If my geeky brain serves correctly, there was an old form of preaching in Judaism wherein a rabbi would take the given text for the day, which was somewhere in the Torah, and begin his sermon somewhere entirely different, on a totally random verse elsewhere in the Tanakah. Like if the assigned text was the calling of Abram into covenant with YHWH, you would start out by quoting something off the wall, like Proverbs 5:15 “Drink water from your own cistern; and fresh water from your own well.”
And from there, you’d basically leap-frog via associations both linguistic and theological through the scriptures until you arrived at the assigned verse for the day. The farther away your starting point was, and the more associations you made, and the more verses you included, the more brilliant a preacher you were considered to be by the congregation.
I’m not about to try this out anytime soon (any more than I’m about to improvise jazz singing in the pulpit. Other people’s art forms, as much as they might impress me, generally just make me look like a crazy person if I attempt them, especially out of context.) But there’s something about the exuberance of the enterprise that I enjoy. I like the idea that nothing at all, is off limits in preaching, and that we should silence the voice in our heads which pipes and says “Are you allowed to talk about THAT in a sermon?!”
To that end, I offer the following YouTube clip, for all things are better when performed by Legos:
And here is the sermon:
January 22, 2012
3 Epiphany, Year B
Mark 1: 14-20
In the movie, “The Princess Bride”, the villianous mastermind Vizzini kidnaps the princess Buttercup, with the help of the master swordsman Inigo Montoya and the giant Fezzig. As they are escaping on their ship, Vizzini declares any chances that they shall be caught ‘inconceivable.’ And yet, as they continue to head for a neighboring country and safety, the pursing ship begins to catch up with them. “Inconceivable” declares Vizzini! Then Buttercup dives overboard, in a desperate desire to escape. “Inconceivable!” cries Vizzini! Finally, upon reaching land, the band of miscreants ascend straight up the cliffs with their captured princess, only to be pursued again by the captain of the other ship. Again, Vizzini pronounces this turn of events “Inconceivable!” Inigo Montoya turns to him. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
As Christians in 2012, we come quite a bit after those who first constructed the language of our faith–about 2,012 years after, to be exact. Words like “repent!”, “grace”, “believe”, “faith” all started out meaning one specific thing, with specific connotations and allusions built in, and now, to us, they mean something different. They sound different.
And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s an effect of time, and Time, as Jesus points in the gospel, is not apart from the workings of God. Time builds up, Time accrues for us down the line of history, and those of us who come after the earlier disciples and generations before have a lot more of this linear history to sort through–some helpful, some not as helpful. But all of it there.
And so, when Jesus appears, after the arrest of John the Baptist, in today’s gospel, declaring that the Time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, so we should Repent, and believe the Good news….what is it that we hear, today in 2012?
Whatever it was they heard back then, evidently it was enough to inspire all these fisherfolk to immediately abandon their promising careers on the sea, their families, their homes, and tramp around in the wilderness after Jesus. It was enough to make them get up and change their lives. This declaration of “the time has been fulfilled, repent and believe the good news.” was some sort of freeing magic.
But for us today, sitting on the opposite end of the timeline….. Well, for me at least, it doesn’t seem that motivating, that inspiring. It doesn’t sound like the sort of message that prompts all of Mark’s gospel– it sounds like a rather good bumper sticker on someone else’s car, or the title of a pamphlet someone would stick under my door. Not something that’s going to motivate me to head anywhere at all.
Maybe the weight of time has squashed the message a bit. Or maybe these words don’t mean what we’ve come to think they mean– all bumper sticker slogans and catch phrases.
And if that’s the case, then we should find a better way of explaining ourselves. We should find some new words. Because if all we have to tell our story is advertising catch-phrases off the TV and slogans stolen from radio talk shows, then no one is going to be leaving their nets anywhere. So maybe we need some new words.
Ok. Let’s take a swing at that.
“the time has been fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.”
For starters, “time” has two words in Greek. Chronos, which is the linear sort of historical time that I’ve been talking about so far. The sort of time where I can tell you that this service will probably take up 1 hour of your time– the very mundane sort of time marching forward. But Jesus is talking about kairos, which is the sort of time in which God operates. Time which isn’t on a line, that sort of thing we experience through our memory, or in our imagination, when past becomes present and merges into the future. Time that bends and shifts depending on what is happening. That’s what has been fulfilled.
The realm in which God works, where God is actually fully in charge, the kairos, has now broken through into our mundane timeline. The kingdom of God, where the poor are taken care of, the outcast are welcomed, the sick are healed, the lame leap for joy, the oppressed set free, is emerging in our own world.
So we should do what?
“repent” has started to become associated with guilt, and shame, and feeling very bad about oneself. Repent literally means turn around, to go back. It’s an action, not a feeling. It’s not a command to feel something, it’s a command to do something. It’s a command to come back. Come back home.
Come back home, and believe in the good news of what God is doing. Participate in the emerging world that God is creating, right before our eyes. Participate in the good news of a world made whole, where all are cared for, all are welcomed, all are loved, all are fed. Because it’s starting right now, in the actions and person of this guy, Jesus, and you, you personally, are needed.
Imagine what would happen if we took that message into the streets. Imagine what would happen if we went far and wide, proclaiming that God had jumped into our boring, broken, unfair world in order to make it whole, just and loving, and that everyone’s talents were needed in this new project. If we really proclaimed that message, and backed it up with how we lived, how many people could stay in their boats then?
Could anyone stay as they had been before? If we really lived out the call?