They Grow Up So Quickly
Mark 1: 9-15
Boy, they sure grow up quickly, don't they? It seems like only yesterday they were taking him down to the temple to be baptized. Life just goes by so quickly. We get caught up in our own little worlds and the next thing you know you are getting wedding invitations from the little girls who used to baby-sit for you. Young people just seem to grow up so quickly. Why, it doesn't seem like more than just a couple of months ago we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and now look at him. Standing up there, making a public appearance, just look at how he has grown, look at the poise he has. Listen to him speak. "The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe."
They grow up so quickly but they sure can come up with some radical ideas. Where do they get those crazy ideas? Young people going off to war think they are going to fight the war that will end all wars—going to fight to make the world safe for democracy—going to build the great new society. Young people claiming that they shall overcome. Going to build the peaceable kingdom right out there in Woodstock. They grow up so quickly but they come up with such crazy ideas. Look at that Jesus, seems like only a couple of months ago we were celebrating his birth, and now he is all grown up and sounding crazy.
Mark is the earliest of the gospel writers and Mark says what all the Gospel writers say, "Jesus came teaching and preaching, the Kingdom of God is at hand. The time is fulfilled." In other words, all the promises about what will happen when the Kingdom of God comes are now being fulfilled in his presence.
August Wilson is a Pulitzer Prize winning play writer, His most, recent play is called Seven Guitars and in that play, one of the characters named Hedley talks about what will happen when God brings in the promised Kingdom. "I gonna be a big man." Louise snaps back, "You ain't gonna be nothing." Hedley says, "The Bible say it all will come to straighten out in the end. Every abomination shall be brought low. Everything will fall to a new place. When I get my plantation, I’m gonna walk around it. I am going to walk all the way round to see how big it is. I'm gonna be a big man on that day. That is the day I dress up and go walking through the town. That is the day my father forgive me. I tell you this as God is my witness on that great day when all the people are singing as I go by... and my plantation is full and ripe... and my father is a strong memory... on that day... the white man not going to tell me what to do no more.”1 That is the way Hedley understands this vision of what will happen when the Kingdom of God comes.
The Bible says that when the Kingdom of God comes: the lion will lie down with the lamb. The desert will blossom like a rose. Righteousness will flow down like a mighty stream. Peace will flow like a river. The knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas. And if you want to reduce that to one word, that word is the Gospel, the good news. And Jesus is up there telling people that the Gospel is being fulfilled in his presence. Jesus is saying that all the promises about what will happen when the Kingdom of God comes are now being made good. They grow up so quickly and come up with such strange ideas.
Jesus began his public ministry by preaching in his home synagogue on the text from Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of the sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Then he closed the book and said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That promise has just been accomplished by his action.
Now that first sermon had quite a conclusion. Like the Tanks in Tinnamen Square, or the police in Bosnia against the protesters, or the authorities on college campuses, or parents against their children with long hair in the 60's, the hometown folks were offended by his sermon and rose up and ran him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff to kill him. Something very bitter and deep is going on here—something deep, and strange and threatening—because the same thing kept happening to Paul when he preached this gospel. Whenever he went to declare that the Kingdom of God was being fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus, he got beat up, arrested, and attacked.
Jesus says, "The Kingdom of God is being fulfilled now. Believe the good news, Repent. The time is now.” Paul says Jesus is the good news. In Jesus all the goodness and grace of God is visible, the fulfillment of all the promises of the Kingdom of God are present in Him. And as a result of that message, Jesus and Paul are bitterly resented and brutally treated. What in the world is going on here? Jesus has some youthful idea about the time is fulfilled, claims the Kingdom of God is at hand in his life? What is so dangerous about that? Why is that message so radical?
Because if it is true, then most of the things we have been doing with our lives have been wrong. If that is true then most of the goals and objectives we have invested our lives in, have been wasteful. If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, then the messiah is a suffering lover and not a royal Monarch. If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, then the Kingdom of God is open to all and anybody who looks to Jesus as the Messiah and is welcomed into the Kingdom. And those two things just happen to be two things we really are not interested in having.
