The Impact of Good News

In March 2020 during the early part of the pandemic lockdown, actor and Boston native Jon Krasinski began a a short run Youtube series titled “Some Good News.” SGN focused on stories that would lift people up during a difficult stretch. Opening the first episode he said, “We are all going through an incredibly trying time, but, through all the anxiety, through all the confusion, all the isolation, and all the “Tiger King,” somehow the human spirit found a way to break through and blow us all away.” He had loads of special guests like the entire cast of “Hamilton” who preformed on Zoom for a nine-year-old girl who missed out on a chance to see the production due to COVID. He interviewed a 15 year old cancer survivor, and hosted a virtual prom for the thousands of high schoolers. In the midst of a harrowing season in our world, good news arrived and blew us away.

A sermon on Mark 1.

Due to the way our brains are wired up, you and I tend to focus on bad news. You can’t blame us, really, because for thousands and thousands of years, we had to be on the lookout for awful things happening in order to survive. The problem is that that part of our brains, the amygdala, when it senses any kind of danger puts us into survival mode. Sadly, any sort of negative trigger sends us into that adrenaline induced response, whether it’s a bad grade on an exam, an unexpected large expense, or the noise of snow falling off a house. Bad news can hijack our lives. And the news media has known this for a long time. “If it bleeds, it leads” has been the guiding principle for decades, and why feel good stores get relegated to the bottom of the segment, or to the bottom of a webpage. While we may like good news, we tend to focus on the bad.

There wasn’t a lot of good news in the realm of Galilee either. It was a small, backwater town that was under the occupied forces of Rome. The people had to pay an inordinate amount of taxes—often getting over-charged by the Roman lackeys—and got little in return. They went about their days trying to scratch out a living as best they could. The Jewish people who lived there were hoping for the day when God’s messiah would come and overthrow the occupiers and reestablish the kingdom of David. And so, Mark writes, after John the Baptizer was tossed into the slammer, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was near so it was time to turn around from their places of fear and uncertainty and believe that the time had come.

And much like during the time of COVID, people were hungry for just such a message. You have to imagine that Jesus’ proclamation was heard by all the people there alongside the Sea of Galilee, because when he came nearby and saw Peter and Andrew casting their net into the sea he said, “Follow me and I’ll make you become fishers of people,” they simply left the net floating there in the water and began to follow him. Clearly Peter and Andrew had heard something in Jesus’ words, saw something in him, that caused them to hear this good news about the kingdom of God and change their life’s direction. To turn around.

That’s the meaning of repentance, by the way. To make a “U-ey” in life, like when you had been heading East on Route 9 and realized that you really wanted to be heading West. Or when you’ve been filling your life only with the dismal bad news of the world only to finally recognize that you had been looking at it all wrong. To be made aware that there is in fact a reason to hope, to not give in to the amygdala’s pulsating fear. To choose a new way to live in the fullness of that realm of God. To repent.

Jesus then walks a couple dozen yards more, and he encounters James and John who were mending a net in their father’s boat. Jesus says the same thing to them, “Follow me,” and they look at each other, drop their net, and leave their father behind just like that. I’m sure he’s stunned, saying, “James, Johnny, what’s going on? What are you doing? We’ve got work to do!” But by that time their chatting it up with Peter and Andrew following Jesus on his way.

Theologian Ted Smith suggests that this isn’t just something of a whim for these new followers of Jesus. He writes, “These disciples leave behind a whole matrix of work, family, and place—all the stuff of a new identity.” He goes on to explain that the translation of Jesus’ words to Peter and Andrew that most of us read is incomplete. He writes, “[The phrase] ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people,’ … makes it sound as if fishing for people were a task. The better translation receives fishing for people as a new identity.” In such a translation, Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of people.” “There’s a world of difference,” Smith suggests, between the two ideas of being called to doing a task and being called to a new identity. “It promises a whole new life,” he says.

Can you imagine if one of these four had said to Jesus, “Sure, I can learn how to fish for people. Can I squeeze you in on Thursdays from 2-3:30 for private lessons? I’ve got another standing meeting just before then, and it’ll make it easier for me to hook those two together.” Or if they said, “Gee, Jesus, I don’t know. I mean this is all interesting and whatnot with the kingdom of God breaking in, but I do need to make a living somehow, and my dad taught me the trade a long time ago. Can you give me a couple of weeks to talk it over with him and try to come up with some sort of arrangement to make it all work?” That’s like continuing on Route 9 in the same direction. You might have seen something on the other side that looked interesting for a moment, but you’ve been going the same way for ages so why change things now?

How often do we think of following Jesus as a task that we can squeeze in on Sunday mornings for an hour or so, rather than imagining it as a whole new identity for ourselves?

The problem, of course, is that we equate time with money. And our identities are attached to what we do to make money. In a capitalistic society, that’s the most important thing, so we can continue to be good consumers. And when time is equal to money and consuming goods helps make the economy hum, then it’s easier to postpone Jesus’ call to a new kingdom life focused on relationships over stuff. “Follow me and I’ll make you to become fishers of people,” isn’t just so we can find a way to get people snagged in a net and thrown into a boat—or a church. Rather it’s an invitation to be in relationship with others. To open our hearts and lives to them. Especially when they’ve been marginalized by society. Discipleship living asks for us to not only engage in the work but to let it change and mold our hearts. The kingdom of God is come near, so turn around and allow God to open you up to a whole new way of being in relationship to others.

But—and this is a biggie—with that new identity comes great risk. We heard it there in the opening five words of this lesson: “Now after John was arrested.” You may recall that the Baptizer was jailed because he spoke out truthfully against the local ruler. Becoming a member of the kingdom of God and pushing against a culture that says we all need more and instead focusing on our relationships with our neighbors comes at a cost. Offering a warm drink to someone out in the cold, and then asking why they’re out in the cold in the first place might cost you too. Bringing banana bread to a person who lives alone and spending an hour sharing a cup of tea with them even will never impact our GDP, but the GDP will get top billing in the news. Or if you choose to leave behind a lucrative career making widgets because you’d rather work to make someone’s life—or a lot of someones’ lives—better, will lead to receiving questions about your choices, perhaps causing people to make fun of you, or get angry at you. Or worse.

But that’s what happens when we choose to live a life focused on the good news rather than on the bad. That’s a consequence of taking on a new identity rather than just adding another to-do item for Jesus. That’s the result of living a life worthy of being called a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Remember, they strung him up in a tree for the way he lived his life. We shouldn’t expect anything less. Yet how much richer our lives will be if we choose to follow him on the way and proclaim his good news because our world so desperately wants and needs to hear it.

Image by Christian Mathis from Pixabay

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