Sermon Archives

Sunday, February 18, 2018
The First Sunday of Lent (RCL, Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
A Turn of Heart and the Kingdom Awaits

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.”

We may have more in common with the ancient Israel and Palestine than we often realize.  While the particularities of daily living have radically changed, many of the underlying struggles of society and of daily life remain unchanged.  On a societal level, the gap between rich and poor remains a struggle that spans the millennia.  The same must be said about the struggle to integrate different cultures in a modern multi-cultural society.  Even the role of government and the threat of totalitarianism remains a thread of life today.

The similarities may be even clearer on the personal level.  Still today there those not only in our society, but in this very community, here in this church today, who struggle with daily survival, those like the widows and orphans of whom Scripture speaks, who live with little to no security, worried about the next meal or next bill.  There are those, too, who continue live under the excessive pressure of a overseer, a landowner or governor of old and a manager or corporate goal of today whose demands never cease so that all of life is consumed by an unrelenting set of tasks.  Finally, there are those today, like those of yore, who seem to possess everything, yet feel as if they possess nothing, or not nearly enough, and so demand more of themselves and others in a quest for a feeling of peace that is, sadly, not achieved through acquisition.

One response to this broken and struggling world has always been the promise of some future fulfillment.  Religiously, this is the language of an eternal and heavenly land filled Elyssian fields and unending beauty to which we will someday be called.  Socially, this is the promise of some nearly unattainable future life, inevitably attached to the attainment of an ever increasing level of wealth, which we might attain if we work hard enough or get lucky enough.  There is no better illustration of this than our fascination with and the deception of the modern lottery – only 1 in a billion actually win, and even then there is no guarantee of either happiness or security.

No, in spite of the remarkable development of human society over the past 2000+ years, many of the underlying issues remain the same.

Into this world – the ancient world of 1st century Palestine and Jerusalem overtaken by Roman soldiers and the modern world of 21st century America consumed by politics and capitalism – Jesus comes, 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.”

Within this simple message, Jesus sets out two profound truths, that I believe are, in many ways, the crux of his teaching and the hope of our lives.

The first is both easy and wonderful – “the kingdom of God has come near.”  No longer is it out there only to be reached by death or the lucky few.  No, it is here, as close to you as your breath, no more distant than one atom is from another.  It is here, now, ready for you to dive into, to enfold you with light and peace.  To a society that had been told to hold out hope – the Messiah will come or your Dream will be fulfilled – the message of God’s kingdom of peace and goodness come, here and now, can only be Good News.  That God’s kingdom, that all that you truly desire and hope for, the beauty of human and created life, that peace which surpasses all understanding, they are not far off, but here available to you, here and now, not simply today, but this very moment.  This is Good News, indeed.

The second is message, however, is more challenging:  “repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus places real responsibility at our feet.  If we are to enter into this kingdom at whose door we stand, we must do something, not much and yet everything.  You see, we must change.  The door that awaits us, the door that simply needs to be open, can only be open by us, individually and collectively. 

“Repent, and believe in the good news.” 

This is more than a matter of a few words of confession and the profession of an ancient creed, however.  This is not simply a woe is me for I have sinned, repentance, but a fundamental change of our heart, the fundamental change at the root and foundation of our life.

In more modern language, we might translate Jesus words as “Turn, re-set the commitment of your heart, to the good news of God’s mercy and generosity.”

You see, to experience that Kingdom, the kingdom of peace that is awaiting you here and now, we must do but one thing, change the commitment of our heart.  We must let go of our near perpetual quest for acquisition and security, and cling to near to wonderful gift of mercy and generosity – to us and from us.  We must immerse ourselves in the gift of self-giving to one another and the world. 

Of all the things we do as a church, the thing today that often elicits the most joy and gratitude is often the act of service to another.  Whether it is the joy of our flower guild or altar guild or Eucharistic ministers serving you as a community, or the joy of a volunteer at Crossroads of Michigan or preparing the meal in support of Shelter Week – the greatest joy I often hear of as a priest is the joy of giving of ourselves to feed and sustain another.  This, at its core, is the joy of love – love of family and friends, yes, but also the love of a stranger; when we pour ourselves out for another, regardless of how close they are to us, we become aware of another joy and peace which surpasses human understanding. 

We are taught from our youngest years that happiness and joy are tied up in the things we possess, the new things that awaits us; Jesus, however, offers us a new way, and a more profound and lasting joy.

But requires a change within us.

Friends, “The time is fulfilled.”  You needn’t wait any longer, for the kingdom of God has come near; it is as close as your very breath.  But we must change our ways to experience the fullness of joy that God’s kingdom offers; we must set our heart on the good news of God’s mercy and sacrifice for us and our neighbor; and we must give ourselves over to the life of mercy and self-giving ourselves.