Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Kingdom of God Has Come Near!"

Our primary text for this Sunday as we continue our journey of finding foundations in Mark's first chapter is
Mark 1:12-15--four verses in which a LOT happens. Read them here and notice that in this passage, we get Jesus' first words in this Gospel:

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

This has been called by some Jesus' primary message in Mark's gospel--any time that the Gospel talks about Jesus preaching or teaching or proclaiming, but doesn't give us specific content, this is what the author intends for us to use to "fill in the blank." For Jesus, it's all about the Kingdom of God.

But what IS the kingdom of God? Here is some of what Jesus says about it elsewhere in Mark:

'The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.'

‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’

Still leaves a lot to the imagination, doesn't it? Here is how some more modern followers of God have described or envisioned the kingdom:

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
― Frederick Buechner

"What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
― N.T. Wright

“I'm fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. You write of 'powerlessness.' Join the club, we are not in control. God is.”
― Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers, to you!)

"When we see social relationships controlled everywhere by the principles which Jesus illustrated in life -- trust, love, mercy, and altruism -- then we shall know that the kingdom of God is here."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, followers of Christ who first proclaimed the Kingdom...what is your vision of the kingdom of God? What does it mean to say that--even today--this kingdom is coming near?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Resolutions or Foundations?

A new year has come, and you know what that means: left and right, people are making resolutions for what they want to change and have be different this year. You could probably guess what the most common New Year's Resolutions are in America, not just this year but every year: according to, the leading resolutions are

  • Lose Weight
  • Volunteer to Help Others
  • Quit Smoking
  • Get a Better Education
  • Get a Better Job
  • Save Money
  • Get Fit
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Manage Stress
  • Manage Debt
  • Take a Trip
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  • Drink Less Alcohol

These things are all well and good. But that list kind of exhausts me. So I've been thinking, as I've been working on the first sermon for our new season of Epiphany, about how the year might have a different feel if, instead of making new resolutions, we made a commitment to return to old foundations. Rather than coming up with something novel to do, what if we made the new year a time to anchor in the things that are most important to us and, as Christians, most important to Jesus?

This is going to be the question we will ask in the coming weeks as we take what I am calling a long, slow walk through the first chapter of Mark's gospel, verse by verse. In this opening chapter of what is likely the most ancient of the four gospels, what foundations do we see Jesus laying or reconnecting with, and how might these things lead to a more solid footing for our lives as we follow Christ?

Join us Sunday as we begin this exploration together, beginning, appropriately, with...the beginning. We'll be reading Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:1-11 and considering the foundations of "Water" and "Word." Hope to see you in worship!