In my last post I suggested a creative re-reading of the first chapter of Mark. What I was trying to do in that narrative was to highlight the context in which Mark frames Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15).
The challenge facing pastors week by week is serious. I’m deeply concerned that most congregations are hearing the texts only in ways that prop up the reigning social imagination; in my case, the consumer capitalism and militarism (among other things) of the United States of America. But we need scripture to subvert our imaginations and sow the seeds of a new world. This can never happen while pastors simply offer scripture as a way of learning how to live well-adjusted lives in whatever society we find ourselves.
So, the hermeneutical and homiletical challenge facing me each week as I stand before my congregation is, “How is this text, by God’s Spirit, evoking a new imagination among us? How is it calling forth a new way of being human for God’s reign in the time and place we find ourselves? And how is it calling us to do this communally, as the image of the Trinity?”
With this in mind, I asked myself, what is Mark saying to my congregation and me this week? Well, on Tuesday of that particular week, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. His inaugural speech hit all the right notes for me and I was duly inspired. As a thoroughly American man in my late 30s there is a deep sense in which this is, for me and my generation, a kairos moment. But I also have a deep ambivalence. I have been taught, in my Restorationist/ Anabaptist tribe to distrust the government. I have been schooled in a more escapist eschatology, which holds out no hope for this terrestrial ball.
So, in the midst of the buzz of inaugural week in the US, with my hopes for a ‘new birth’ of democratic hope, comes Mark to spoil my party, because he also speaks of a kairos moment. “The time is fulfilled.” It is time! And at this kairos moment Jesus recruits common laborers to be the face of his campaign and calls for repentance.
While I was praying and wrestling with these thoughts, and totally independently of them, I emailed my friend in Moscow, who is a pastor there. I asked him, almost in passing while writing about other things, how the inauguration of Barack Obama went over in Moscow. His words were incredibly sobering to me and I read them to my congregation at the end of my message last week. Here is what he said.
As to the inauguration we aren't impressed. We think that he will guarantee US imperial course. The stakes in today's world are very high. We as Christians are caught between the national interests of our respective states that pretend to be our Saviors.
The urgency in his tone struck me. It was exactly the urgency I have learned to hear in Mark’s words – “It’s time! The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” I can just as easily hear Jesus saying, “The stakes in today’s world are very high. There is no time to waste with false gods who will get us nowhere.”
Compare this to another email I received from a theologian acquaintance speaking about the church situation in the Europe and the UK.
In Europe we simply can not afford the time or the energy to get into this kind of interim ‘lets change the church’ discussion or argument – church and culture occupy almost totally different trajectories and if we do not design a model of radical culture engagement that is fueled by a biblical imagination we will keep doing what by and large the mainline denominations are doing, which is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I see this kind of “rearranging of the deck chairs” going on around me constantly. Whether it is an economic stimulus package that promises to “save” our consumerist way of life or definitions of missional church that will finally get the church back on track, whether we’re talking about how to keep our youth and young adults in the church, revive our worship services, grow the church, or whatever else, this conversation continues within the safe confines of Christendom or consumer capitalism; it threatens nothing and no one.
But Mark has a different agenda and we would do well to listen. Mark’s Jesus makes his kingdom announcement under a darkening sky. John has been arrested by Herod. Why? Because his preaching isn’t for the purpose of helping his listeners lives well-adjusted lives under the oppressive Roman occupation and a temple elite which had lost its way. And by Mark 3 these same authorities are conspiring to kill Jesus.
Let those that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1385