January 24, 2021   Turning 21: Called  And Challenged, by Pastor David

Mark 1: 14-20 After John’s arrest, Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and mind, and believe this Good News!” While walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw the brothers Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, since they fished by trade. Jesus said to them, “Follow me; I will make you fishers of humankind.” They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. Proceeding a little further along, Jesus saw the brothers James and John Bar-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, putting their nets in order. Immediately Jesus called them, and they left their father Zebedee standing in the boat, with the hired help, and went off in the company of Jesus.

 Please take a moment to notice your breath, to feel God’s Spirit within you and in the music we have heard and the scripture we have read. May God’s word inspire and bring us to life this day. 

January 24, 2021.     Turning 21: Called and Challenged.   

“This is the time of fulfillment! The reign of God is at hand!” Jesus  spoke these words of hope and encouragement about 2000 years ago. We may be inspired by them today as well, and recognize their truth for us in our time. Every generation hears and takes on the challenge for their own time. “This is the time of fulfillment! The reign of God is at hand!”

I received a phone call this week from a national United Methodist news organization. They interviewed me about our anti-racism work in our region. I felt privileged and challenged to tell a brief life history of my calling and all the good things that are happening in our region. Of course I bragged about our church a bit and the ways in which we are creating coalitions beyond our denomination and our faith. I’ll let you know when the article comes out - if it’s a good article… which I’m sure it will be.

This week, on Tuesday evening, about 15 of us gathered in front of the church to declare in our particular way that this is the time of fulfillment, that the reign of God is at hand. We knew not everyone could be there. That was part of the purpose. We each took turn ringing the church bell, 20 to 40 times each, until we reached 400 rings of the big bell in our steeple. All over the country churches ran their bells in similar ways to remember the 400,000 people who have died of COVID 19 in our country alone. 

I count this action as part of our declaration of the new reign of God because it was a significant, powerful, symbolic action for us to begin to express and name our grief over what has happened in the last year. Reggie Williams writes: “Grief is what happens to love when its subject is no longer there, when it has no one to receive it. The effect is pain. Something similar happens with communal grief. 

  We feel the pain of loss when we recognize humanity—our own or that of our loved ones—in the tragedy. The nation grieved in 1986 as we watched the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger. “… The nation grieved in 2001 when 3000 people were lost in the tragedy at the World Trade Centers.

We have hardly begun to grieve as that many people are dying every day in our country as a result of COVID 19. “Something is wrong.” Professor Williams continues. “There’s no right way to grieve. But a lack of grief when it’s clear that trauma has happened may indicate that the body is unwell.”

As we begin to get vaccinated, as we start to have hope that an end to the worst of the pandemic is near, we begin the process of grieving by ringing the bell, and by proclaiming the truth that the time of fulfillment is at hand. We promise ourselves that we will learn the process of communal grief so that we can grieve the people who were lost when this country began and the people lost as this country grew - major communal grief moments that also did not find expression. 

The numbers are so large and the vaccination so new that there is ambiguity and anxiety about the future. “But if we can see the toll taken on our communities by the wave of pandemic-related deaths, perhaps we can recover something of our collective humanity as well.” Reggie Williams, Christian Century. “Change your hearts and minds and believe the Good News.”

On Thursday evenings we have begun to study the Gospel of Mark. We have read the first 3 chapters, so if you want to come this Thursday, you could read the first 4 chapters and catch up with us. We’ve only really studied through chapter 1 because it is so full and rich. Take this phrase for instance, “Trust the Good News.” We think we know what that means - and it does mean the good news of Jesus Christ. 
The word “good news” in Mark’s day was always about the emperor, Augustus Caesar. The community of Mark’s gospel was coopting the language of the oppressive empire to talk about their own leader. The emperor would announce that “Peace is at hand” and at the same time there were 10,000 crucifixions happening in 10 years. It was an act of resistance to mourn and to remember the Crucified One, and to notice the role of the empire and contrast that with the good, life-giving news of a different and new time initiated by Jesus, the One who died and yet lived. 

And when Mark says the Kingdom of God is at hand, do you think he meant the empire? Of course not. There’s a big difference between an empire and a kingdom . We tend to think of the Kingdom of God encompassing the whole world and all people - which is ok. But Mark hated the empire, and probably had in mind, if you think about it, the restoration of the local kingdom of Judea/Israel. They were certainly hoping that Jesus would be the one to bring that kingdom into fruition. The empire had coins made that showed the emperor standing over a fallen woman, representing Israel. The people were primed to hear the word that the kingdom of God, their kingdom where their people were respected, was re-forming, where their God was in charge and other nations would bow to YHWH, not to the false gods of empire. 
Mark’s community wanted the Temple back, they wanted their people back. They were grieving and hurting, but they still managed to proclaim a time of fulfillment, the reign of God is at hand. 

So we have to close up today, of course with an excerpt from the poem of poet laureate Amanda Gorman, and her brilliant poem from the inauguration. Listen to how well it fits this time. 

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division…
... Being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it….
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

“This is the time of fulfillment! The reign of God is at hand!” This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn  2101  Two Fishermen