Sunday 22nd January, 2012 Third Sunday after Epiphany
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.
Mark 1: 15
Bountiful God, through Your Son You call us to repent of our sins, to believe the good news, and to celebrate the coming of Your Kingdom; teach us to hear the call to discipleship, and to proclaim the gospel of new life to a broken world; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen
Old Testament Lesson Jonah 3: 1 – 10
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Psalm 62: 5 – 12
My soul, wait in silence for God: for from Him comes my hope
He only is my rock and my salvation: my strong tower so that I shall not be moved
In God is my deliverance and my glory: God is my strong rock and my shelter
Trust in Him at all times O my people: pour out your hearts before Him for God is our refuge.
The children of Adam are but breath, the children of earth are a lie: place them in the scales and they fly upward, they are as light as air
Put no trust in extortion do not grow worthless by robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart upon them
God has spoken once, twice I have heard Him say: that power belongs to God
That to the Lord belongs a constant goodness: For you reward each one of us according to our deeds.
Epistle 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
GOSPEL Mark 1: 14 – 20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
© New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
Copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the
Churches of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. All rights reserved
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Actually, if you look at today’s readings you may be forgiven for wondering quite why this particular selection has been chosen. It is a remarkably disparate choice, so we will have to make the best of it – mind you, you may well be rather more imaginative than me.
For donkey’s years now (over 60 actually) this strange little tale has brought me quite some joy as I observe the author’s attempts to get old Israel to look right past its hang-ups and bigotry. This is not history, as the author makes quite clear as the story unfolds. It is not presented as a miracle, that business of the fish, but a tale of how far people will go to avoid what they know to be true but cannot bear it.
In commentators terms, this is an anti-separatist tract, getting Israel to see that its determination to keep Gentiles out of the picture was not a requirement from God, but rather a determination of their own lack of vision. Jonah is sent to the pagan city of Nineveh to preach to the inhabitants, and does a most unJewish thing when he heads to sea instead. (Jews and vast bodies of water never seem to have mixed, as water of that size tends to be the image and icon of evil.
Here the blinking Ninevites repent, which got up Jonah’s nose, which parallels the Pharisaic response to Jesus’ ministry. Please see this odd little tale as a challenge to anyone who holds tightly to bigotry of any sort, particularly religious bigotry. The Kingdom is not, REPEAT NOT made of these.
It has to be said that sometimes, psalms are notoriously difficult to follow and understand. However, I suspect that if you have lived under extreme pressure from evil people or corrupt government, you may be better able to enter into the writer’s dilemma. How does one stand up straight when all the pressure is otherwise.
Under such circumstances, God Himself tends to be the only bulwark – and awareness of the support of the Life-giving Almighty is enormously encouraging to keep going regardless.
Pardon me being naughty, but I have absolutely no idea why this snippet is included in readings. If it is designed to show that Paul was not always at his wisest, then OK. If it is meant to get people to check what they read against wider reality, OK.
From my knowledge of the Apostle, he had to be (a) 30, (b) married and (c) a Pharisee to be part of the Sanhedrin, all of which occurred before his conversion. One suspects that said marriage was far from contented and did not last. Quite a number of commentators have decided that Paul was misogynist, but the reality is that he certainly would have been very hard to live with. Most perfectionists are like that.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, also, Paul – like most of the Infant Church – expected the Parousia, the Return of our Lord – to occur within a fairly brief period of time, as Paul’s early writings seem to indicate. The passage of time in that first century tended to widen that view, so that John’s Revelation expresses the view that any such Parousia is a long way off. A thousand years! Not a literal amount, but when 10 is a lot, 10 x 10 is a hell of a lot, and 10 x 10 x 10 is an excruciatingly large amount, then you get the picture.
Perhaps it is a helpful thing to look at this ‘Kingdom.’ If one has wondered what it is all about the easiest and clearest way is to compare human kingdoms (or nations or empires etc.,) with what is unfolded in the Gospels. Almost exclusively, ordinary human kingdoms are built on the egos of strong people, usually men but not always. And the power generated is designed to force or cajole hoi polloi into conforming to whatever pattern the ‘king’ desires. Try living through Hitler’s Germany, or Idi Amin’s Uganda. Mind you, it has to be said that even democracy (not a divine institution I may gently remind readers; it is Greek!) bears many of the hallmarks of those regimes described above. Force, even if only emotional, is the usual means of conformity.
