July 17, 2016 / Turn Around / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 1: 14-15
My friends, this summer we ask the question: do we want to enter the flow? The flow of God? And we explore and experience what that looks like, together. I love this way of looking at faith, at looking at the life of God. I grew up going to church, and faith was never really talked about quite like this – and yet the longer I live, the more I experience the life of Jesus, the more I love seeing the world as a place where God is already up to something, inside us and around us, and we can shape our lives to move in rhythm with the flow of God.
Last week, together, we had an experience of the flow of God by opening up scripture. The Bible, the word of God, is a gateway into the flow of God – we learn about what the flow looks like as we read and become more and more familiar with the story of God. And every time we open up the bible and read it, breathe it in, listen to how God is speaking in it – it is an experience of the flow of God.
Today, we continue to explore the FLOW of God, and the key word for us is this: turn around. If you were here at the start of worship you heard the band sing about this very thing. That there is something essential to the rhythm of God that has everything to do with changing direction. And I’m excited to walk us into what that looks like – and to get there, we’re taking a rather circuitous route. Like a nice summer hike, are you up for wandering through some good stuff with me today? Awesome. Last week was rich in experience, today is rich in fabulous content. Oh, we’ll cover some fabulous territory.
We’ll begin by looking at the large narrative of God’s story. The big picture, how we see ourselves and the world and God – where it all came from, and where it’s headed, and how we can recognize the moments when the FLOW of God bumps into our everyday lives – and how the heck we respond when that happens. And yes, it has something to do with turning around.
We’ll cover some territory that we’ve covered before at Salt House – which is good – we need to hear things over and over before they seep into our bones. Albright, let’s get moving…
To get us into the story of God, the big picture we start with one word: kingdom. The Kingdom of God. If I were to ask you – and I’m not – would you have an answer, a guess as to what is the Kingdom of God? Hold this question as we turn to the bible, back to our good friend, good old apostle Mark. If you’re newer to Salt House, let me tell you that we spent seven months reading Mark. Mark is like our new favorite cousin. We know him well. So we’re popping in for a visit with good ol’ Mark, where we hear Jesus’ first words in Mark’s gospel. What does he say?
Mark 1:14-15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Can we just name how Jesus sounds really churchy and awkward to us as we hear this with 21st Century ears? So, we’re going to break down what Jesus says here into the three phrases he uses and we’ll discover that this is freakin amazing.
First, Jesus says: “The time has come.” Um, what time is that, Jesus? Did you set an alarm? A timer? Is it my turn for something? What time is it?
Now – what do we always remember when we’re reading the bible, particularly when we read something that doesn’t make sense? …There’s more than meets the eye. There is ALWAYS more going on than what we first read. BECAUSE it is part of a larger story. Always, always, always.
And so we know Jesus’ words here are spoken into the larger context of God’s story. And as I mentioned: let’s talk about that larger story: Consider the way the Bible is set up. One way to look at the Bible is to see it as Act 1 and Act 2 of the same drama. The Old Testament is Act 1 and in Act 2, the New Testament Jesus arrives and we hear that part of the story. If you just read Act 1, it is very unsatisfying. The Old Testament, the entirety of it is pointing toward what God will do in the future. For centuries, it plays through what Israel longs for, hopes for. And specifically that God’s people were waiting for God to come to them in a final and complete way and rescue them from the cycles of destruction and violence and suffering – and restore God’s Kingdom (that’s the key language). Such hope, such longing, such anticipation in the first act of the story.
One of the specific ways we see that is over and over again in the Old Testament we hear the phrase: “Behold, the days are coming…” Just one of the few dozen places this is mentioned:
Jeremiah 23:5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land...”
What God kept telling his people was that: There will come a day! There will come a day! An ACTUAL DAY. When all of God’s promises would be fulfilled. And the Kingdom of God would come.
And if the story of God had stopped at the end of the Old Testament, Act 1 (end scene) – this is very unsatisfying and unfinished. Because that day had not yet come.
But it wasn’t the end. Now, in what we read here, Jesus is opening up Act 2. And Jesus says: “The time has come.” Um, what time is that Jesus? Hearing this in the larger story of God, we know what time he means. = The time of fulfillment that has been longed for has now arrived. HUGE. That is what Jesus means!
And then in the very next phrase this is exactly what Jesus says, telling us what time it is: “The kingdom of God has come near!” This is it! I’m the guy! All that stuff, and waiting, and anticipation, and longing – it’s finally happening! The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near!
So – what the heck is the Kingdom of God? Do you have an answer?
We’re going to do a very abbreviated defining of God’s Kingdom – something we’ve talked about here before, but it is always helpful to reorient us with this stuff that is so central to our faith, yet also somewhat complex and challenging. Here we go.
