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Free Sample for January 25,2015
By David Howell

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 Preaching Mark 1:14-20

 

Urgency!
Last week we heard call stories from John and 1 Samuel. Compared to the loftiness of John, today’s account from Mark is minimalist, even stark. The preacher may feel that there isn’t much to go on. But there is!  We see it immediately.

No sooner is Jesus baptized, named, and commissioned in verse 11, but Mark immediately introduces one of his favorite words: euquς (immediately).  Matthew uses the word 7 times, Luke-Acts uses it twice, and John 3 times. Mark (by far the shortest of the works) uses the word 42 times. This could be a quirk, a bad writing habit that Mark should get over. Or it could signal something more. Mark’s gospel moves at high speed, drawing us into an intensity, a heart-racing urgency. Simon and Andrew follow Jesus immediately. Jesus sees James and John and immediately calls them.

I think Mark’s gospel is the gospel for our times because we have lost a sense of urgency. Through the ages the church has used an urgency of fear to motivate people to join, give, and comply. It must be said that fear is a great motivator, but not only is it an easy tool for manipulation, it is also counter to what the Gospel is about: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Is there not a better urgency than “Quick get up!”? The house is on fire!”?

I was living out in the country in southern Minnesota and out for a walk one clear night when I saw the Northern Lights shimmering across the sky. You can often see the Northern Lights in northern Minnesota. They are rarer the farther south you go. I was so excited and struck by the beauty of it all, I ran back into the house and told my wife and kids: “Quick, get up! You have got to come out and see this!”  It was an urgency of beauty.

Recall the feeling, the excitement that you have when you’re about to see a dear friend or relative soon. Imagine two people who are dating and are beginning to realize that there is something significant going on. Perhaps they haven’t seen each other in a while and they are preparing for a big date. The time can’t go fast enough, the excitement builds. It’s an urgency of love.
You have two dear friends who have never met each other. You can’t wait until you share them with each other. Maybe you’ve been saying, “You have got to get to know my other friend!” or, “I can’t wait till you meet her!” When they are about to meet your excitement has grown and grown. It’s an urgency of relationships.

The gospel writer was intent on sharing. We sense he just couldn’t wait to tell. Northern hemisphere Christians have gotten lethargic, slow to speak, and slow to act. How dare we hear the voice of Jesus calling and stay on our couch? 

But there is a new and disappointing urgency among Christians today. We are living in an age when there is growing disillusion with the institutional church; we see it in the decline in attendance and the accompanying decline in giving across denominational lines. So there is a new urgency gripping congregations: if we don’t get more people in here, we won’t be able to pay our bills and we will have to close the doors to the church building we love. The urgency is an urgency of fear, only this time it’s not about the fear for those who might not know the wonder of Jesus, but fear for ourselves. We flock to gurus and even pay big bucks to find out how we might be able to fill the church, not because we particularly care about the people who aren’t with us on Sundays, not because we are eager for the Kingdom of God, but because we want to fill the church to preserve the institutions to which we have come accustomed. It is fear for ourselves. Churches that want to adopt programs and make changes so they can survive will not survive. Those who seek to preserve their lives will lose them.

All the while Jesus tells us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Sunday after Sunday we say the right prayer: “Your kingdom come.” However, while we pray the right words we pray them with our self-interested attitudes, fearfully clinging to a building or a tradition. With our whole being we are praying “My kingdom come.”  Across the millennia, John and Jesus call us to repent. “Repent and believe” not in yourself or your church, but “in the good news” of Jesus.

A Courageous Call: Repent!

John had preached repentance and (as we will learn later in the Gospel) it got him killed. Now Jesus starts his ministry, and out of the chute commands that we “repent and believe.” It is a grim foreshadowing of what was to come for Jesus. It is a courageous picking up of the banner by Jesus who knew where it would lead. It is an essential message for his listeners and us.

The English word “repent” used to translate the Greek metanoiα is inadequate. “Repent” simply means “to feel sorry.” Metanoiα literally means to change your mind. Your congregation may remember the word metamorphosis (changing body form, like a caterpillar into a butterfly). Make the connection: metanoiα is a mind change. Since the Bible frequently uses the word in connection with action (Mt 3:8, Lk 3:8, Acts 20:21, Heb 6:1) the best translation is provided by God’s Word Translation: “change the way you think and act.” This isn’t just a linguistic curiosity, it is vital to the message of John and Jesus. We are not called merely to feel sorry, we are called to change of attitude and behavior. The implications for us are huge. We need to get up off our couches of comfort and take part in the thrilling life and outlook of disciples. The radical nature of repentance is modeled by the disciples’ eager and immediate action.

Pastor Gary Dreier

 

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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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