Jesus’ first words – that’s what we just heard. Jesus first words. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” First words are important in a family, aren’t they? Mothers and fathers wait expectantly to hear whether a baby will say Mama or Dada first. The words are written down diligently in the baby book to remember for all time. Do any of you remember the first words of your children or grandchildren? Or maybe have heard the story of your first words? What were they?
(walk down into seats)
You know, I think I’m going to stay down here out of the pulpit for today, because Mark just doesn’t feel right from up there. Matthew or Luke, they’re fine from up there. John is DEFINITELY fine from up there. John’s got all sorts of imagery and metaphors and philosophy. It works really well from up there, but Mark? Mark’s down here.
Mark doesn’t have time for up there. Mark doesn’t have time for introductions and histories and genealogies. He doesn’t have time for birth stories and baby dedication stories and stories of teen life with Jesus. Mark doesn’t have time for flowery language and long drawn out stories. Mark’s got a whole lot more urgency than that. Mark’s down here with us, and in Jesus he’s got something important for us to hear, and decide, and do.
“The kingdom of God has come near!” Jesus is saying. “The kingdom of God has come near!” So near he felt the brush of the wind from the wings of the dove. So near he heard the heavenly voice speak in his very own ears. So near that the heavens had been ripped open, letting the divine come pouring out onto the earth. The divine and the human were no longer separated. The creator and the creature were revealed in Jesus. In him, we can see that God is on earth, so we better watch closely. We better listen to what he has to say. The kingdom of God has come near!
So near that everything is getting mixed up and jumbled together; everything and everyone is stirring around together, bumping into each other, elbows rubbing elbows, and lives touching lives. Gone is the comfortable order of God up there and us down here, holy over here and unholy over there, clean in here and unclean out there, man up here and woman back there. Gone are the divisions between rich and poor, worthy and unworthy, educated and uneducated, sick and healthy. Because the kingdom of God has come near, and it’s a kingdom of heaven torn open, walls torn down, and radically inclusive community.
It isn’t a kingdom of powerful nations dominating nations. It isn’t a kingdom of riches displayed and privilege exploited. It’s a kingdom defined by a man who touched the unclean, healed the sick, ate with sinners, lifted up the lowly, and even gave his own life for the lives of many. The kingdom of God has come near, but it’s come near in a completely new way.
Its coming, its presence forces us to make a choice. Are we going to be a part of this shockingly different kingdom? Are we going to do more than simply exist with those who are so very different from us? Are we going to reach out to them and let them reach out to us? Are we going to stop trying to build a kingdom of comfort and dominance and fortresses out of fear or are we going to build community in the image of the One who came down to earth to heal and teach and cast out demons and bring life to the dead?
If this is the kingdom we are going to acknowledge and join, if this is the choice we’re going to make, to be a part of the kingdom of God that has come near, we’re going to have to turn around. “Repent,” as Jesus says. Turn around. Do a complete 180. God’s kingdom is HERE, so why are you going over THERE? Make the choice to come on back, and see what this is really about. See what it means that all the divisions are gone. See what it means that the walls have come down and we’re all in this together. See what it means that the kingdom of God is here among us, the poor AND the rich, the oppressed AND the oppressors, the faithful AND the skeptics.
If this is the kingdom we’re going to be a part of, if this is the kingdom of Jesus we want to join, we’re going to have to stop walking down this divisive road of self-protection and self-preservation and start looking out for others, start building the divine community on earth. We’re going to have turn around, follow Jesus, and join him where he’s doing something about it. We’re going to have to drop the nets of comfort, the nets of security, the nets of judgment, the nets of self-righteousness, the nets that keep us from trying new things and meeting new people and serving God in new ways, and turn away from them to follow Jesus who calls us.
We have heard the good news; the kingdom of God has come near. We may even have turned away from the past, our attitudes, our misfires, our misdirected lives and actions. Now it is time to follow.
Follow Jesus, and go where he goes (and by the way he goes anywhere).
Follow Jesus, and touch who he touches (and by the way he touches everyone).
Follow Jesus, and love who he loves, welcome who he welcomes, give time to those who have been cast aside, and share the good news of the wide net God casts.
Everyone is welcome. Everyone is made worthy. Everyone is included in the kingdom of God.
Tom, chaplain at the County Jail and executive director of the Rescue Mission, is here with us this morning to tell us about just one way we can follow Jesus on this challenging, inclusive, life-giving road of discipleship in the kingdom, one way we can individually and as a congregation, continue to proclaim through our words and our lives, that the kingdom of God has come near, the love of God is for all.