The Kingdom of God is God’s dream for the world. As in, the way God wants the world to be. We can see examples, descriptions of what the Kingdom of God looks like in three key places – first, by looking back, to the way God created this world to be – the descriptions of Creation (when God said, at the end of each day: it is goooood). And the Garden of Eden, this vision of a beautiful world, working to care for it, walking with God. Sickness, sin, suffering, none of that is a part of God’s Kingdom.
Then the second place we see what the Kingdom of God is like in Jesus. In everything Jesus said and did – demonstrating mercy, forgiveness, justice, generosity, healing, standing up to oppressive powers, sacrificial love – Jesus’ life, his words and actions show us God’s Kingdom.
And third, there are descriptions throughout the Bible of a future time when God’s Kingdom will be fully realized again. The language that is used to describe where this world is headed is that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth – and the specifics of how that works out is that this world as we know it will become a new creation, new heaven and new earth. Here. (Notice we’re not talking about a heaven that we’re evacuated to somewhere else. It’s here). A place where there is no suffering, sin, pain, cancer, abuse, addiction, injustice, poverty – all of that is gone. Redeemed, made new, new creation. That’s the arc of the story – it started in the garden with God, and it ends in a new garden with God, with all the pain and suffering of our world reconciled to God.
So the Kingdom of God is God’s dream for the world – we glimpse it looking back to Creation, in Jesus, and in looking to the future new heavens and new earth. It is all these descriptions and more.
But that future is not so far off. Jesus says it here: The Kingdom of God has come near. It’s come near. Other translations say: the Kingdom of God is at hand. Which means, AT HAND. Within arm’s reach. You can reach out and touch it. The Kingdom of God is right here. God’s Kingdom is available and accessible. Now. That is what this phrase means. Available and accessible. As close as our hand. WOW.
So that future Kingdom of God, new heavens and a new earth thing is actually started. If you were here on Easter, this is part of what we talked about – Jesus’ resurrection means we’re living in new creation now, and we see the slow, steady infusion of God’s Kingdom here. We see it in large global-sized movements, when people are healed, when the hungry are fed, when wells are dug so that people have water, when help is extended in the wake of a earthquakes, when we stand up for those who do not have equal rights. The Kingdom of God working through people, showing up in the places of hurt and devastation and bringing new life. We get to see it, we are a part of it.
This also means that the Kingdom of God shows up in our lives. Personally. In our community, and in us, as we are people who let the old, ugly, broken parts of ourselves die at the cross and be resurrected into new life and hope and possibility.
My friends, to talk about the FLOW of God is to name that the story of God, Act 2, did not end in the bible, but it continues in our stories, as we become a part of new creation.
Listen up: because here is where things get really interesting. One of the ways this happens, one of the ways we experience opportunities to step into the story and the flow and the kingdom of God, is when defining moments happen in our lives, and God has our attention.
We’ve named this before, and it is good for us to name this again. The bible talks about how events happen in our life, and some of these events might be a Kairos moment (can you say Kairos?). That Greek word kairos means = time. Not, tic-toc, what time is it? But time as an event like, "hey I had a good time at the party." (This is what Jesus means when he says, The TIME has come). Jesus is saying that there will be these times that come, these Kairos moments. In these kairos moments, our world and God's world intersect. It is a defining moment. When that happens, God has our attention, and if we stop and listen and tend to what is going on, we have the opportunity to step further into God’s Kingdom. Through these kairos moments.
Let’s use the metaphor of driving down the road. Say you're driving a car down the road at 45 miles an hour, life is good, doing your stuff. Suddenly, out of nowhere you hit a speed bump. Now, if you do that (at 45 mph) there's a reasonable chance that something happened to your car. Did you lose a muffler? Break your axel? Pop a tire? Now the smart thing to do is to stop, pull off the road and to check out your car, take stock of what's happened.
That speed bump is like a kairos moment - an event. We’re driving down the road of life and all of a sudden something happens. It could be a huge thing, it could be small thing – big like buying a house! Getting a job! Or relatively small like someone stole your bike, or you had a really impactful conversation with someone, or the headlines of our country affecting us deeply. They can be positive things, like your wedding day, or a vacation or a hike. They can be more negative moments, someone dear to you gets a cancer diagnosis, you lose your job, your best friend moves away. I’ve noticed how anytime we live through transition: there are kairos moments that are speed bumps, slowing us down as the regular rhythms of our lives are altered. Big or small, they are defining moments that invite us to stop and take stock of what’s happened. And to choose whether we will stop, and potentially move more fully into the rhythms of God in light of the speed bump.
