Called to Tell

January 21, 2018 Speaker: Rev. Braun Campbell Series: Being SJLC 2018: Called by Faith

Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:14–1:20, Jonah 3:1–3:10

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5, 10

“Being SJLC 2018: Called to Tell”

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Have you ever wondered why pastors stand up in front of the congregation to deliver a sermon during the worship service?  Sometimes I have, especially if the sermon keeps wandering along without really seeming to connect to what’s going on in the Scripture readings or what’s happening in life.  A sermon is different from a campaign speech or a self-help talk.  It isn’t a time in the service for the pastor to go in front of the congregation to show off his learning or his eloquent speech, promoting himself.  It’s not meant to be a time to talk about all the problems in the world out there as if that world is different than the one the congregation lives in, nor is it a time to make you feel better about yourself.  Some sermons are longer than others, some are more engaging than others.  Some sermons teach, encourage, rebuke, or guide.  But the reason that we have a sermon in the worship service is principally this: you would engage with God’s Word and be transformed by it.

The sermon is here for you.

I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus delivers what is likely the best, shortest sermon of all time: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  In Mark’s Gospel, this is the opening of Jesus’ public ministry.  He comes right into Galilee, the same territory where John the Baptizer had only recently been imprisoned by King Herod, bringing the message that God’s plan to deliver His creation is happening right now: the kingdom of God is at hand.  The kingdom of God isn’t a territory or a region; rather, it’s the active reigning and rule of God, His “kinging.”  God has come to be in the world.  Even as Jesus is speaking this sermon to his hearers, that reigning and ruling of God has drawn near – and stands before them.  It’s almost as if he’s saying, “God’s good news is here.  You’re looking right at it!”

The good news Jesus proclaims is that God is bringing about rescue for everyone who was alienated from Him – that is, every human being ever.  When Jesus tells his hearers to repent, he’s calling them to stop running from God, to turn away from sin.  They don’t need to chase after the empty promises of the world and all the false idols that they’ve put in God’s place.  Something better has arrived: the restored relationship with God that Jesus makes possible.

As Lutheran Christians, we have long spoken of God’s Word in terms of law and gospel.  The law, reflecting God’s good instruction and His design for creation, confronts us with the guilt of our sins.  The gospel points us to God’s mercy and grace, showing the Savior who has come to carry that guilt for us: Jesus.  The sermon is here in the worship service to reiterate the truth that all that, God’s law and God’s gospel, all that is meant for you.

Turn from the sin that is killing you and eating away at your life.  God’s rescue plan is in effect.  His reigning and ruling is here for you in Jesus, who brings your forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

To put it kindly, Jonah was a reluctant prophet.  He heard God’s call – and fled in the opposite direction.  Jonah didn’t want to deliver God’s message to Nineveh, the great capital of the enemy nation of Assyria.  He probably wanted to see the city destroyed.

If you’ve heard me teach about Jonah before, you might remember that the Assyrians were bad dudes.  When they conquered a town, they would impale people on stakes out in front of its ruins, pulling captives along by fishhooks.  Other nations feared Assyria because of the brutality they brought down on their enemies.  The great city of Nineveh itself was known as a morally bankrupt place, wicked and full of deceit.  Why would Jonah want to save them?

And there’s the thing: Jonah knows that the Word of God has power, that it can transform hearts and minds – even those of the Assyrians.  Jonah understands that if he were to go and do what God told him to do, Nineveh could very well repent.  God would forgive their great sins.  Jonah doesn’t want that.  One of my professors at the seminary put it this way: Jonah’s call would be like sending a Jew from World War II-era New York to Adolf Hitler, to tell him that God loved him and would forgive him if he turned away from his sins.  If you take another look at our reading from Jonah 3 today, you’ll see that Jonah’s fears were justified.  God’s Word called the people of Nineveh to repentance, and He spared them.  The Word has the power to transform the ones who hear it.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Epiphany season in the church calendar stands as a reminder that Jesus is the light for all nations, all people.  He is the one who brings the active reigning and rule of God to bear for us – and through us.  Last weekend, Pastor Nass opened this year’s Being SJLC (Serving Jesus + Living in Community) emphasis with the message that we have been called by faith to follow Jesus as his disciples.  But being a disciple doesn’t end with following.

As Mark’s Gospel account records, Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee and calls his first disciples.  He doesn’t wait for them to come to him.  Neither does he do anything to entice them to follow him – there’s certainly no “signing bonus” for these ordinary fishermen.  Jesus calls, and they follow.  Jesus’ call has power and authority, and it will transform their lives.  But these students don’t simply remain students.  Jesus sends them out to go and to tell the gospel message so that other lives would be transformed, too.

As a disciple of Jesus, you are called to tell.  Your faith isn’t meant to be a private matter between you and God, but an active faith that carries the gospel into every corner of life.  God’s Word of rescue in Christ is meant to be shared.  Don’t misunderstand: you are not a “Jesus salesperson.”  Jesus doesn’t need salesmen.  Rather, you’re his ambassador, one who gets to go and tell others the good news that God’s active reigning and rule has come for their benefit, that it has come in Jesus.  You get to show God’s love in paying attention to and caring for your neighbor, being an everyday missionary as Jesus’ disciple.

[Foundations of Faith: Engaging with God’s transformative Word in Mark]

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The sermon is here for you.  And you are here for the world.

Called by faith, following Jesus, you and I are charged to speak in love the truth of God’s law and gospel.  We aren’t meant to be silent, especially when the world around us would lead people any which way but to Jesus.  Speak up when someone needs to hear the message that you get to carry, the message that points people to Jesus.  Remember, though, that this is never about “winning.”  You get to tell the Good News of God that comes in Christ, bringing it to bear for the good of your neighbor.  Sometimes, that means standing up with others against injustice, as many did this week at the March for Life in our nation’s capital.  As a follower of Jesus, you are called to tell – not for your own benefit, but so that others might hear God’s transforming Word and experience the restored relationship that He wants for them.

Want a better sermon than this one?  Simply listen to Jesus:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Amen.

More in Being SJLC 2018: Called by Faith

February 4, 2018

Called to Wait

January 28, 2018

Called to Obey

January 14, 2018

Called to Follow