Good News: a sermon for Eucharist on the 3rd Sunday before Advent, preached on Sunday 7 November 2021 by the Reverend Tim Biles. (Hebrews Ch 9 v24 – end; Mark Ch 1 v14 – 20)
There are two things in the gospel we have just heard that are often ignored and deserve attention. One is theological, the other more pastoral.
First the theological.
In the story we have just heard, Jesus’ ministry is at the very beginning. He introduces it by saying ‘believe in the good news’.
So, what is this original ‘good news’?
Long before the Cross as the way of salvation was heard of He is proclaiming the ‘good news’.
Long before the resurrection as evidence of eternal life is even thought about, he is proclaiming the ‘good news’.
So all the later man-made doctrines that have grown up over the centuries, focusing on cross or resurrection or Trinity or Original Sin may have absorbed theologians and bored most of us but they are not the original good news which is in a dozen words of today’s Gospel,
‘the Kingdom of God has come near,
repent and believe the good news’
Repent! Metanoia is the Greek word it means ‘turn around’, ‘look another way’ ‘change your outlook’ and the ‘change’ is to follow Jesus who is going to reveal the Kingdom of God, which has come near. And to complete the story Simon, Andrew, James and John do change their outlook, do look for another way, do turn around and do decide that they will follow Jesus and make a new way of life.
So, the original good news of Jesus was all in twelve words: turn toward the ways of God, and if you want to know what the ways of God are, look at Jesus. His life is the ‘good news’. His life has the Kingdom of God.
And more good news is that if you are not clear how three goes into one, or what Transubstantiation is, or whether salvation is by works or by faith we can be fairly certain all such thoughts would be foreign to Jesus and strangers to the original good news. And that original news is…The ways of God are made known in the life of Jesus who shows the kingdom of God. That’s all the theology we need to know!
The second issue in today’s gospel is the pastoral.
It concerns Zebedee, the father. He is left in the boat, holding the nets. The two sons who he doubtless thought would succeed him and continue his business, have walked out on him.
Their fishing was not a bit of holiday relaxation, as our fishing might be. Their fishing was big business. The ten cities of the Decapolis on the banks of the Jordan depended on the Lake for their fish which had to be caught, packed and delivered. It was a demanding business. I sometimes wonder if Zebedee was the father’s real name, it means ‘Thunder’ according to one translation and ‘Anger’ according to another. Possibly his reaction to his son’s desertion gave him Zebedee as a nic name for posterity. I expect you have known of sons who didn’t fulfil family expectations. It leaves a scar, sometimes for generations. And we never hear of Zebedee again. But the mother makes another appearance near the end of the story. In Matthew 20 she asks Jesus to let her two sons sit on his right and on his left when he becomes King. Maybe she was still hurting that if they were not the leaders of the family business they should at least be heads of the new business. Their defection had made a mark.
Why had they made such a drastic and sudden decision?
In the Gospel stories sudden decisions happen several times.
Remember when Jesus looked at Matthew at the receipt of custom their eyes met and Matthew knew his life was changed and a new way called.
It was all in the eyes!
Remember when Jesus looked at Zaccheus, fraud and swindler, up a sycamore tree, their eyes met and Zaccheus knew his cheating days were done, he climbed down to a new way.
It was all in the eyes!
Remember when Jesus looked at the rich young man, the seeker, their eyes met…. he turned away sorrowing, and the new life passed him by.
It was all in the eyes!
Remember when Jesus looked on Peter on the night of denial, their eyes met and Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Wherever people gather, eyes meet, hearts are warmed.
Looking in the eyes is dangerous, truths can be revealed, pains exposed.
Looking the other way is safer.
The Levite did that and passed by on the other side.
The priest did that and the man was left to die.
So what are we to do?
Avoid eye contact? Look at the ground? Let hearts stay dull?
That is the safer way!
But it denies the way of the Lord.
So look in the eyes and take the risk of a love never sought, of the secrets of the heart revealed, of pains never imagined.
Is that the call of faith?
Loves, pains, hopes, raised high-and dashed.
A life of risks! When you look in the eye.
James and John, Andrew and Simon looked Jesus in the eye and metanoia, they turned from one way of life to another.
So the eyes had it and Matthew found a new way and later wrote the longest of the four gospels to tell us all about Jesus.
So the eyes had it and James became the first leader of the new church in Jerusalem.
So the eyes had it and John became the Beloved Disciple and wrote his spiritual treatise of glory.
So the eyes had it and Peter may have wept but he went on to become the leader and martyr of the church in Rome.
Eyes meeting! It’s a risky business, as Zebedee found to his cost. And as Zaccheus found to his great joy.
Some eyes, dull and empty, reveal pain and loss. Other eyes sparkling and dancing reveal the heart’s hopes and joys. No wonder some people wear dark shields!
Are you going to play safe, eyes down, and pass by on the other side?
My hope is we open our eyes and that metanoia we see in Jesus the Kingdom is near. That is the original good news! Amen.