The Kingdom of God operates on a very different level, a level to which all followers are called to illustrate in life, decision making and experience. Here love is the only ‘compulsion,’ and truth, integrity, justice and compassion the guiding lights and principles. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see that while outcomes of the Kingdom of God will be very different, the process will take a lot longer than if/when people are forced to conform. It is not hard to see, either, the ‘power’ tends to be the aphrodisiac for humans, even though it will almost invariably destroy them given time. Read about Australia’s leadership struggles over recent years. We humans are not a bright lot, now are we?
NOTES FOR A SERMON
It was many years ago now, at a Bible Study Group in the parish where I was then working, and the question was about the Kingdom of God. (Heaven if you are reading Matthew’s Gospel.) I had asked where/ what a person would find this Kingdom, and it was my father who replied that it would not be until one died that the Kingdom would be found. It came as a great surprise to him and others that evening, that the Kingdom was and is far more immediate. For the Kingdom is present whenever the will of God is being carried out, when a person or people are responding to God in their actions and reactions to others.
You will recall some comments of Jesus, from time to time. He spoke of a rich man being ‘close to the kingdom,’ for his response to people and to life was genuine and helpful. But rather too often, a limited view of God at work has a rather narrower perception that tends to ignore the realities. Perhaps it is because this Gospel snippet for today includes that business of ‘repenting’ – which can be a block for some folk.
Come on a journey with me if you will – starting off with a comparison between ordinary kingdoms of Jesus’ day, and the other one of which He spoke. Whenever one gets to the nitty-gritty of human kingdoms (or other forms of leadership or control or whatever) the sight is not a pretty one. Only this morning I read in the Saturday Advertiser insert of the political assassination of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister – and quite something of the treachery surrounding that vicious action. If there is one thing that kingdoms past and present illustrate so often, it is that the human ego tends to flourish right at the centre of it all. So often Presidents and other leaders reflect the same go-getting attitude and such people do not care very much whose toes they step on to get their own way. In some rather horrible cases, opponents’ very lives are in danger and are often lost in the struggle. The motives may be about raw power, or perhaps wealth and control. One is hard-put to find, in the history of any kingdom, or empire or even country, to find much in the way of altruism or caring, sharing or concern. Usually, the longer the person or clique is in power, the more rugged is the treatment of the subjects, and the disregard of the realities.
When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the picture is radically different. The best and most significant picture of that Kingdom is found in the life and ministry of Jesus. There was a Person true to the Father, and just as true to people around Him. There was a Person quite unafraid to step over the boundaries of accepted practices, especially when those practices bound people within limits totally unacceptable. People operating under social or spiritual outcast situations seemed to be a magnet for our Lord, not to thumb the nose at the culture, but to ensure no ostracism remained against such folk. It was a matter of the ancient verities of truth, integrity and compassion being recognized and acted upon, regardless of the control enforced by the ruling leadership. This approach was such a different one, such a controversial one, that it all stood out like the proverbial sore thumb! And it was a total and complete reproach to the existing culture. Small wonder that Jesus was executed!
So where does repentance come into this? The answer is simple but stunning.
More often than not, whenever repentance is referred to these days, it has to do with the attempt to make someone feel guilty, and in need of redemption. Sin has so often been used as a threat to induce people to become Christian. Sadly so much of that approach misses the point entirely. My own experience, donkey’s years ago now, was along those lines, for as a young teenager I knew I had all sorts of naughty thoughts about the fairer sex.
If you have followed the discussion so far, you may well see further into the direction any such repentance needs to take. It is not just naughty thoughts (or even actions!) that require attention: it is that rather nasty human tendency to set oneself over and against all the rest of humanity, or at least that part of it that gets in your way. It is not just governments and leaders who throw their weight around; we all do it. The real nature of the human dilemma is our capacity to demand that others fit my pattern of behaviour and do what I think they ought to do! It is the ‘Adam’ syndrome, which runs something like ‘bugger you, Jack; I am all right!’ As I have grown older and perhaps a little wiser, I have observed a vast increase in such violence in society, as even girls and young women become involved in violence against people, especially those who are older and more vulnerable.
If I am to belong to the Kingdom of God, then it is from self-determining activity that I need to repent, to reject and turn away from. And that requires considerable conviction and effort. It was easier to give up smoking than it is to turn away from such goals in life.