New Beginnings

Reading: Mark 1.14-15
How well do we take to change? New school? New friends? New home? New town? New job?...

Some people, of course, are always looking for it ­ if something new isn't happening all the time, they are plain bored. (It happens worst with those uninteresting but necessary things that just have to be done, don't you think?) An old saying said, "A change is as good as a spell." There are times when we need a break from a particular job. Go and do something different for a while. Come back fresh to the old task later.

Sometimes we are being challenged to radical change. A certain political party ran the election slogan, "It's time!" They believed (and were working hard to convince the public to believe) that the other party had been in power long enough - too long! The opposition, defeated, later tried unsuccessfully to persuade the electorate that "Time's up!"

Time is a funny thing. We think of it as past, present and future. The past is what has already happened. It's history. It affects us in lots of ways, but we can't change it. Science fiction has imagined all sorts of weird possibilities if time travel was possible. Remember Marty and Professor Brown? In Back to the Future II they use the Professor's time machine to go forward in history with the good intention of solving some problems. But Biff, with malicious intent, borrows the machine to go back in history and change it to his own advantage - and the ruin of society!

It's just as well we can't fiddle with history like that! The past reaches forward to affect us in a lot of different ways, but we can't go back and change it!

Up ahead lies the future. What's it going to be? What would you like to do? Plan well! Your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions - they won't just happen! You have choices to make, goals to set and the hard work of preparation to do.

And the present - now - is when things happen. We can't rewrite yesterday or escape into tomorrow. It will come soon enough. In fact, the future is rushing up to us all the time, just as the past is falling away from us all the time. And the present is the razor-edge of time when things must happen. "Do it now" is a good slogan, because "now" is the only time when it can be done.

One year while we were living in Stanthorpe, the Queensland Arts Council brought the Hutter family from Austria on a concert tour. They presented a delightful evening of Austrian folk music with singing and a whole range of musical instruments ­ harp, piano accordion, double bass, recorders, ocarinas, dulcimers, zithers, guitar... The father, Sebb, told a story in German which the eldest daughter, Liselot translated. The family had gone to Germany to present concerts. They were travelling by train with all their baggage, including their musical instruments. At one station, they had to change trains and were busily transferring their gear into the carriage. Then with little warning, the carriage doors closed and the train moved off with mother and musical instruments on board, the rest of the family baggage on the platform! With tears and anguish they protested to the station master, to which he replied, "You are in Germany now, not Austria!"

The Greeks had a couple of different words for "time". Chronos was measured time - days and hours and minutes - what we measure with our clocks and watches. Kairos was the moment of opportunity.

My grandfather came from the days when watches were not as common and weren't worn on the wrist but in a waistcoat pocket on a chain which went through a button hole and neatly into a pocket on the other side. He used to tell a story about a man who became very annoyed about this fellow who would always come up to him in the street and ask him the time. Finally, he decided on a move to fix him. He attached an onion to the other end of the chain. Next time the offending man asked for the time he pulled out the onion and hit him on the head - "It just struck one!" I leave you to determine whether that was chronos- or kairos-time!

The Time has come!

Jesus began his ministry saying, "The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!" (Mk. 1.15).

The kairos-time has arrived! It is not just a certain time in the reign of the Caesar in Rome - it is the time of opportunity. The Kingdom of God is near and it is time to make your response to God. There's no time to delay or you'll miss the boat!

Later Jesus sends out his twelve disciples (Mk. 6.7-13) and then another seventy-two (Lk. 10.1-12) to prepare the people for his coming. Their message is that "The Kingdom of God is near!" "Whenever you go into a house, first say, 'Peace be with this house.' If a peace-loving man lives there, let your greeting of peace remain on him; if not, take back your greeting of peace... Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, 'The Kingdom of God has come near you.' But whenever you go into a town and are not welcomed, go out in the streets and say, 'Even the dust from your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. But remember that the Kingdom of God has come near you!' I assure you that on Judgement Day God will show more mercy to Sodom than to that town!"

The time has come! Now is the time to respond to the King in his mercy and love! God's desire is to meet you now in love and forgiveness! If you refuse his gracious loving call, you will be meeting him in judgement! However you choose to respond to him, remember that the opportunity has been freely given - "the Kingdom of God has come near to you!"

In 2 Cor. 6.2, Paul reminds us what the Lord had said to his people in Is. 49.8, "When the time came for me to show you favour I heard you; when the day arrived for me to save you, I helped you." He goes on to add, "Listen! This is the hour to receive God's favour; today is the day to be saved!"

In Is. 55 we read the Lord's gracious invitation, "Come, everyone who is thirsty, here is water! Come, you that have no money - buy corn and eat! Come! buy wine and milk - it will cost you nothing!" (v. 1) "Turn to the Lord and pray to him, now that he is near. Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. Let them turn to the Lord, our God; he is merciful and quick to forgive" (vv. 67).

"The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!"

Repent and Believe!

Jesus was calling people to a two-fold turn - (1) "turn away" or repent and (2) "believe".

To repent is far more than being sorry for ourselves or sorry for our sins. It is possible to be sorry, but still to wallow in our sins with no real intention or desire to change. The lost son, in the story of Jesus, began to feel that in the far­off country. All his money was gone. All his friends were gone. He got work with a pig-farmer, but so little pay that "he wished he could fill himself with the bean pods the pigs ate" (Lk. 15.16). He was sorry all right. He felt his situation very deeply - right in there! Of course he wished things were better. How he must have longed for his friends and the good times! But the popularity his money had bought him had gone with his money! No more fun times! No more friends! Only hard work, weariness and hunger!

To repent is a whole change of attitude leading to a turnaround in the direction of our life. The lost son came to that point. It says, "At last he came to his senses and said, All my father's hired workers have more than I can eat, and here I am about to starve! [In this first part, he is still showing how much he is sorry for himself, sorry for the situation he is in.] I will get up and go to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.' So he got up and started back to his father" (vv. 17-20).

There we see his repentance - his admission of his sin and the beginning of his return home. He could have stayed in that faraway land bemoaning his situation, deeply regretting his sin, overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and unworthiness...

Sometimes we think of sin in different grades - from the obvious "big whoppers" like adultery, robbery or murder, to our own selfishness in word, attitude and action. Our sins aren't so very serious, are they?

We were at a camp at Mt Tambourine. A storm was gathering and there was an eerie stillness in the air. Suddenly, at about 11pm, there was an earsplitting crack of thunder - quite close - and soon the rain began to fall. Next day we went for a walk to see where the lightning had struck. Only a hundred yards or so from the camp was a tall gum tree blown apart by static electric force. The main trunk would survive, but the scatter of broken branches and little twigs would die. Separated from their source of life their future was gone.

We grade sin, yet the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23), no matter what the sin. The time has come to turn away from sin to God. He is our source of life. Separated from him we cannot know life. Our greatest need is to return to him.

When we begin to do that we discover, like the lost son, that he is waiting - waiting to welcome us, to forgive us, to accept us, to reinstate us within his family. That's the very reason Jesus came - and lived and died and rose again!

Now there's Good News to believe, to trust in, to act upon. How about it? Where do you stand in relation to the Good News of Jesus? "The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!"

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 13 February 1994
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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