- Mark 1: 14-20
…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.»
In the first three Sundays of 2018, we have studied two events of Jesus’ early ministry:
- his baptism by John;
- the calling of Philip & Nathanael/Bartholomew of «Follow me»
Today we read of John’s arrest, of the calling of Simon (who we know as Peter) and his brother Andrew, fishermen of Galilee, and also of the brothers James and John, but most importantly we read that Jesus continues to preach «the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news».
I’m not going to go back into discussing this morning repentance, because I hope that you have already understood the concept of change of lifestyle that is required with repentance. It’s not just a simple «I’m sorry», but rather a fundamental change in the way we think, speak and act. Repentance is not «going on a diet»: repentance is choosing to live a new healthy lifestyle in which you are active, exercising and eating healthy as a way of life, for the rest of your life.
So, today, I ask what does this mean «the kingdom of God has come near»? Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is the rule of the eternal, sovereign God over all the universe. But that’s not all that it is. One writer says that God’s kingdom is simply this: Jesus present among us. Jesus came and preached this good news: ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Lk 10:9). ‘ The kingdom of God has come to you’; ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ (Lk 17:21).
God himself (not the throne room with the angels and cherubim and their harps and songs, but God) has come into the midst of God’s people. ‘The kingdom of God’ was the Jewish people’s way of saying that God acted for their sake, on their behalf, freeing the people from every form of slavery and evil, guiding them to justice and peace, flooding them with joy and good things. And so, Jesus came, healing the sick, making the lame to walk again, causing the blind to see, preaching a repentance and «go and sin no more».
If we look at the world around us, just at Panama City, do we feel like it is dominated by corruption, evil and that the violence is a normal way of life. Do we feel at the mercy of gangs, corrupt police, corrupt government officials, wondering when justice will be done and flood down on this country like rivers of living water? Do we feel like there is even impotence to change matters personally when others have personal agendas and plans that are not Godly? Jesus responds: «the kingdom of God has come near«. These verses invite us to believe that God, right now, is conquering these evil actions and intentions and is establishing a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Colossians 1: 27 reminds us:
the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christ is in you! This is the hope of glory: God is with us. That God’s kingdom is «at hand», it has already «come». This Good News is not that we, as Christians, will have eternal life and go to heaven, although there is that too! This Good News has everything to do with this life. God was beginning to reign on earth in a new way, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. This new way is Christ in you!
But, what do we have to do? Live our lives Act in such a way as to have him always in our midst. And how do we do that? Well, as Jesus said in Mark 1: we repent and believe the good news. Then we go forth, and «sin no more». But, in what practical ways can you experience God’s reign in your life? What would it mean for you to recognize God’s purpose and plan for you, living your very best life and best self, when you’re at work? at school? at church? at a family reunion?
I think this starts with humility: accepting the sanctuary and purpose of God requires humility. It means accepting that we don’t know it all. It means that we accept God’s purpose and plan for our lives, which may be different from the purpose and plan we had. The «Supreme Being» of God is all knowledge, all wisdom, all seeing, everywhere, at all times, and yet, each of us is called to an innate relationship. In order to regain our lost relationship with God, our approach must come with humility, because we were the ones who decided to separate ourselves from God.
Many see this as the «original sin» – a decision to separate from our Oneness with God, and now we each have a constant struggle to rebuild, each day by every choice we make, living with the kingdom of God in our hearts. We no longer live in the garden of Eden, where we walk and talk with God constantly and easily, but rather living separately and alone. But Jesus came to preach the Good News: the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it has come!
The true meaning of “for the kingdom of heaven is near” is that each of us can gain the sanctuary of God – the refuge of God – immediately by simply turning to the Supreme Being – by worshiping Him and relying upon Him – and dismissing ourselves («repenting») from our search for happiness in a materialistic world of emptiness and physical gratification.
But many of us struggle to live with this mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory. We live under a false sense of entrapment, focused only on the material world, controlled by our fears, rather than seeing the presence of God in our lives. How much time do we spend caught up in fear and worry? And rather than living a powerful life, in which we have clear priorities, motivation and actions, we live timidly. The kingdom of heaven has come: Has it come in your life? Is it reflected in the decisions you make? Have you let go of fear, blame and guilt – to live in the freedom of Christ in you, the hope of glory?
«The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’
For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.» (Luke 17:20-21 NKJV)
The call from Jesus and John for repentance was a call to take off the old and put on the new. And part of that is a call to take off our ego and replace it with a humble, pure heart. When our ego is out of control, we are trapped by it. Our ego insists that we are «right», that our way of viewing the situation is the only way and that every other way is therefore «wrong». Our ego leads us to believe we are superior to others: better educated, more prepared, more deserving. Our ego leads us to be greedy – we never have enough. Our ego leads us to be envious: instead of being happy and grateful when another succeeds, we are resentful and want to pull them back down to our own level. Our ego tells us that everything is about me: it becomes obnoxious, rude and annoying.
The ego gives a grandiose sense of self-importance and expects others to see this at all times. Our ego exaggerates talents and achievements: constantly comparing ourselves to others, craving respect and recognition. And from here, our ego takes us to being self-serving and self-centered. Favours that we do for others are all transactional: what is in this for me? This, in turn, becomes manipulation and pulling strings.
But Jesus calls us: repent, take off that mask so that you can see life through a crystal clear lens, and allow God to live within you. Take out the ego, and make room for Divine Purpose in your life. Jesus calls each of us «follow me«, and to each of us Jesus says: «The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.»
As we leave church today, what practical ways can you experience Divine Purpose leading your life? What would it mean for you to recognize God’s purpose and plan for you, living your very best life and best self, when you’re at work? at school? at church? at a family reunion? That is a question each one of us has to respond, because our hope of glory is that Christ is in each one us.