There are moments that matter. Moments where we no longer think of time as 10am on a Sunday morning, but rather we think of critical moments when the time is right, when it’s time, when the time is fulfilled. Time as kairos, not chronos, for those who know a little Greek.
On Wednesday, we heard President Biden say “this is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. This is a time for boldness.” That’s kairos.
In our gospel we hear Jesus declare, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
Now, if you’ve been following any of the news from south of the border over the past four years, you know what it is that brought President Biden to declare that now is the time.
What is it that brought Jesus to declare in our gospel reading that now is the time? That the time is fulfilled. Or in one of my favourite translations, “Enough is enough”!
The first precipitating event, if you want to call it that, was Jesus own baptism which we read about two weeks ago. At his baptism, when the heavens were torn open, the voice of God spoke and the Spirit swooped down upon him, Jesus was given four gifts, four very special gifts. The first was the gift of identity. “You are my Son.” Never underestimate the power of knowing who you are, knowing who you are as a child of God.
The second gift was the gift of purpose. Baptism is always a re-purposing, and here we have the explicit affirmation of Jesus as Son of God, a title given to the kings of Israel who were to shepherd and lead God’s people. Purpose is powerful.
The third gift was affirmation. “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” No human being operates in a vacuum. Or as John Donne wrote so many years ago, “no man is an island.” We live in relationship with others, and the affirmation that comes from those whom we love is the nourishment we need to help us grow into the fullness of who we are to become.
And the fourth gift that Jesus received at his baptism was to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Identity, purpose, affirmation, empowerment. Four spectacular gifts. Jesus was ready. But the time was not yet fulfilled.
Because the next thing that Jesus needed was a time of preparation. A time of testing, of temptation. And so the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness for forty days, where he was tempted by the ways of the world, by the ways of empire. He was tempted to embrace the way of power. He was tempted to embrace the way of fame. But these he rejected and instead Jesus embraced the way of God, the way of love and service, of grace and humility, of mercy and healing. He calls this way the kingdom of God.
When Jesus returns from the wilderness, there is another precipitating event. Because context matters. Timing matters. John was arrested. John, the one who called out King Herod, the one who rejected the empire’s way of greed and power and fame, John was crushed by the way of greed and power and fame, arrested, soon to be executed.
And Jesus cries out “Enough is enough.” “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” It is time for God’s way to be revealed.
And so immediately and with great boldness and urgency, Jesus sets out to form a committee to review the situation and make recommendations.
No, Jesus didn’t form a committee. He started a movement. For me the best way to think about the Kingdom of God is as a movement, a movement of love and service, of grace and humility, of mercy and healing. The first thing that Jesus did was to build that movement by recruiting disciples, by calling out to Simon and Andrew, to James and John, “follow me.” And immediately, they left their nets and followed him.
Sometimes we marvel at the immediacy of the response of Simon, Andrew, James and John. How is it that they were able to respond so quickly and with such abandon, we wonder?
But who knows? Maybe they were actually in the minority! Maybe Jesus called a whole bunch of people to follow him, but most of them didn’t. And maybe it was only the ones who did respond immediately who got to be in the story, this story of the kingdom of God, this story of the Jesus’ movement of love and service, grace and humility, mercy and healing.
Do you want to be part of this movement that we call the kingdom of God? When your time is fulfilled, when the call comes to you, “follow me”, how will you respond?
There are plenty of examples of people who don’t respond well to God’s call. One of the best examples is the story of Jonah that we heard in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning. The book of the Jonah is the story of a prophet the way that Stephen Colbert would tell it. That is, it’s political satire, and it’s meant to be funny. Jonah is a prophet, but not just any old prophet, he’s a prophet who is a northern kingdom nationalist, loud and proud, intent on expanding Israel’s boundaries. Nineveh on the other hand, is the evil empire, the capital city of the Assyrian empire with a reputation for violence, the empire which would ultimately destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. Jonah and Ninevah did not get along.
And so when God calls Jonah the prophet to go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it, Jonah hops on the first boat he can find going the opposite direction. Because he knows who God is, Jonah knows that God is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishing. And so Jonah is worried, rightly so as it turns out, that if he goes to Nineveh and cries out against it, they just might repent, and God just might forgive them, and then they won’t get the thrashing that Jonah knows they deserve and longs to see.
So when the call from God comes, Jonah turns and runs, he hops on the boat to Tarshish, and well, you know what happens next. There is a big storm, and Jonah realizes it’s all his fault, and tells the sailors to throw him overboard. Which they do, but God saves Jonah by sending a big fish to swallow him up, and after three days, take Jonah to dry land and spew him up.
At which point the word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. “Get up, go to Nineveh that great city and proclaim the message that I tell you.” And I guess this time Jonah really doesn’t feel he has much choice in the matter. Poor Jonah, still dripping with whale vomit, he goes to Nineveh and cries out “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people believe him, they believe God and so does the king of Nineveh, and they repent, covering themselves and all their animals with sackcloth, declaring a fast, and vowing to turn from their evil ways.
When God saw what they did, God changed his mind about the calamity that was to be brought upon them, and did not do it.
And Jonah was furious. Because he did not want God’s mercy to be extended to his adversaries. Jonah wanted no part of a movement of grace and mercy if that grace and mercy was to be extended to his enemies.
Do you want to be part of this movement that we call the kingdom of God, this movement of love and service, grace and humility, mercy and healing if it extends not just to your friends, but also to your opponents?
When I read the story of Jonah, I think I understand a bit better why Jesus needed those gifts of identity, purpose, affirmation and empowerment, and why he needed that time of preparation in the wilderness. And I certainly understand why these same things are even more necessary for me.
When your time is fulfilled, when the call comes to you, when Jesus says to you “follow me”, how will you respond?
Homily. Yr B P3. Jan 24 2021. St. Albans
Readings: Jonah 3.1-10; Psalm 62.6-14; 1 Cor 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20
Image by bee happy123, Creative Commons