Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Gospel Era Dawns!

Dilworth Lutheran Church, Dilworth, MN
Advent 2/Mark 1:1-8
Installation of Pr. Elizabeth Hiller

Mark 1:1    The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Some years ago an advertising agency down in Florida came up with the idea of creating a series of billboards, each of them conveying a message purportedly from God.   This “GodSpeaks” campaign caught on for a while, and swept across the country.

Perhaps you saw one of these 10,000 clever billboards that were put up in about 200 cities across America.

Some of these simple, direct GodSpeaks messages were warm and inviting, for example:
·        “Tell the kids I love them.”  --God
·        “Is your heart heavy?  I’m here.” --God
·        “Let’s meet at my house Sunday—before the game.”   --God
·        “I love you. I love you. I love you.”  --God

But other GodSpeaks messages had a surlier, more menacing tone:
·        “Have you read my #1 bestseller.  There will be a test!”   --God
·        “Life is short.  Eternity is not.”—God
·        “You think it’s hot here?”  --God
·        “Don’t make me come down there!”  --God

Such supposed “messages from God”, like the hand-drawn signs you see even dotting our own landscape….such messages always make me wonder:  what sort of God is speaking here?  What tone of voice is coming through?   Most importantly:  Is the ‘news’ from this God good news or something else?

Our text from St Mark, chapter one, offers an answer, right out of the gate:   “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

As you may know Mark is considered to be a first of its kind:  the first-written, earliest-to-appear of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Mark (whoever he was!) probably set out to write a biography of Jesus…but his little writing project produced something far beyond a simple biography-of-Jesus. 

Not that Mark’s gospel is lacking in information about Jesus….but when Mark got going, it became apparent that he had written the kind of document this world had never seen before.  

It was as if Mark realized, as he wrote, that he was imparting transformation at least as much as information.  Mark realized that the words spilling forth from his pen had a snap-crackle-pop energy to them.   These words didn’t just say something—they DID SOMETHING!

It’s as if Mark was quickly overcome by a compelling need to burst forth with glad tidings, fresh news so amazing that it simply had to be shared—the way young couples can’t wait a second longer to share the news about their engagement or the birth of their first child.

What’s the latest from God?  Is the news from God good or not?

Mark tipped his hand right off the bat, no beating around the bush:  “The beginning of the good news (we could say:  the glad tidings) of Jesus Christ the son of God.”

Mark began his writing project by gushing:  “Hang on to your hats, folks!  We’ve got the latest, freshest news from God, and it’s all good news--the greatest news ever!”

And then, to flesh that out, Mark didn’t just launch into a series of facts about Jesus or a long list of doctrines about Jesus….but rather he simply started regaling his readers with what this Jesus did when he arrived on our scene….always with an urgent, breathless quality to it.

This year, as we dwell in Mark’s Gospel a lot, we’ll notice things like how often Mark uses one of his favorite words:  “immediately!”   Everything happens at breakneck speed in Mark’s gospel.  Every story is told with an economy of words (lest we dilly-dally along the way)…

….until, until we come to the end of Mark’s short gospel, when the pace slows down, because Mark has gotten us to the climactic conclusion, where everything about this Jesus comes together at his cross, his grave, and his rising-from-the-dead three days later.

There, at the very end of Mark’s short gospel, it becomes crystal clear that in Jesus we meet a God who means us well, always and forever.

It’s as if someone hits the slow-motion button starting with the 14th chapter of Mark’s Gospel…as we behold Jesus  not just spreading the good news but becoming the good news as he dies on the cross for us, is buried in a grave for us, and after three days is raised to life again for us and our salvation—the best, greatest surprise this sorry old world has ever seen.

Which is why, of all those GodSpeaks billboard messages I referred to earlier, the goofiest one surely has to be this one:  “Don’t make me come down there! –God.”

No, no, no, no, no you wacky billboard people! 

“Don’t make me come down there”???   Sorry!   It’s way too late for that!  God has already beat us to the punch.  God has already come down here—and we thank our lucky stars for that! 

God’s arrival in Bethlehem’s manger, God’s Advent in our midst, kicks off the whole amazing adventure of God’s rescuing redemption of you and me--God’s astounding restoration of the whole creation!

All of that is tucked into this first sentence in Mark’s Gospel.  This isn’t just “nice to know” information about Jesus.   This is a sentence that cracks open the transformation that God in Christ is all about.

Mark Allan Powell, who teaches New Testament at our ELCA seminary in Ohio, says that “Mark wants to tell us about the beginning of a new era, a time and place in which God has entered human history in an unprecedented way.  It is ‘the gospel era’…[in which] God is ready and willing to rule our lives…”[1]

What the GodSpeaks billboard campaign got right is that we really do pine for a Word from God.  Our ears are truly itching to hear from the One who made us.  

But (we also want to know) if there is news from God, is it good or not?  Mark’s answer is clear:  “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ the Son of God.”  Folks, we’ve got the latest news from God—and that news is as good as news ever gets!

It sounds so sweet to our ears, because, you se,we’re dying to hear it.

We’re longing, we’re panting to hear such good news because most of the time we’re caught up in all the bad news that’s always coming at us.

Think about that:  the news has been pretty grim, of late, hasn’t it?

It’s filled with words about Ebola….beheadings by terrorists in Syria and Iraq….school shootings that have become all too routine….and the violent deaths of young black men in our cities.

I don’t know about you, but my wife Joy and I regularly find ourselves shutting off the TV and the radio, the news gets so depressing.

So we escape to social media, like Facebook, except that there too the bad news is readily available from our “friends” who beseech us to pray for them as they cope with bad choices, cancer diagnoses, wayward kids, strained marriages, lost jobs, and on and on.

In this perpetually bad news world, we hanker for another message.  If God were to speak today, what would God say?

That’s the question, Pastor Elizabeth, that I hope will be on your mind not just during this Advent season, but in all the seasons yet to come, every day as you walk among God’s people and every week as you get ready to stand in this pulpit.

Don’t get me wrong:  you can, and at times you will, draw our attention to the bad news “out there,” as well as the bad news we have made of things because of our sin….
But  when you do that, do it always with an eye toward the latest, freshest news from God:  news that is always good!

God’s good news in Christ has the power to shut down all the purveyors of bad news, including that nagging little voice inside each of us that’s always haranguing us with all those “shouldas, couldas, and wouldas!”

May you come to the good work of pastoral ministry here with a daily dose of St Mark’s ants-in-the-pants eagerness to burst forth with the story of Jesus that has launched the gospel era, the advent of God’s strong and gentle rule over all things!

And as you take up your ministry here at Dilworth Lutheran Church, Pastor Elizabeth, may you always have ears able to hear and a voice ready to say:  “God is still speaking.  God has news for us—and it is GOOD news, always and forever!”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Commentary on Mark 1:1-8 at

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