The Time is Ripe

Mark 1:14-20

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” says Jesus as he begins his ministry in Galilee.  The word for time here in Mark’s original Greek text is kairos, the word you would use to say the time is right.  It’s the right moment.  Kairos.  It’s the word used to say that a fruit is ripe or that someone arrived just in the nick of time.  There’s another Greek word for time: chronos.  Think chronology.  That’s the word we use to say that the time will be  six o’clock in the morning when the alarm goes off.  But the word here in Mark 1:15 is kairos.  The time is fulfilled, says Jesus to the people of the Galilee.  The time is full.  The time is ripe.

Who are these people he’s speaking to as he moves through Galilee?  The Galilee was one of the richest areas in Palestine.  It was the breadbasket of the region, rich in wheat and barley and oats, and also with olive groves, vineyards, and orchards.  Dried fish from the Sea of Galilee provided the primary source of protein for the region and helped to feed both Caesar’s and Herod’s armies.  But for all this, the majority of the people were poor.  A system of high rents paid to wealthy absentee landowners, heavy taxes paid to Herod or Rome, and heavy tithes paid to the religious system of the temple guaranteed that most of the people lived in a perpetual cycle of poverty.  These were people who had lived for generations under someone else’s heavy hand.

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” proclaims Jesus to these people and to people of every time and place who have lived or are living under systems that hold them down, push them to the margins, pick their pockets, and crush their hopes and dreams.  The time is fulfilled.  You’ve waited long enough.  Enough is enough.  The time is ripe.   

 “The kin-dom of God has come near,” he tells them.  It is arriving.  It is in reach.  It is imminent.  It is doable.  And then he says this: “Repent and believe the good news.”

Do you remember what I said about “repent” a few weeks ago?  

Repentance.  In English it’s a smudged and leaden word filled with regret and contrition. Repentance is a stinging backside, bruised knees and hunched shoulders.  I suggest we ban it and replace it with the Greek word: Metanoia.  Metanoia is climbing out of a dank hole into the sunlight.  Metanoia is being freed from the nasty habits that ruin your health and suck the life out of your wallet.  Metanoia is putting on new glasses with the right prescription and realizing that you had only been seeing a third of the details and half the colors in the world.  Metanoia  is shoes that fit right, have cushy insoles, perfect arch support, and take the cramp out of your lower back.  Metanoia is thinking new thoughts and behaving in new ways.  Metanoia is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of life, a new direction.  

“Metanoiete!” Jesus says.  He says it in the imperative, as a command.  Put on those new glasses and those better shoes.  See the world in a better, clearer way.  Walk into the world in a new way that doesn’t cause pain for you or anyone around you.  Think about the world in a new way.  Think about yourself in a new way.  Think about your neighbor in a new way.  Think about who might be your neighbor in a new way.

“And believe the good news!”  Pisteuete! Another imperative.  Another command.  Believe!  It’s not a request to accept the idea, to consider it thoughtfully, to mull it over.  It’s a command to believe it, to trust it, to act on it, to base your life on the good news that the kin-dom of God, the reign of God is within reach.

That, according to Jesus, is the gospel.  That is the good news.  The kin-dom of God is immanent.  The kin-dom of God is arriving on earth as it is in heaven.

And notice this:  He doesn’t say a word here about receiving him into your heart and making him your personal Lord and Savior.  He doesn’t say anything here about being saved.  He doesn’t say anything here about forgiveness or atonement.  There is nothing spiritual in his language here at all.  When he says “Believe the good news!” it is a call to action.

“Believe” in Mark’s gospel is not a sit-and-think word.  “Believe” is a get-up-and-do word. 

In this gospel Jesus is on the move and calls others to move with him.  As he passes along the seashore he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John and they drop their nets to follow him.  He teaches as he moves.  

He calls us where we are and in the same imperative voice says, “Come!  Follow me and I’ll teach you how to bring others along!”  

He calls us to travel with him.  To work with him.  There is so much to be done.  There is an old world to dismantle and a new world to build.  The kin-dom of God is within reach.  The kin-dom of God is arriving.  

If we can see him with eyes refocused by metanoia, if we can hear him with ears opened by metanoia, if we can be freed from our preconceived ideas and learn to believe him with a trust and faith transformed by a metanoia of heart and mind, then we can begin to see the kin-dom take root and grow like a garden spreading across the desert.  

And this isn’t just “me” work that Jesus is calling us to do.  This isn’t just about saving your own soul, although, “the one who endures to the end will be saved,” said Jesus.[1]  But there’s a lot to do before we get there.  