In one week, next Sunday before church, I will drive my best friend, Abby, to the bus station in Seattle, and say goodbye to her as she moves from here to Maine. Thankfully she’s not riding a bus the whole way – she’s headed to Portland, OR first to see family, then will fly out with her kids to Portland, ME. Abby and I met almost exactly thirteen years ago, the day I moved into the dorm at seminary in Berkeley, CA. We both were engaged and both got married the following summer. We had our first babies two months apart in 2010 – her son was born in June, his name is August. And our daughter June was then born in August. You can’t make that stuff up.
Abby and Will and their (now) two kids have lived in the Seattle area since seminary, and I was thrilled that when we moved back up here almost two years ago that they were only an hour away.
So for me, my best friend is moving away. I have such grief about it. This is a big kairos for me.
What do we do when we notice a kairos moment? In response, Jesus suggests a certain pattern in our text: “Repent and believe the good news!” Repent and believe. Let’s unpack this final phrase from Jesus.
When we hear the word Repent! Like me, you may conjure up a an image of someone on the street with a t-shirt that says, “Turn or Burn.” But actually: that’s not it. Here it is my friends: to repent actually means to turn around. Kairos moments invite us to turn around in some way. = Change direction – the word repent also means a change of heart. Open ourselves up to a new way of thinking and being. It is opening ourselves up to moving into the Kingdom of God – into a space God is holding for us that will take us more fully into the kind of life and transformation God makes possible. When these moments happen, it’s an invitation to turn around. Repent.
So – what do we do? How do we repent? Well, we practice this here at Salt House by asking a question: What is God saying to me? When we have a defining moment – we live with the question: what is God saying to me?
We use this question with regularity here at Salt House. And for those who have been using this question, I want to point out briefly three ways to practically try and answer this question as a process of repentance. It’s not a linear process, but we do three things: first, we observe – we notice the facts of what is happening. We also reflect on connections that this event has to other times in our lives and world, we ask WHY question, and we also discuss it with others, seeking wisdom and insight from those who can speak into our lives. Asking these questions, this is how we step into this kairos moment, this event that has brought us in touch with the Kingdom of God, and opening ourselves up to live the question: God, what are you saying in this? Repent is the change of heart. And we get there through observing, reflecting, discussing. Make sense, yes?
We repent, and then (as Jesus said in our text ) we believe. So – believe what does that mean? Belief is not just an intellectual exercise – it is = action, response. Once we've stepped into this kairos moment and asked this question of what God is saying – which leads to a new way of thinking and feeling THEN believing is what we do. Belief is action. The second question that goes with this is: (Include What is God saying to me?) What am I going to do about it? How will I respond? With what I have heard from God and as I've reflected on this and talked it out with friends – what action will I take?
Three practical ways to move us through action, and a response is to first, make a plan. And once we’ve made a plan, to make ourselves (account) accountable to someone. We tell someone else about it so that they can be a source of encouragement and accountability. And finally, then, once we’ve lived through this entire process, then, we act.
These two questions are how we repent and believe. God, what are you saying? And how am I going to respond?
And my friends – you still with me? All of this, Jesus captures in his three phrases that open up Mark’s gospel: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The flow Jesus invites us into is one where we continually find ways to turn around. To find a change of heart and direction. To be changed in the best ways possible as the kingdom of God breaks into our lives.
So what about us? We sit here on this lovely summer day in July in 2016. We are actively a part of the unfolding of the Second Act of God’s story. The Kingdom of God is meeting us in the beautiful and brave things we see in our world and in ourselves. Knowing that this is the context you live in, that you are an active participant in the story and Kingdom of God, as you think back on your week or the last month – is there anything that has caused you to stop in your tracks? I’ve thought of many of us in this community and the kinds of things we’re facing in our lives – applying for jobs, starting new jobs, fed up with jobs, grad school, parents divorcing, new dating possibilities, getting married, longing to be married, starting new projects, family members who are sick, exploring new lifestyle. Where is God inviting you to pay attention? And it may not be a single moment, but a situation you notice in your family, a friendship, at work. I happen to think we encounter kairos moments everyday – so I bet there's something. What might God be saying to you? Today.
We’ll create some space now to hold these questions. Because there are these moments that get our attention that have the incredible possibility to draw us into the love and grace and flow of God. Jesus says it to us now: the time has come.
In the next few minutes, and in the week to come, our invitation and challenge is to spend time with these two questions. I invite you to write them down: you can do it now on your phone or on the paper in your bulletin. Maybe set a reminder on your phone for it to pop up each day. Name your kairos. And ask: God, what are you saying to me? What am I going to do about it? These are questions for us to live daily and to live together.
The band is coming back up, and they’ll lead us in a song. You’re welcome to sing with them, or if you prefer just be in this time and space listening for Kairos moments, listening for the invitation turn around and enter into the flow of God. Let’s pray.