Jan. 24, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, by grace alone you call us and accept us in your service. Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jonah 3:1-5

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.

Psalm 62:5-12

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
    and set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12     and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
    according to their work.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

29 I mean, brothers and sisters,[a] the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 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, 31 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.

Mark 1:14-20

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The phrase “the good news” is prominent in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. The gospel itself begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Our passage today begins, “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.” In other words, the good news is that God’s reign is breaking in—right now. 

It is hard to explain how shocking this would have been for the first crowds who heard Jesus utter such a phrase. Remember that Jesus is living within the Roman Empire. But this empire didn’t refer to itself as an empire. Instead, it was the Roman kingdom. And good news was something people heard regularly. Good news is what was delivered when soldiers came back from a military battle, having conquered some group of people, outsiders, who would now pay taxes to the Roman kingdom. 

Now Jesus is proclaiming good news, but it’s not about some human battle on a military field. It is not about the Roman kingdom. It is about God’s kingdom, or God’s empire. The kingdom is not a dream or a blueprint. It is breaking in right now. This inbreaking of God’s kingdom and reign will mean the end of violence, exclusion, separation, and hate. The game is going to change, and with it the rules we have known. Again, it is not a question of if or when God’s reign will break in. Jesus declares it to be so already.

Jesus follows this up with the imperative, the command, to repent and believe in the good news. Each of these words are crucial. Repent is not so much about confession. That has its own place in the life of faith. Repent means a change of mind and heart. It means having a different perspective, something Jesus will go on to model throughout his ministry. 

Yesterday I was in the optometrist’s office ordering new lenses for my glasses. The slogan next to the eye-glass display was “change your perspective.” Anyone who has ever gotten glasses as a kid or in the magic decade of your 40s for reading, knows the truth of that statement. Putting on glasses changes your perspective and sometimes your life. Repentance, as commanded by Jesus, means to see the world, God and myself differently; to hold them in my heart differently. 

Jesus also gives the command to believe in the good news. I prefer the word trust here, rather than believe, trust in the good news. But whatever word we use, know that both our heart and mind are involved. We are putting our allegiance, our trust into the inbreaking of the kingdom. 

But this is not how Christian faith is usually described. When I told an acquaintance that my dad had been hospitalized, the first question was, “is he a believer?” I was taken aback. I think I sort of nodded and sheepishly walked away. If not distracted by life, I would have asked, a believer in what? That’s God’s reign is breaking in now? Yes. That he is a beloved child of God? Yes. That him stating his belief in such a god is the end of the life of faith? Not exactly. Certainly we believe that the promises made in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism are irrevocable. And it’s God who keeps the promises. Not us! 

Those promises stand, while we are simultaneously invited into the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. With a changed perspective, with hearts open, we cannot help but get caught up in the nets of being a follower of Jesus. In our gospel text for today and in the story of Jonah, we are reminded that God has, does, and will continue to use all sorts of imperfect people as the kingdom of God breaks in. God has already acted. Metaphors Jesus will use later imply that we are going to bear fruit; connected to him as a branch is connected to vine, steeped in the gospels, in close proximity to today’s most ostracized people as Jesus himself was, praying that’s God kingdom will come, we will naturally bear fruit. 

Perhaps the strangest text in our collection today is the one from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I almost left it out of worship, but I love Paul’s urgency. One scholar wrote, “Paul’s words call for a re-prioritization of values that, like Jesus’ own exhortation, encourage putting stock into heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones.” 

We will never know what Paul would have written to 21st century Nampa residents. Surely Paul would be floored to know that Jesus did not return shortly after Paul’s own death. But the call for a re-prioritization of values remains urgent. Getting any one group of Christians to agree on those values would seem to be a herculean task, but I actually think there is a lot we agree on. What do you think? 

