A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist.
Just to see what would happen, on the twins’ birthday their father loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loaded with horse manure.
That night the father passed by the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amidst his new gifts and crying bitterly.
“Why are you crying?” the father asked.
“Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken.” answered the pessimist twin.
Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. “What are you so happy about?” he asked.
To which his optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Some people can be positive in any situation!
I think it’s interesting that the first four books of the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus are called, “Gospels.” The word, “gospel” literally means, “good news.” The story of Jesus is a story of good news. Our faith is a good news faith.
And really, the entire bible is one big story of how a loving God who created this world is bound and determined to rescue it from sin and death. The bible is a story of good news.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming this good news. And notice that Jesus isn’t saying that this good news is something that will only be for the future. This good news has already been launched in the here and now. Listen to the present tense from this verse. Jesus says, “The time IS fulfilled, and the kingdom of God HAS come near.”
This is the good news of the good news! The good news is that the good news is already happening! And it has been happening because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Can you think of any gooder news than that? 🙂 Pardon my grammar! The good news is that the good news is already happening!
Where do you see the good news of the good news at work? Where do you see the good news of the good news in your day to day living?
We live during a time where there seems like there’s nothing but bad news. Mass shootings seem like a common occurrence, an out of control opiod epidemic, increasing poverty, negativity abounds in politics, the threat of nuclear war – the list goes on and on. You can see why somebody would choose to be a pessimist instead of an optimist.
But the good news of the good news is that God’s kingdom has already come near. The signs of God’s grace surround us in any given moment even in the midst of the struggles, pain, and difficult transitions that we face in our daily living.
Jesus certainly knew how difficult life can be sometimes. Mark tells us that just before Jesus began to announce the good news of God’s kingdom, that John the Baptist had been arrested. By referring to this sad event, Mark wants us to know that in the midst of life’s struggles and disappointments, there is hope. The kingdom of God has come near.
Speaking of transitions, just think about Jesus calling those first disciples. They were fishermen. In Israel, fishing was often a family business going back several generations, even centuries. And Jesus called them to leave not just a hobby, but their livelihood, their family business of being fishermen in order to follow him.
When you have a family business that has any history to it, there’s an expectation that this will carry on with the next generation if possible. And here, these disciples were willing to say goodbye to the world as they knew it. I can’t think of a more daring step of faith.
When you read this scripture, you wonder if Mark wasn’t also thinking about Abraham from the Old Testament. Like the fishermen in Mark’s Gospel, God called Abraham to leave what he was doing, his home, his whole way of living in order to follow God into an unknown future.
Stephanie Warner who was a member of my previous church, served in the Peace Corps in Botswana, Africa. Our own Emily Brown is also serving in the Peace Corp and Sophie Mather, another church member here helped children in Honduras last year. I think it’s incredible for young people like Stephanie, Emily, and Sophie to make this huge commitment and help others in a foreign land.
In her work in the Peace Corp, Stephanie was helping to stop the spread of AIDS through the medical clinic in her village. I remember meeting Stephanie when I first became pastor of that church. She was teaching Sunday School for the High School youth.
Stephanie shared with me about her decision to leave the comforts of her home and her familiar way of life. She said that there were times when she questioned if she made the right decision to serve in this way. But then she said, “You only have one life to live so you better make sure you are living it to the fullest.”
When she shared those thoughts, it reminded me so much of the disciples and how Jesus called them to leave everything and follow Him. The good news isn’t just something that’s way out there in the future. It’s also breaking into this present time. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
Even in the midst of life’s transitions, God is with us. This is the good news of the good news.
On a Saturday evening this past November, I received a text message from someone who was a member of my previous church. He wanted to know our worship times because he wanted to travel down to Athens and worship with us the next day. And so I responded with our worship times and gave him directions.
Just before our 10:30 service that next morning, I met Mike back at our front entrance. You just couldn’t miss Mike because he was wearing a very bright pink polo shirt. Mike always wears something pink because it was his wife’s favorite color.
They’re house was decorated in pink. They even had beautiful pink plants all around the front of their house.
Mike’s wife died during my time at that church. In fact, that was my last funeral before coming down here to Athens to become your pastor. I’ll never forget that funeral because Mike wore a bright pink blazer to the service.
During my sermon at that funeral, I said that because of Mike and Wanda’s strong faith during Wanda’s fight with cancer, in my mind, pink was now the new color to symbolize the good news of our faith.
And so, it was not surprising at all when I spotted Mike wearing a pink polo shirt before worship here at our church on this past November morning. We hugged and had a brief conversation before the worship service began.
