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Good News

Epiphany 3B-18

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Before they were disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John were disillusioned.  They lived under the thumb of the Roman Empire.  Probably, they worked as independent contractors not entitled to the profits of their labor. The covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, the gift of the promised land and the dream of becoming a light to the nations was sinking behind a sea of disappointment and failure. Politics and religion (which, at the time, was pretty much the same thing) were co-opted and discredited by hypocrisy and corruption. The national longing for a Messiah was already centuries old the day Jesus passed along beside the Sea and saw Simon and his brother Andrew trawling for fish.

Artists and musicians today have coined a name for this feeling of chronic restlessness, longing, and dissatisfaction with the status quo. They call it “the great discontent.” Discontent for is what drives them to dream and sacrifice for what could be.

Disillusionment and discontent might be a necessary pre-condition for receiving the gospel as Good News.  It seems incredible to us these men were ready to respond to Jesus’ call to completely disrupt and re-order their lives at a moment’s notice.  It was incredible, but the time was ripe to be fulfilled.

Jesus said “the kairos has come” (v. 15). We don’t have a good English equivalent of the Greek word kairos, but we know the feeling.  Kairos denotes a critical moment, a divine appointment or intervention when an opportunity to act opens and closes again. In contrast to chronos or every day “clock time,” kairos time are those hinge-points in life that call for a radical response, an urgent choice, or a fundamental reorientation. Kairos invites us to “repent,” says Mark, to change our minds and actions, just like the Ninevites did in our reading from Jonah. In our reading from First Corinthians, written about thirty years after Jesus, Paul used remarkably similar language: “The kairos is short… this world in its present form is passing away.”

So often God uses our failure to teach us something new. Disillusionment, discontent, and failure helped make moment right for disciples to hear the Good News.   Jesus said to them, the time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and have faith in the good news or evanggelion.  God’s good news was Jesus himself.

Here again, English fails us.  The word for Good News, evanggelion and its derivatives, occur about eighty times in the Greek New Testament. (That’s one reason why Martin Luther thought “evangelical” was the perfect word to describe his radical movement that spread like wildfire across sixteenth-century Europe.)  Yet, in Jesus’ time, the evanggelion or ‘good news’ was never a religious message but a political proclamation from the Roman emperor who understood themselves to be the lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.

Messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of whether or not their content was cheerful and pleasant.  The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better.

When Jesus came announcing the “Good News of God,” the point was unmistakable even to simple discontented fisherman. God is the one who saves, not the emperor. God’s word is both word and deed. Here, in Christ Jesus, God does what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform. For here, in Christ, the real Lord of the world — the living God — goes into action.

The early Christian confession that “Jesus is Lord” thus included an implicit political claim: Caesar is not Lord. Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God.  It is the guiding image of Jesus’ entire ministry. When we pray “Your kingdom come” we are also saying “My kingdom go.”

In contrast to the emperor, God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good. Nothing we can do will either decrease or increase God’s eternal and infinite eagerness to love!  This is precisely what makes the call to follow Jesus so threatening and disruptive to the powers and principalities of this world—as the prophet Jonah, John the Baptist, and our Lord Jesus can attest.

The time is ripe. The time is now here for our discontent and disillusionment to be answered by the good news of the gospel.  The moment to act is upon us. The call to respond is urgent.  We shall not live in fear.  We will not be divided.  We stand together.  We are a living sanctuary in Christ.  By the work of our hands, we have given birth and together now raise our children, grace, and hope.  By grace, our neighbors find a welcome here every the week. By hope, our neighborhood children are strengthened by learning to flourish. At folding tables, coffee tables, kitchen tables and the Lord’s table we are fed and are feeding by the one who is our host and our food.

This is us. (You can read about the work being done with and by our young people in This Week.) This is us. Twenty-five brothers and sisters gathered in retreat to be strengthened and refreshed in prayer yesterday led by Bishop Stephen Bouman, through them the whole community was being strengthened and refreshed. This is us. People who do not neglect to gather here each week to teach and be taught how to forgive and to love again.   This is us.  People striving to love God, love neighbors, and be disciples who make disciples.  This is us. We have glimpsed the living God in Christ Jesus and are witnesses to the resurrecting power and presence of Jesus born again in our hearts. This is us. The Lord has called each of us by name. Now with the first disciples, we seek other seas. We fish for others like us, the disillusioned and discontent. We wait for the just the right moment to act. We know failure is not the end but the beginning of joy. Death is not the conclusion but the beginning. Our story finds its proper place in the timeless and saving story of God’s love and grace at work in the world.  Follow me, Jesus says. Now we follow.

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