The Rev’d Robert Warren Mark 1:1-8
“The kingdom of God barges into our lives”.
I read that somewhere this week. I’m a pedant – so if I read a phrase like “The Kingdom of God barges in” I need to first double-check that the verb-phrase “to barge in” comes from the noun “barge” and not from some middle Danish verb that sounds like beuorgen with an umlaut and an “o” with a line through it, No – that’s exactly where it comes from – a barge – a not-overly-maneuverable boat with a flat bottom that isn’t easily stopped on a dime and which will take out any flimsy wharf that sticks out too far from the bank. Older sisters barge into bathrooms, brothersin-law barge in with unsolicited political opinions at Thanksgiving Dinner. You’ve got to maneuver around these folks because they’re bigger than you. They don’t changedirection easily.
The abruptness of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel underscores the suddenness and novelty of God’s action. Without preamble, the kingdom of God arrives. It takes up space. It is an event. Things must change shape to accommodate its presence. A sociologist of world religions who studied religious rituals (both within and outside ofChristianity) might conclude that they are designed to stave off change. An art historian in Florence or Venice who examined the many religious paintings which show Patron Saints and sundry Virtues surrounding the reigning prince of the day might come to the same
opinion. Religious people often demonstrate a keen investment in the present order where structures stay more or less the same. They are forever asking God to keep things on a steady, predictable and profitable keel. It is one of the furrows into which religious language and practice strangely settles -that our religious observance pleases a deity who might otherwise upset our apple cart and cause matters to change around us. If we do our bit – behave ourselves and
offer appropriate worship – then God (or the gods) will do everything in his ability to retain the shape of things so that they will still be there for us when we wake up tomorrow. Both within and beyond Christianity God has often been construed as the one who ensures that the harvest provides its annual return, who ensures that the fish return each year to their streams, who Saves Our King or Queen and who underwrites the inviolability of our Republics. Pay attention. In teaching-miracles and in parables, throughout the Gospel accounts we will read together this year, Jesus points our attention to transformation, to opportunity and to the presence of the New Thing. The old order? It can provide none of these.
God knows we don’t like change or uncertainty. Jesus, however, tells us that he will turn our worst enemy into our best hope..