The gospel here is not just Jesus (1:1), but also the gospel-of-God kingdom that Jesus himself proclaims (1:14-15) and its resultant faith/ repentance, too. — David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries)
Revivals are hindered when ministers and churches take the wrong stand in regard to any question involving human rights. — Charles Finney, Lectures on Revival
I heard the story once of a national Assembly meeting where some representatives were feeling introspective, but not in a constructive way. “What have we got to offer?” said the speaker.
The reply from someone in the cheap seats came: “What have we got to offer? What have we got to offer? Eternal bloody life, that’s what we’ve got to offer!”
We have wonderful good news to offer. I love the way Mark’s Gospel begins:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The grammar nazis among you will tell me that’s not a sentence because there’s no verb in it.
And I shall reply that’s because it’s not meant to be a sentence. It’s a title. And it’s best understood as the title to the whole of Mark’s Gospel. The title tells us that the whole Gospel of Mark is just the beginning of the story of Jesus; we are continuing that story today.
Perhaps we’re still at the beginning. Who knows? “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day”. (2 Peter 3.8) Maybe we’re still in the early days of the Church.
Perhaps we’re still learning how to get it right. Maybe we’re still learning how to speak of the good news of Christ into the world. Maybe we’re even having to learn whether some things are good news or bad news.
When we began our service this morning, we sang
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the blind and the lame…
Our lectionary scriptures today prompt us to ask some very important questions: How far do we go in gathering people in? Where do we stop?
Isaiah 56 relates to a time when the exiles are returning from Babylon and being gathered into Jerusalem. Remember, the Temple had been demolished and Jerusalem left in ruins in 587BC, and much of the population had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Today, the once-mighty Babylon is a pile of ruins about 85km south of Baghdad.
We say the exiles ‘returned’ to Jerusalem, but most if not all of them had never been there; it was their grandparents and great-grandparents who had been taken away. They knew Babylon, it was where they were born; they’d grown up on tales of the wonders of Jerusalem, but when they were gathered back in they didn’t like what Jerusalem had become.
Jerusalem was in ruins but worse still, it was full of foreigners! (I think the irony that they’d never seen the place before would’ve been lost on them.)
How did the returnees deal with the foreigners who had occupied their houses and land? They were divided about that.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God says
I am about to create a new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or brought to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I have to say this: I’m getting on a plane tomorrow to go to the Holy Land. A number of us are going on a tour together, and we’ll find out soon enough if Jerusalem is “a joy”, and its people “a delight”.
Someone told me the other day that you can feel that something special happened at Jerusalem. I’m really hoping that’s what we’ll find, anyway.
This passage from Isaiah is full of hopeful words, isn’t it? It was written to people whose parents and grandparents had been carted off into Babylon, in present-day Iraq, after Jerusalem had been destroyed. After about seventy years, they were allowed to return so they could rebuild. But it was hard. The new Jerusalem they were building wasn’t a patch on the old, and they knew it.
Jerusalem was a place with a problem back then, just as it is now. Jerusalem a “joy”? Well, not so much maybe. Continue reading