I said, “Mike, since today is All Saints’ Sunday, I’m thinking of your wife, Wanda and her strong faith.”
Mike was taken aback. He said, “Today is All Saints’ Sunday? I didn’t know that.” Tears welled up in his eyes. He looked at me again and said, “All Saints’ Sunday. Hmm.”
I could tell that Mike was experiencing what we’ve been calling a “thin place moment,” those moments when God becomes mysteriously present in our day to day lives. It just so happened that he picked that Sunday out of the blue and it ended up being the perfect Sunday for us to reconnect and for him to remember and give thanks for Wanda’s life and receive Christ’s healing love in an unexpected and holy way.
The good news is that the good news isn’t just something for us to receive in the past or something we have to wait to receive sometime in the future. It’s also available to us in the present.
Several year ago, I pastored a church in Xenia, a county seat town near Dayton. Xenia is unfortunately known for the large 1974 tornado that destroyed much of that city. In 2000, I arrived at the church just a few months after Xenia had been hit by another tornado. The church was hit and suffered a lot of damage and I was there during the rebuilding phase.
It was a very difficult time for that congregation. Before the tornado hit the church, they had just completed a one million dollar building expansion. The tornado destroyed a lot of the new addition. It was a very stressful time for everyone. Sunday worship services needed to be held at the local High School. Sunday School classes met at a Senior Citizen building as well as in other places in the community. And the congregation was faced with yet another stressful rebuilding project.
A member of my church wrote this journal entry about her experience during that difficult time in the life of our church.
“I am discouraged and sad. Our church was hit by a tornado several months ago. Much of the building was destroyed; the rest was badly damaged. It will take a year to rebuild. Everyone pulled together through the clean up and the start of the rebuilding.
Now, six months later, the weariness of living with construction has hit. We’ve had flat tires from nails in the parking lot, and the strains of meeting in a dozen places around town have worn our spirits thin.
We are caught in a conflict over the reconstruction – should we rebuild what we had or redesign for future needs? We have differing hopes, a deep sense of loss, and competition for inadequate space.
Fierce disagreements among people who hold different priorities make this a tense and ragged time. I am beset by ugliness and conflict. I find myself in tears, wanting to run away from it all. I desperately want God to gather me up like a sobbing child, hold me against his shoulder and comfort me.
As I sit in the living room, the cat climbs onto my shoulder, snuggles down and purrs. I let go of fears and strife and I settle into the peaceful joy of cat-cuddling.
God gently whispers into my ear, ‘This is how I love you.’
My anguish diminishes as I understand; as painful as this is, it will pass. I am not alone. I am in the embrace of God.”
For Barb, she was able to embrace the good news of the good news even in the midst of the rubble and the chaos. She was reminded of God’s love for her in a moment when she needed it the most.
Barb eventually included this entry in a book she wrote called “Road Grace.”
Our Gospel reading tells us that as Jesus begins to share this good news that the kingdom of God has come near, he calls on some fisherman to drop what they’re doing and follow him. “Repent and believe in the good news,” he tells them. And they followed.
Jesus’ announcement of the good news isn’t only for those fishermen. It’s also for the woman whose church had been hit by a tornado and was facing the stress of rebuilding. It’s for the widower who wears pink polo shirts and who misses his wife. It’s for the young woman serving in the Peace Corp. It’s for the optimist AND the pessimist.
It’s for anybody who hears the words, “The kingdom of God has come near.”
The Good News of the Good News
Small Group Questions
January 21, 2018
Pastor Robert opened the sermon with a story about a set of twins. One was an optimist and the other a pessimist.
How does the good news of Jesus Christ and your faith help you to be positive in a world that is filled with so much negativity?
Pastor Robert made the point that the good news of the good news is that God’s kingdom is happening now in our present moment and not just sometime way in the distant future. He shared the story about the widower who felt Christ’s presence when he visited our church on All Saints’ Sunday this past November. Of all the Sundays he could have chosen to attend, he came on that particular Sunday which helped him to remember his wife with thanksgiving. Pastor Robert also shared about a church member who felt Christ’s presence during a time of great stress in her church.
When have you experienced the good news of God in your day to day living? We call these “thin place moments” where heaven and earth overlap in mysterious ways in our everyday lives.
Jesus called some fisherman to come follow him and believe in the good news. Amazingly, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Think about it. These men gave up their family business of fishing in order to follow Jesus.
What is your fishing net that Jesus is calling you to set aside in order to follow him? What is holding us back?