This is “us” work.  Building the kin-dom of God requires all hands on deck.  It requires unity.  As President Biden said in his Inaugural address, “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity. Unity. Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.”

He was talking about healing our country of the divisions that have been tearing us apart, but the same thing applies to making the kin-dom of God a reality on earth as it is in heaven, something we pray for every time we pray the prayer Jesus taught us. 

“History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity,” said President Biden. “We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage.”

At the founding of this country our founders gave us a vision to strive for: “We, the people…in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”  That has always sounded to me a lot like the kin-dom of God.  It’s collective.  We the people—all of us want to form a more perfect union.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to establish justice.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to ensure domestic tranquility.  Is this not merely the country, but the world we all want to live in?  A world where everyone’s well-being is secured by the solemn word and promise of everyone else?  A world in conformity with God’s own vision of equity and justice?

This is the collective work we are called to, the work of the kin-dom, the work of taking care of each other, the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

“So we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us,” said Amanda Gorman, our inspiring, young poet laureate.  

“We close the divide because we know to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside. 

We lay down our arms 

so we can reach out our arms to one another, 

we seek harm to none 

and harmony for all.

we will raise this wounded world 

into a wondrous one,

We’ve braved the belly of the beast, 

we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace 

and the norms and notions of what just is, 

isn’t always justice.

We will not march back to what was 

but move to what shall be

we will not be turned around 

or interrupted by intimidation 

because we know our inaction and inertia 

will be the inheritance of the next generation, 

our blunders become their burden. 

But one thing is certain: 

if we merge mercy with might and might with right, 

then love becomes our legacy 

and change our children’s birthright.

There is always light 

if only we’re brave enough to see it, 

if only we’re brave enough to be it.”[2]

Pepleirotai ho Kairos. The time is ripe. The kin-dom of God is in reach.  It always has been.  Metanoiete.  Change direction, and believe the good news.  In Jesus’ name.


[1] Mark 13:13

[2] The Hill We Climb (edited) Amanda Gorman, from President Biden’s Inauguration

Time to Wake Up

Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

At the end of August in 2018 in the small town of Actlán, Mexico, a message began pinging from phone to phone on WhatsApp:  “Please everyone be alert because a plague of child kidnappers has entered the country. It appears that these criminals are involved in organ trafficking. In the past few days, children aged four, eight and 14 have disappeared and some of these kids have been found dead with signs that their organs were removed. Their abdomens had been cut open and were empty.”  

No one knew exactly where this grisly story came from or if it was even true.  

On the 29th of August, as this horrid rumor about child abduction was sweeping through the area, Ricardo Flores and his uncle, Alberto, came in to town to buy supplies for the cinderblock water well they were building on Alberto’s ranch in the countryside.  Since Ricardo and Alberto did not live in town, the local rumor monger did not recognize them and began spreading the word that they were the feared child abductors.  Francisco Martinez began livestreaming into his phone saying, “People of Actlán de Osorio, Puebla, please come give your support, give your support. Believe me, the kidnappers are now here.”

Ricardo and Alberto quickly found themselves surrounded by a mob. The police arrested them for disturbing the peace, but since they had no real reason to hold the two men, they let them go.  Sadly, the moment Alberto and Roberto walked out of the police station they were seized by the angry mob who beat them, doused them with gasoline and burned them to death.

It turned out, when it was all over, that the rumor about child abduction was fake news.[1]  

Terry Pratchett wrote, “A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”[2]

Rumors can be fiercely destructive.  Even deadly.  Rumors can even be weaponized.

Because rumors and misinformation can be so destructive, in 1942, as World War II was utterly transforming life in the US, psychologists Gordon Allport and Robert Knapp set up the first Rumor Clinic at Harvard University.  Their goal was to stop pernicious rumors that could undermine the war effort or upset public morale, and, in the process to try to understand why rumors are so attractive to us.

Knapp noted that rumors arise to express the public’s feelings in a time of crisis or instability.  Rumors supply the illusion of information when real information is unavailable or unsatisfying.  They can give a sense of having some measure of control when things seem out of control.  

Knapp identified three kinds of rumors and the psychological functions they serve.  The wedge driver rumor expresses hostility in a time of frustration and allows us to find a scapegoat.  The current rumor about the Corona virus originating in a Chinese lab is an example.  Pipe dream rumors express our hopes and wishes.  The debunked rumor about hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid is an example.  Bogie rumors express our fears.  For instance the rumor back in April that hospitals were not going to treat anyone over 60 was a bogie rumor.

