Sunday, January 21, 2018

Epiphany 3B

Mark 1:14–20




O God, you revealed your Son to all people by the shining light of a star. We pray that you bless the people of St. Andrew with your gracious presence. May your love be our inspiration, your wisdom our guide, your truth our light, and your presence our benediction; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.


This week President Trump announced his eleven “Fake News Awards.” Eleventh prize went to “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” He referred to Russian collusion as “perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.” He emphasized in all capital letters: “THERE IS NO COLLUSION!”


Until the 2016 presidential election “fake news” was not a commonly used term. “Fake news” has been defined as “a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” It is “written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or [to] gain financially or politically.”[1]


President Trump has taken the use of the term “fake news” to new heights, using it to refer to stories and news sources with which he disagrees. Some political analysts see “fake news” as a grave threat to democracy, free debate, and our western civilization. On the one hand, we have greater access to news sources than ever before. But on the other hand, the uproar over “fake news” has impacted our confidence in the news we receive. It has become very difficult to know who we can trust to inform us.


This is not, of course, the first time in history disinformation has been used to influence and control people. The Nazis were notorious for perpetrating the “big lie.” Ancient Rome at the time of Jesus was not immune to disinformation campaigns. For example, Eve MacDonald, a Teaching Fellow in Ancient History at the University of Reading, has argued that “fake news sealed the fate of Antony and Cleopatra.”[2] Jesus was a victim of a disinformation campaign. According to the gospel of Mark, after Jesus’ arrest, he appeared before the Sanhedrin, the Council of 70 religious leaders. They were “looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.” Nonetheless, “many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.”[3] The highest religious leaders in Israel apparently had no qualms about playing fast and loose with the truth in order to achieve their objectives.


Our gospel reading for today affirms that God sent Jesus into the world first and foremost to proclaim good news people could place their full trust in. As we read in Mark 1:14, “now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” What could be better news than the good news of God? Jesus sums up this good news in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” “Gospel” and “good news” are synonyms. The entire gospel of Mark unpacks the good news Jesus proclaims in this one verse. A gospel is not a news report in the typical sense. The purpose of a gospel is to proclaim what God is up to in Jesus Christ and to call people to follow Jesus— that is, to put their full trust in him.


What then is so good about the good news of God? The kingdom of God was Jesus’ central vision of God’s intention for the world. God tended to be thought of as distant and inaccessible. Jesus announces that God is very, very near. In fact, the point of the gospel of Mark is that God is as near as the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus also sought to teach that God ruled in a decisively different way than the kings they had known. A key passage in Mark’s gospel is 10:42–45. James and John and the other disciples had visions of grandeur about rising to power with Jesus. But Jesus calls them together and instructs them: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life [as] a ransom for many.” In the kingdom of God one rules by serving, not by dominating or lording it over others. Jim Wallis has criticized President Trump’s strongman style of leadership as “a direct contradiction of the Christian ethic of servant leadership, and the civic ethic of public service.” Wallis “points to the critical need for humility as well as checks and balances to restrain our political leaders.”[4]


Because we do not live under a king in our society, my seminary colleague Paul Neuchterlein proposes speaking of the culture of God to help us get at what Jesus intended in speaking of the kingdom of God.[5]


What distinguishes God’s culture? It is a culture cultivated by the good news of truth. That truth was embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There was nothing fake about Jesus.


It is a culture cultivated by the good news of peace. Our own culture is so divided, so partisan. Deep divisions threaten to tear our society apart. In the biblical understanding “peace” refers not just to the absence of violence, but also to the well-being of each person and of the whole community. There is no leaving behind the lowly and marginalized in God’s culture. But sadly we are leaving many people behind in our culture.


God’s culture is cultivated by the good news of hope. So many people seem to be struggling with hopelessness and pessimism. People in the ancient world also struggled with pessimism. God sent Jesus into the world to instill hope in hopeless hearts.


God’s culture is cultivated by the good news of salvation. Salvation is not understood in simply a spiritual sense in Mark. Jesus engages in a preaching, teaching, and healing ministry. He is all about the salvation of the whole person— mind, body, heart, and soul.


Jesus begins his proclamation with the words “The time is fulfilled.” This points to another important distinction between God’s culture and our prevailing culture. We tend to think of time in terms of chronological time. The Greek term is chronos. Chronos is time measured on our clocks and calendars. When we focus on chronological time, we tend to live a hurried and harried life, sacrificing our well-being, the well-being of others, and indeed the well-being of the Earth community as a whole. The time Jesus refers to is kairos time. Kairos is the right time, the fitting time, God’s time. Whenever God and Jesus are present in our lives, the time is fulfilled—it is kairos time.


Given that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, how are we to respond? “Repent, and believe in the good news,” says Jesus. Repentance tends to be associated with feeling or expressing sorrow for our sin. That is certainly an aspect of repentance. But here repentance has more to do with turning from our life-diminishing ways and our life-diminishing culture and turning toward God’s life-giving ways and life-giving culture revealed in Jesus.


It is time to turn from hate-filled, divisive ways and to turn in love toward God, toward our neighbor, and toward all God’s creatures. It is time to turn from life governed by chronological time and turn toward an abundant life governed by kairotic time.


It is time to turn from putting our trust in a culture that has betrayed us and turn toward putting our full trust in God’s culture and adopting its ways. In other words, it is time to put our full trust in the good news of Jesus Christ. In the final analysis life really does come down to who we trust to transform our lives.


Michael Rogness tells the story of “an alcoholic who became a Christian and was able, by the grace of God, to quit drinking. His old drinking buddies made fun of him. One of them asked, `Do you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine?’ The new Christian thought for a moment and then replied, `I don’t know whether Jesus turned water into wine— but I do know that, in my house, he turned beer into furniture.”[6]


I just finished reading the story of an Austrian farmer during the Nazi period named Franz Jägerstätter. Franz was married and had three daughters. He also served as the sexton or custodian for his local Catholic parish. When the Nazis took over Austria, he was inducted into the Nazi military. He refused to serve. In effect, he said “No” to Nazi culture and “Yes” to God’s culture. This simple but thoughtful farmer could see that everything about the Nazis was fake. He put his trust in the good news of Jesus Christ. Many tried to talk him out of his radical stand— even his priest and the judge at his trial. Only his wife stood by him & supported his decision. The Nazis put him to death, but they could not put to death his life-giving witness to Jesus and Jesus’ ways in the world. On October 26, 2007, Franz Jägerstätter was beatified and became a saint. His loyalty to Jesus will be an example for generations to come.


I want to lift one more piece of good news in our gospel lesson for today. The first four people Jesus called to be his disciples were fishermen— that is, ordinary working guys. In God’s culture everyone counts— there are no second class members. What counts is following Jesus. When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, they responded immediately and followed him. It is also good to know that when it came to following Jesus, they did not always get it right. It can be hard to stay rooted in God’s life-giving culture when we are still living in a life-diminishing culture.


We too are called to follow Jesus immediately. The challenge is to discern what it means to follow Jesus in our time and place. Like the disciples we will not always get it right. But let us not tarry in leaving behind a culture we cannot trust and putting our full trust in the good news of God’s culture revealed in Jesus Christ. Be assured there is nothing fake about this good news; this good news is as real as it gets.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.











[3] Mark 14:55–56.

[4] “The Heresy of Ideological Religion,” Sojourners, February 2018:7.