Is making sure that children know that they are beloved by multiple adults not part of the reign of God breaking in? Are food and shelter and self-worth for everyone not all things mandated by Jesus? We might not like that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, but it is a very clear command. What could that love of enemies, real embodied love, do for the world? What fruit might we see from that change of mind and heart, that sort of repentance?

Yes, the kingdom of God is at hand. We are already beloved and enough in the eyes of God. And yet Jesus calling his disciples shows that other human beings were always going to be and will always be part of the inbreaking of the kingdom. Today the fishermen leave their nets and follow Jesus. Later, Jesus will send the disciples out in the world. The message and command are the same: repent and trust, the kingdom of God is at hand. Have a change of perspective.

I think this can all feel really big, especially in this particular moment in time. Following Jesus may appear to have too many ugly consequences. Indeed, sharing a message of repentance and trusting in God’s kingdom rather than the status quo has consequences. Recall that our gospel passage today starts with, “Now after John was arrested.” Strangely, this good news is often not going to be a popular message.

Or, you might be asking, who am I to point to the kingdom of God breaking in? I am having trouble seeing it and feeling it right now, let alone talking about it. To this I would say, see exhibit A—Jonah’s sermon to the Ninevites, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” It is a very short sermon that does not even mention God. Yet all of Nineveh repents. Why? Because God can use our reluctant, imperfect words to do bear amazing fruit. 

I have no idea what daily actions and minimal conversations need to happen in your spheres of influence. Who is truly alone and feeling not solitude but isolation? Who feels they are not enough? What group of people have you grown aware of who seem to be forgotten by the rest of us? Part of trusting the good news is trusting that God can do these big things that seem nearly impossible for us mere mortals.

I think the Psalmist speaks for all of us today, all of us who are yearning for security and stability. Part of trusting the good news and having a changed perspective is remembering that only God can provide the stability for which we yearn. But God can in fact provide it.

When I was in my fifth year of ministry in rural Iowa, I thought for a while that I would never get another call to a congregation. I needed friends and family to love me and assure me that the Holy Spirit was at work. Many times, this past year, we wondered how our congregation would endure, especially spiritually and emotionally. We have utilized the gifts of members in many ways, but God was our rock, our light, our well rooted vine. I would feel corny talking about it if I did not believe that deep in my soul. It is what our psalmist is referring to this morning.

The Psalmist seems to be having multiple dialogues. In the first move, she reminds herself that “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” Having remembered her history with God, assured of the rest and deliverance provided by God, the “mighty rock,” the psalmist implores the listeners to have the same trust.

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” I know, she says to her listeners, that you want to put your trust in lots of other things. But they won’t last. They are fleeting.  She concludes, “power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.” 

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Let us be going and participating in this kingdom of God. Not when we are ready. Not when we have the right words to say. Not after we’ve made a 10-point plan. Now. Change your perspective and see as Jesus sees this world. And know that we can never do this work alone. Nor do we need to. God is with us.

Prayers of Intercession

Guided by Christ made known to the nations, let us offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all people in need.

A brief silence.

For the church throughout the world, for pastors and teachers, for deacons and deaconesses, and for musicians and servers, that all proclaim the good news of God’s reconciling love, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For skies and seas, for birds and fish, for favorable weather and clean water, and for the well-being of creation, that God raise up advocates and scientists to guide our care for all the earth, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For those who provide leadership in our cities and around the world, for nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, for planning commissions and homeless advocates, that God inspire all people in the just use of wealth, let us pray.

Have mercy, O God.

For those who are sick, distressed, or grieving; for the outcast and all who await relief (especially), that in the midst of suffering, God’s peace and mercy surround them, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For our congregation and community, for families big and small, and for the organizations that meet here during the week, that God’s steadfast love serve as a model for all relationships, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

In thanksgiving for our ancestors in the faith whose lives serve as an example of gospel living, including James Torell, that they point us to salvation through Christ, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

Merciful God, hear the prayers of your people, spoken or silent, for the sake of the one who dwells among us, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen

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