On Wednesday night, Jodi and I walked over to the middle school for a discussion on stress and how it affects tweens and teens. While much of what we heard was good, valid information, the one piece that really stuck with me was a comment made by one of the teen panelists. This young woman, a high school junior, remarked that one of the most important things parents and adults can do to help young people is to listen. To listen actively, openly, and without judgment is key to getting folks to really understand what is going on in the lives of young people; listening helps teens to open up authentically and to reveal entirely the various stressors and tough experiences that are a part of their world. To hear this reminded me again that even though my son is 22, I still have a parental responsibility to him, and that a major piece of living into that role is to listen.
For me, listening means going way deeper than just to hear something. To listen is to work to understand the meanings and experiences behind the words that are said; to attend to and heed what we hear. It is to earnestly and intentionally participate in the two way street of communication; to not just give a superficial or casual response when someone speaks to or with us.
Listening is also VITAL when considering the tools of faith; as we respond to the scripture read or the words offered in prayer or ministry; or for us as Friends as we listen in the holy silence. This is nowhere more evident than here and now as we consider the words of Mark 1:14-20. We’ve heard these words or others like them often. Anyone who attends worship regularly throughout their lifetime has heard these words many times. However, to fully realize the message contained in them, we must listen. We must make an effort to understand and internalize the meaning of this passage; for within it, we may discover the life-changing power of the person who speaks and the events or actions that his words provoke.
You’ve got to love the Gospel of Mark…it’s the oldest of the 4 accounts of the life of Jesus that we have. It’s the shortest. Its style is both simple and super concentrated. Scholars recognize that within it’s boundaries we can uncover the historical Jesus and the clearest expressions of the meaning of the cross to Jesus’ followers then and now.
That all is initiated with the reading we heard this morning; if we take care to really listen to the words, we begin to realize the importance of what Jesus came to do.
The words Jesus speaks here are his first ones in this gospel; “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
“the time is fulfilled…” WHAT time?! The Greek word used here for time is not the minutes, hours, and days of regular, ordinary chronos time. This is the serendipitous Kairos; a word used to express that “right or opportune moment”. It is the culminating instance that brings forth God’s purpose. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature. Kairos speaks to the crucial instance when God will be revealed. The phrase “kingdom of God” immediately suggests to the listener that God is in charge as ruler in contrast to the other kingdoms of the day who built huge palaces and towns to convey their power and authority. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was not bolstered by the construction of monumental buildings and great cities. God’s kingdom is manifest in the human embrace of God’s rule through repentance and faith.
The declaration concerning the in-breaking of God’s kingdom is followed by an imperative—or a command: “repent and believe in the good news”. This imperative to repent and believe, turning away from prior trusts and loyalties, is a response to the claim that the kingdom is at hand; that God is already graciously at work.
To repent does not mean to just change our ways, but rather to radically reorient our whole being so that we might receive and fully participate in the kingdom; which is the good news. Additionally Bible scholars Bartlett and Tayler say this about repenting:
We do not repent in order to usher in the time of redemption, but because that time is already at hand. We do not become fishers in order to meet the quota that will summon up the reign of God, but because that reign has already come near. And we do not follow Jesus with the hopes that one day we might find him, but because he has already come to us and called us. As Mark tells the time, God takes the initiative. The reign of God is not the product of discipleship, but the precondition of it. The Greek word translated good news—evangelion– is the one from which we get the word “evangelical”. In our culture, this term means “conservative” both with regard to politics and religion, or the emphasis of personal salvation by the instantaneous accepting of Jesus into one’s life. The present meaning of evangelical does not do justice to what Mark’s author was suggesting. In the words of Pope Benedict the 16th:
This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world. The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful and pleasant. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better.
When the [gospel writers] adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here — a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk, but reality… Mark speaks of the “Gospel of God,” the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world — the living God — who goes into action.
Jesus’ first activity after proclaiming the presence of God’s kingdom and the power of this good news, imploring his listeners to get onboard with decisive, life-changing reorientation and new identities, is to gather some followers that exemplify and model what he’s talking about. You talk about radical reorientation; how’s walking away from a vocation and a lifestyle that is stable and secure in order to follow Jesus who knows where? In calling the Galilean fishermen to discipleship, Jesus does not just ask them to add one more task to their busy lives. He calls them into new ways of being… These disciples leave behind a whole matrix of work, family, and place—all the stuff of a new identity. The best translation of verse 17 will reflect this new identity. The NRSV has Jesus say, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” This makes it sound as if fishing for people were a task. The better translation receives fishing for people as a new identity. A literal translation might read, “Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers for people.” There is a world of difference between “I will make you fish” and “I will make you to become fishers.” “I will make you fish” gives us one more activity to work into our datebooks. (“Right, Jesus, fish for people. How about every fourth Monday? Can anyone else do fourth Mondays?”) But “I will make you to become fishers”? That promises a whole new life.
Let’s step back from these word meanings and consider their importance in our lives today.
By LISTENING to this passage we are invited to understand that Jesus is declaring HERE AND NOW AND FOREVER, the presence of God’s presence and power in a kingdom that should inspire us to radically reorient our lives by believing in the reality of the message that changes everything. The difference that this makes should alter our identities personally, professionally, and as members of this faith community. What could it mean that we have already exactly what we need to possess and prosper a meaningful life that shows and shares this way? What parts of our lives can we eliminate? What paths might we avoid or re-do in order to follow Jesus?
As we continue to explore the gospel of Mark this year; we will see that the author has some specific ideas about what it means to become fishers for people; as well as receive examples from Jesus’ life and ministry that illustrate it. Are we up for the journey? First– and then always– we MUST listen…
In my house, if I had 10 dollars for all the times Dennis and Andy and I said things like “what did you say?!” “I didn’t hear you say that!” or “WHEN did you say that?!” to one another, I could probably greatly reduce the meeting’s gap between what we have and what we need for this year. And, this condition is not mainly a result of hearing loss by the parents…
Friends; LET US LISTEN—LISTEN CAREFULLY AND CLOSELY to what is being offered here in scripture; to what God is calling us to do each and every day. To LISTEN and then take inside ourselves deeply these words of Jesus, will CHANGE OUR LIVES. ALL WE NEED TO DO IS LISTEN.
Italicized quotes from:
Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1, Advent through Transfiguration: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 10223-10226). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.