast we don’t have time to look at one another.”

And she goes back to the graveyard and the quiet company of the others lying there, and she asks the Stage Manager “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”  And he sighs and says, “No. The saints and poets, maybe. They do some.” (3)

What does it mean for the disciples to be called only after the “time has been fulfilled” and the “kingdom (kindom) of God has come near?  Well, it means that we don’t have to be Jesus!  We don’t have to be the Messiah!  We don’t have to bring salvation to the world.  All we have to do is live into the Beloved Community.  It’s already here!  No waiting necessary!

Thus, we rejoice in this sacred completion and are delighted to follow in Jesus footsteps.  And like any fun trip, we invite others along for the journey.  It means paying attention to God’s presence by focusing on God’s time, and not our own.  It means being willing to examine the path we are on, and change directions if we aren’t on the right path.  It means we need to trust in God more than we trust in things, or people, or places, or situations.  And it means not being isolated, recognizing that this journey wasn’t ever mean to be a single individual “quest,” but a loving community where all of us are in it together, and thus loving everyone at whatever place they are on the expedition.

Relax!  God has done the hard work!  The time is fulfilled and the Commonwealth of God is in reaching distance!  Let’s rejoice in that, and enjoy the ride.

Amen.

(1) From Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle, found online at WBEZ:91.5 Blogs, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Thursday Thingy: Kairos And Chronos,” at http://www.wbez.org/blog/mission-amy-kr/2011-08-18/thursday-thingy-kairos-and-chronos-90782

(2)  Lectionary Blogging, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012 found online at: http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2012/01/lectionary-blogging-mark-1-14-20.html

Please note:  I was especially inspired by John Petty’s blog post and am deeply indebted to him for the inspiration for this sermon!

(3)  From Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle, found online at WBEZ:91.5 Blogs, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Thursday Thingy: Kairos And Chronos,” at http://www.wbez.org/blog/mission-amy-kr/2011-08-18/thursday-thingy-kairos-and-chronos-90782

(4) “Love’s Double Victory,” commentary by Susan B.W. Johnson from The Christian Century, 1997. At Religion Online.  Found online at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=671

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