Only Two Questions // Pastor Sara Wolbrecht // Mark 1: 14-15 // April 26, 2015
Today, we’re going to name the two central questions that we live with as Christians, as folks who find the life of Jesus compelling, as people who want to hear God and live a life of meaning and purpose and fun and grace. There are two questions that are the only questions we need to ask. (Though of course we ask plenty more). But these two questions shape who we are and how we live. Consider if you can guess what one or both of these questions might be.
So – we are in the third week of our study of Mark – Life Outside the Box. We heard the message of John the Baptist as a word for us today – that we too should prepare the way, GET READY for God to show up in our lives and world – that God is always up to something. And last week we pushed hard into this reality that the words of love that God spoke over Jesus at his baptism are words that God speaks to us, too – that God loves how he made you. Just as we are.
And this week, Jesus finally speaks. These are his first words – at least the first ones we hear 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!”
What does this mean? Can we just name how Jesus sounds really churchy and awkward to us as we hear it with 21st Century ears. So, we’re going to break down what Jesus says here into the three phrases he uses.
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, two weeks ago we said something about the bible – what do we always remember when we’re reading the bible, particularly when we read something that doesn’t make sense? (**Wait for responses. then: Transformers clip). 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. There is this larger story of God playing out in and around what we read. This is always good for us to remember!
And so we know Jesus’ words here are spoken into the larger context of God’s 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), God’s way for the world. Such hope, such longing, such anticipation in Act 1.
One of the specific way we see that is over and over again in the Old Testament we hear the phrase: “Behold, the days are coming…” Just two 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...”
Amos 9:13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…”
Again, here it sounds like churchy language but God kept telling his people: 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 had stopped at the end of the Old Testament, Act 1(end scene) – this is very unsatisfying and unfinished.
But it wasn’t the end. Now, 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!” 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 – as we move into understanding this second phrase about the kingdom, a key question we ask ourselves at this juncture – what the heck is 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? Though I grew up in the church, have been to seminary, it is only in recent years that I am finally understanding what this means.
We’re going to do a very abbreviated defining of God’s Kingdom – 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 places – first, by looking back, to the way God created this world to be – the descriptions of Creation 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 are actual examples of God’s Kingdom. His parables are specifically designed to describe the radical love and revolutionary reality of the Kingdom of God.
And third, there are descriptions throughout the Bible of a future time when God’s Kingdom will be fully realized. The language that is used to describe where this world is headed is that God is creating new heavens 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 heavens and new earth. A place where there is no suffering, sin, pain, cancer, abuse, addiction, injustice, poverty – all of that is gone. Redeemed, made new, new creation.
So the Kingdom of God is God’s dream for the world – we glimpse it in Creation, in Jesus, in the future new heavens and new earth. It is all these descriptions and more.
Jesus says it here: The Kingdom of God has come near. What did he say about the Kingdom? 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. John the Baptist was getting people ready for God to show up. And Jesus arrives to say, I’m here, and not only that, God’s Kingdom is available and accessible. Now. That is what this phrase means.
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. In us, as we are people who let the old, ugly, broken parts of ourselves die at the cross and be resurrection into new life and hope and possibility. 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. The Kingdom of God. We see it, we experience it.
And now, we’re about to get to the two questions and the really interesting stuff. So hang on. In addition to these kinds of signs of God’s Kingdom, there are also going to be these obvious, sometimes jarring events in our lives where God will have our attention.
Listen up, this is where things get interesting. The bible talks about how events happen in our life, and some of these events might be a 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 wedding." (But also when Jesus says, The TIME has come). Jesus is saying that there will be these times that come, these Kairos moments. What happens is that we have kairos moments in our life where 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. Here we are 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! Or small like someone stole your bike. They can be positive things, like your wedding day, getting a new job. They can be more negative moments, someone dear to you gets a cancer diagnosis, you lose your job. But no matter what they are defining moments that have an effect on us and cause us to stop and look around.
God didn’t necessarily “make this happen to us” – God didn’t put the speedbump there necessarily, but now that God has our attention, he wants to show us something - the kingdom is near. Our world and God's world intersect, and we have the opportunity to step further into God’s Kingdom. But it is our choice. First – to just notice that this moment has happened. And then it takes conscious choice: we can choose to just ignore it and keep driving but often if we ignore it, we’ll be driving on a popped tire or a broken axel, and we won’t make it far before we have to pull over again and really pay attention.
I had a kairos moment at our daughter's 2nd birthday party. Friends of ours had arrived for the kitty-cat-themed birthday party – a husband, wife and two kids. As they came in the door he said, “Hey, haven't seen you guys in a while – how're you doing?” And I said, “Oh, good, you know things are crazy busy, but we're good.” He replied, “So – busy like you both work full time and have a kid, busy? Or is something going on?” And I said, “No – just we both work full-time and have a kid busy.” And I realized in that moment that I had been living in that place where I always felt like there was too much going on and I wasn't doing a good job. And in the Kingdom of God, we don't live with constant busyness and anxiety – God had my attention helping me realize this disparity between where I was living and the kind of fullness of life God offers us. Here was an invitation from God to pay attention to my life and listen to Him and step more fully into God’s Kingdom. In that moment I put on my kitty ears and had a 2yo birthday party. But in the weeks that followed, I worked through that kairos moment.
A kairos moment. When God gets your attention. Those moments help us notice the disparity between where we’re living and the kind of life that’s available to us in the kingdom of God.
And what do we do when we notice a Kairos moment? We do just what Jesus suggests in our text: “Repent and believe the good news!” What does that mean? Let’s unpack this final phrase from Jesus and name the two questions.
When we hear the word Repent! Like me, you may conjure up a lot a finger wagging and guilt, or someone on the street with a t-shirt that says, “Turn or Burn.” But repent actually means to turn around. Change direction – also a change of heart. Open ourselves up to a new way of thinking and being.
To actually live out “repentance” we break it down to one question. This is the first of the two questions that define our lives as Jesus-followers, and it is this: What is God saying to me? When we have a defining moment – which can be a positive or negative kind of experience, though usually not a neutral experience – we live with the question: what is God saying to me? (And we could spend the rest of the day just talking about how to listen for God in our lives – but that's for another day). Repenting is this process of paying attention, stepping 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?
We repent, and then we believe. So – believe what does that mean? We associate belief as something involving voluntary brain power pointing in a particular direction. But belief is not just mind work – 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: 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?
These two questions are how we repent and believe. God, what are you saying? And how am I going to respond?
I have been living with these questions for about five years – I learned them from others. And I am convinced that these two questions are the only questions we need. (And I follow that up with the caveat that we really do ask tons of questions and wrestle with God and our faith and life and meaning). But what I mean by is that from these two questions all of the other questions and longings and hope and life flow.
All of this, Jesus captures in his three phrase that open up Mark’s gospel: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
So what about you? 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 you and the kinds of things you’re facing in your lives – applying for jobs, grad school, parents divorcing, new dating possibilities, siblings and friends getting married while you wish you had someone to be with, starting new projects, feeling burnt out at work. Where is God inviting you to pay attention? Any moments of insight or heartbreak or elation. Has something significant changed in your life? 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?
This week, my initiation and challenge to you is to write down these two questions – you can do it now on your phone or on the paper in your handout. God, what are you saying to me? What am I going to do about it? These are questions for us to live together.
The band is coming back up, and they’ll lead us in a song. You’re welcome to sing with, or if you prefer just be in this time and space listening for Kairos moments, listening for God. Let’s pray.