Sure we want a Savior and we would like to have the Kingdom of God come but we want a theology of glory, we want a Kingdom of triumph and victory, we are not very interested in a theology of suffering and the cross. Who wants to go to a Heaven where everybody who wants to be there will be there? Who wants to go to a heaven where repentant child abusers, homosexuals, racists and even a repentant Hitler might be welcomed there? We want to be number one, we keep telling ourselves in every political speech this is the greatest nation in the world, and we don't want a Kingdom of God where those we enjoy putting down and stepping on come out as well if not better than we do. We want to be winners. We want a Kingdom of God for success. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of losers?
The theologian Douglas John Hall, in the third volume of his systematic theology, suggests that one of the greatest problems with the Christian community in North America is precisely that the people expect the church to be the ideal perfect place where the good people are. "Therefore people can only accept these churches and retain their association with them by suppressing and repressing the unwelcome reality that is nevertheless there in them, underneath the surface. They may confess, in a rote manner, their sin, but they do not expect sin actually to manifest itself openly, unguardedly, in their midst. Through an enormous effort of will, tens of thousands of middleclass people in North America come together every Sunday morning, sit quietly listening to words that they either do not hear or comprehend only superficially, sing hymns whose content washes over them because the music is familiar enough to blot out any unsettling ideas the lyrics might contain, and then smile at one another in the fellowship hour—all the while suppressing whatever intellectual misgivings and spiritual despair and human tragedy they may have carried with them into these sanctuaries. That is unreality, and the only sane thing to do about it is to turn elsewhere for truth.”2 Which is why those who go to 12 step groups in the basement of the church feel more comfortable there with their confessions than they do in the sanctuary of the church. He says that the only sane thing to do about it is to go elsewhere for the truth because if one tries to confess real sins in the Church and welcome those who are acknowledged as real sinners, one can get hurt like Jesus and Paul. We want a conquering triumphal Lord over all, and a kingdom of white washed saints. For us the gospel is whatever happens that lines our pockets, whatever puts food and bread on the table; whatever gives us a long and happy life in a suburb where as Garrison Keiler puts it, all the men are strong, all the woman good looking and
all the children above average. I don't want it any other way.
What the Gospel writers want us to know is the gospel as we conceive it is not the Gospel God has fulfilled. And wherever there is a challenge to the Gospel as we conceive it, there is opposition. We simply refuse to see or acknowledge the truth of the theology of the suffering love of God. Ray Steven once said that there are none so blind as those who will not see. That blindness, that ignorance, that willful and intentional blindness is what we must confess and repent of to see and receive the Gospel as God gives it in Jesus. There is child and sexual abuse in families and others in the family simply refuse to see it. There is alcoholic abuse in families and the rest of the family just pretends that all is fine. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is fulfilled and come in his person, and there is persistent and determined opposition to see that, of recognizing that, of accepting that, because if we accepted that it would open us up to a change and a repent of so much in our lives. Luke writes, " the Lord opened their minds to understand that the Messiah must suffer and be killed and the Gospel of repentance preached to every man and nation."
The call to repentance is a call for the power of grace to open our minds, to enable us to see, for the spirit to allow us to see what is so hard for us to accept. Jesus from the Cross prays, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do." It was not simple ignorance of the facts, it was a refusal to see the fact because to see the facts would require such a radical change in who and what they were.
They grow up so quickly and they have such strange and radical ideas. There is that Jesus, whom I swear, we just had a shower for a couple of months ago, now claiming that He is the fulfillment of the promises of the Kingdom of God. He is the God come into this world. If He is the Messiah, then it means that the Gospel is the message that where pain and suffering are; God is present, that sacrifice and love are the weapons of God's kingdom, and that the Kingdom of God is made up mostly of all those people we have been trying most of our lives to avoid. But if we can ignore that message, if we can continue to deny those facts, we can continue to cling to the Gospel which we desire that where the Messiah is, there is only happiness, and pain and suffering are gone, and the Kingdom of God is only for the nice people like us. Of course, such ignorance is not bliss, such blindness is not joy. It is the kind of refusal to see which crucifies kindness, abuses gentleness, separates the world into warring categories. divides us into haves and have-nots. It is the kind of willful ignorance which leaves us in the dark that grows darker each day.
These young kids, they grow up so quickly, and have such strange ideas. But they usually outgrow them when they grow up.
Rick Brand, Pastor First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, N.C.
1. August Wilson, SEVEN GUITARS, Dutton Book: New York, 1996, p. 61 2. Douglas John Hall, CONFESSING THE FAITH: Christian Theology in a North American Context, Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1996, p. 61.