Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
January 21, 2018
Jackson Park Lutheran Church
Good morning. I’m sure you are as surprised to see me here as I am to be here. My name is Norman Stolpe, and I am a retired pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I won’t try to trace all the steps that brought me to be with you today. Only yesterday afternoon was I asked to fill in for your pastor Fred Thomas-Breitfeld. I assure you, we have spoken on the phone, and he has invited me to help out in a sort of time crunch.
Perhaps you noticed, as I did, that each of the Scriptures for today make a reference to the urgency of time.
Jonah proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The appointed time has grown short, for the present form of this world is passing away.”
After John the Baptizer was arrested, Jesus picked up with the same message, right where John left off, “The time is fulfilled, and this kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
Each morning during my breakfast is use a Benedictine discipline known as lectio divina or holy reading with the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday. So every morning this week, without knowing I would be with you in worship today, I have been listening for God’s word about propitious timing, which has been a central aspect of our experience this past year plus.
My wife, Candy, and I had been in Dallas, TX since 2000. I had served Central Christian Church as their pastor until I “retired” in 2011. Then I did five interim pastorates. During the last of those, in April 2016 my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we knew we needed to make some changes. Our Dallas house sold more quickly than we expected, so we came to Milwaukee in February and stayed with some friends of our son David and daughter-in-law Rachel until we could move into a duplex downstairs from Rachel and David and their children Sam and Elizabeth in August. David is an impact teacher at Lane Intermediate School in West Allis.
We left our youngest son, Erik, behind in Dallas. He is a musician, and he has blossomed now that we’re not there to hold him back. Our oldest son, Jon, is an engineer who lives north of Philadelphia, PA with his wife, Leanne, and their children Hannah and Isaac.
Now that we have gotten settled and are feeling at home, I have been looking for some ministry opportunities that work with making every day the best it can be for my wife. I have been telling God I’d like to do one thing a week after New Year’s. Well, last week I conducted a funeral for a family without a pastor. Today I here with you in worship, and next Sunday I’m preaching for the folk of Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church, just four blocks from our home. I’m feeling confirmed in the timing of our next steps.
Besides hoping this helps you know a bit about me, I think this gives you some idea of why we have been paying so much attention to timing this year, and why I resonated as I meditated on the urgency of timing in these passages this week.
Though Jonah preached to Nineveh in a spirit of judgment and hostility rising out of ethnic, cultural and religious prejudice and hatred, his message was God’s good news to the people of Nineveh. They recognized the urgency of timing, turned around, and God was merciful to them.
I don’t know about you, but Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about how to live given the urgency of their time makes me uncomfortable. Having said that, I found his tone remarkably appropriate this week as Congress failed to meet the deadline for keeping the government running. I don’t want to get overly political, especially with people who don’t know me, but just as this past year was a time of unprecedented transition to a new phase of life for our family, the past year since the last election has brought our country, and in some measure our world, into uncharted, uncertain territory with an urgency of timing.
John the Baptist introduced Jesus and his ministry, which Jesus kicked into high gear after John was arrested. This certainly shocked Herod Antipas who thought he had eliminated John’s troublesome preaching only to hear that Jesus preached the same message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Like the game Whack a Mole, Herod got caught in a game of Whack a Prophet.
Many sermons on this passage focus on the pairs of fisherman brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. But it also affirms that this is just the time for God’s good news.
God’s good news is that “the time is fulfilled.” The start of Jesus’ ministry was the turning point in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Jesus’ preaching invited people to an unprecedented opportunity to participate in God’s redemptive plan. Whatever they might have been waiting for, the decisive moment had arrived. The rest of the New Testament extends the propitious moment to us.
All through Hebrew history God’s people had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to dawn. They saw a few brief glimmers such as the good years of David and Solomon, but from Moses to Nehemiah and Ezra they mostly experienced yearning and disappointment. Jesus preached that heaven had come to earth for those who would believe in and live in it. For us too, God’s good news is to live in the exuberant confidence of the Kingdom of God regardless of our circumstances.
Repent just means to turn around. Repentance is not about feeling miserable or wallowing in guilt, shame and regret. Repentance is God’s good news that we are no longer captives of our past but welcome home.
John the Baptist had introduced the four fishermen to Jesus so when Jesus called, they received and followed God’s good news! It was their time to embrace God’s new life of unlimited, exuberant confidence.
You may feel your life is in a holding pattern. That tug deep inside that wants more is the Holy Spirit saying, “Now is your time! The circumstances you think are hindrances are God’s opportunity.” The Kingdom of God may seem obscure, but Jesus wants you to know that it has come near, not at an exotic, unattainable distance but in your small daily details. So let go of your regrets and inhibitions, your uncertainties and inadequacies. God is welcoming you to exuberant confidence as a resident of the Kingdom of God, which while hidden from ordinary folk is your most enduring and substantial reality.
With the church I served in NJ, I lead a weekly lunch with worship for street people. Joe was a developmentally disabled man who helped set and clear the table and played a hymn on his harmonica as part of our worship. One day he said, “I’ve been working on something special for today,” and played Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. A dozen or so unlikely people got a taste of the Kingdom of God! If you pay attention, you will hear Jesus saying, “The time is fulfilled, and this kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” Your time for unlimited, exuberant confidence is here.