God the Father on the throne, with the Virgin Mary and Jesus
By Anonymous painter from Westphalia, late 15th century (http://www.hampel-auctions.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Most of us know how to go along to get along in life, right? There are customs and laws that we have learned to live by that make everyday life predictable and orderly. Many of these customs and rules are so engrained we don’t even think about them. But, customs and laws are not universal. One thing that makes travel to another country interesting and at times frustrating, is discovering different laws and customs.
We all know that if you plan to drive in England you need to drive on the left side of the road – not on the right.
By Tellyaddict at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Think you know your sports? Be prepared to be baffled. England is famed for its football and cricket, but have you ever heard of ‘cheese rolling’ ‘black pudding throwing’ or ‘the egg and spoon race’? The World Black Pudding Throwing Championship Ramsbottom 2007 is pictured below. This annual event in Ramsbottom sees competitors throw black puddings in an attempt to knock Yorkshire puddings from a 20ft high plinth,
Paul Anderson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Traveling to Ireland? Expect looks of unadulterated horror from the locals if you get off an Irish bus without giving your thanks to the person who drove you.
Do you like a glass of wine with dinner? In India the laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. Consumption or possession of alcohol in prohibited states can lead to arrest without bail and charges which carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years. According to Trip Advisor, bare feet are considered very dirty and there are many sites in Japan where you can enter only if you remove your shoes and then often only if you are wearing some sort of socks.
My point is that laws and customs differ depending on who the ruler is and what country you are in.
The gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how strong of a political statement this was because of the presence and rule of Rome in Israel. Caesar Augustus not only ruled, he claimed to be a son of god. Roman legions were garrisoned around the empire to ensure that Roman laws and aspects of Roman culture were enforced.
Fyodor Bronnikov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The brutality and harshness of their enforcement was intended to make the message clear: resistance is futile. For example, when the Romans defeated Spartacus and other slaves in 71 BC, Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus’ followers on the road between Rome and Capua. The Romans wanted everyone to understand they were in charge – they governed life – Caesar was a son of god.
Jesus’ message: “The Kingdom of God is near” was a call to reframe people’s understanding of who was in charge – whose rules governed life – and whose was actually God. The call to repentance only makes sense in context. Otherwise, the call to repentance comes across so generalized that it is essentially meaningless.
Repent of what?
But with this background it becomes clear. Jesus is calling people to repent of believing that the power of the Romans is the only power. If you think that you have to go along to get along – on everything – including Caesar’s claim that he should be worshipped – repent. If you think that those with enough power can do whatever they want – repent. If you think that God is brutal and harsh since Caesar Augustus is a son of god – repent. Turn around. Reframe your thinking.
When Jesus proclaims: “believe in the gospel” he is saying there is now news from the battlefield – God’s way actually wins. It doesn’t always look that way – if not in this life, then in the next.
Kingdom of God has a strangeness to it compared to the way the world operates. It is a little like living as a visitor to a foreign country. You are living under a different ruler – with different laws, different ways of seeing the world, and different ways of living in the world. But, Jesus proclaims, trust this ruler – this way of living – because this ruler ultimately wins!
As Jesus proclaims – Andrew, James, John and Peter begin to follow. The disciples’ following is about more than walking along with Jesus. Their following is about their starting to live like God’s rule was true. What would it mean in your life for you to live more deeply like God was actually in charge of the world?
One way to think about this is to think about where you are experiencing stress in life. Or to think about what you are afraid of. We tend to be afraid of the things that seem bigger than us – more powerful than us – the things we have little or no control of: illness, the economy, sometimes our relationships with others, success, aging, not being able to keep up with technology. What powerful forces stress you? Do you feel like you are on your own in dealing with these forces? Jesus says, reframe your thinking. Believe God is at work on your behalf. Believe the rule of God is near. Live more deeply like it is true.
Jesus does give specific examples of what the Kingdom of God looks like here, but the story of Jonah helps concrete. A quick refresh of the story may be helpful.
Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh and tell the people to repent of their evil ways or God will destroy them. The people of Nineveh are Jonah’s enemies. Jonah would like to see the people of Nineveh destroyed. So, Jonah goes the other direction.
By of the modification : Eric Gaba (Sting) (Screenshot from NASA World Wind (retouched))
He takes a boat headed towards Tarshish. There is a terrible storm on the sea and Jonah is thrown overboard. He is swallowed by the whale and spit up on the shore by Nineveh.
God again tells Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh to repent. This time, Jonah goes – reluctantly – his heart is not in it – his message is about as short and terse as it possibly could be: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Then, Jonah goes up on a hill to watch and see what happens. He is hoping they will not listen. He wants God to destroy them. When they repent, Jonah pouts. God then seeks to help Jonah understand that God’s way are not our ways. The Kingdom of God is different.
Aren’t there people who you wish would get theirs? I know I struggle with this from time to time. From sports teams, to political parties, to competitors at work, to rivals in love, to that person that is just so darn difficult to deal with – aren’t there times we all are tempted to wish that they would get theirs.
Drew Baydala of Minneapolis Ticket King told CBS Philadelphia he’s warning Viking’s fans to “remove their colors” if Minnesota wins. He is quoted as saying, “If the Vikings win, yes, I would take off any sort of, like, colors. I know that sounds ridiculous, like we’re almost talking about gangs here, but it’s no joke down in Philly. It really isn’t.”
Who do you wish would get theirs? Are there people you find yourself wishing God would just remove from your life? Jesus’ call to repentance – that the Kingdom of God is near – to believe in the gospel is to live in a way that we trust that God’s way of being in the world is the ultimate power in life.
The story of Jonah makes clear the Kingdom of God is a double-edged sword. God calls us to repentance when we hate the haters.
Jonah gives us a concrete example of what Jesus means when he tells people to love their enemies. It is not just no longer wishing them harm. It is also participating in what will help them. Even when we don’t want to – or would rather go the other direction – even when it may seem a bit risky or inconvenient to do so.
Jonah walks a day’s journey into a city of people who are his enemies – delivering a message they probably don’t want to hear – we shouldn’t miss that he does it because God tells him to – he doesn’t just do it because it is risky. It is a little like walking into a sports bar in Philly tonight if the Vikings win, wearing Vikings colors, and shouting, “Skoal Vikings!”
What Jonah does takes some trust that God’s will is at work. It takes some trust in God’s Kingdom. It takes believing the good news. Today, Jesus says again to us: The Kingdom of God is near.Repent – and believe the good news! Amen.