When we’re living in highly uncertain circumstances where even day-to-day decisions can have unforeseen outcomes, rumors will be rampant.  They provide an outlet for our collective emotional life.  But they can have dire consequences.

One of the most common negative consequences of rumors is that they can damage relationships.  Let’s say Gomer tells Wanda that he heard that eating bleu cheese can keep you from getting the flu.  Two weeks later Wanda is in bed with the flu, feeling miserable, despite eating bleu cheese every day since she first heard about it from Gomer.  Now she’s going to be skeptical about anything Gomer tells her.

Or let’s say Wanda doesn’t buy the idea of the bleu cheese cure for a minute.  Now she’s going to wonder if Gomer’s elevator goes all the way to the top floor since he passed along this crazy idea.

The easy way to avoid the mistrust and skepticism that inevitably arises from this kind of thing is simple: don’t pass along anything unless you are absolutely certain that it’s true.

There’s a simple rule that has been attributed to Socrates or sometimes to the Buddha: “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?”  For those of us who are followers of Jesus, who are trying to live in and maintain the beloved community, I would add one more gate:  Is it loving?

We’re living in a very conflicted time.  Information and misinformation is flying around us at lightspeed—information and misinformation about the pandemic, about science, about political candidates, about political parties, about nations, about issues, about factions.  A lot of that information and misinformation is sent out with an agenda.  And some of those agendas are destructive.  

If ever there was a time when we needed to double and triple check the truth, the agenda, and the sources of the information that comes to us, this is it.

I think we know that not everything we hear is true.  But we’re not always diligent about taking time to verify sources and facts before we pass things along.

As St. Paul says in today’s epistle reading from Romans, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”  There’s a lot at stake—in our country, in our communities, in our church, in our personal lives, in our relationships.  We need to be wide awake and thoughtful about what we hear and what we share.

But as St. Paul also says in that same passage, the one thing we owe each other above everything else is to love each other.  All the commandments “are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Loving each other with agape love means that we tell each other the truth.  No rumors.  No fake news.  No gossip.  It means we check our sources.  If necessary, it means we check our sources’ sources.  

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

But what do you do if something does happen to damage your relationship with someone else in the community, if some rumor or misinformation or half-truth or something worse insinuates itself between you?

Fortunately, in Matthew 18 we have a formula in the words of Jesus, himself, for dealing with exactly that situation.

The first step in Jesus’ formula for reconciliation is to go to the person who you feel has wronged you one-on-one, alone, and talk about it.  Speak your truth in love.  If that person listens to you, all well and good.  Your relationship can begin healing.  I should note here that the Greek word translated as “listens,” ἀκούω (akouō) implies not just listening but understanding.  So the hope is that you will come to an understanding.

Unfortunately, instead doing that, our typical way of dealing with such things often is to triangulate, to find someone else to hear our grievance.  As Brian Stoffregen describes it, 

“When we have been wronged, we often don’t confront the person. Instead, we create triangles. We go and tell two or three or more of our friends, ‘Do you know what so-and-so did to me?’ Jesus did not say: ‘Go tell everybody what that stupid jerk did to you.’ Jesus told us: ‘Go and talk to that stupid jerk about the hurtful actions s/he has done,’ although Jesus didn’t quite use those words. We are to go and talk to the person, not to go around telling everybody else. We are to be so concerned about the breach in the relationship, that we are willing to do whatever is possible to restore it.”[3]

So that’s the first step.  Go talk to the person.  If that doesn’t work, try step two.  Bring two or three others into the conversation.  Listen to what they have to say about it.  And here’s a caveat:  Be prepared to be told that you’re in the wrong.  And if that happens, be prepared to be gracious about it.

Remember, this is the ideal way of dealing with disagreement or injury within the beloved community as Jesus described it.  This part with two or three witnesses is also completely consistent with dispute resolution as it described in Deuteronomy.

If you’ve tried steps one and two, the additional witnesses think you’re in the right, and the other person still won’t listen or try to understand, then Jesus says to take it to the whole congregation.

This may seem a little radical to us, but it really is wise in two very important ways.  First, it brings everything out in the open and puts a dead stop to any scuttlebutt that might be circulating.  It stops the rumor mill dead in its tracks.  Most importantly, though, it acknowledges that relationships are important in the beloved community, that, in fact, the community exists because of relationships.  One fractured relationship can collapse the community as surely as one fractured beam can bring down the roof. 

So you’ve tried to resolve your differences by talking one on one.  You’ve tried with one or two others sitting in.  You’ve tried with the whole church.  But you can’t seem to reach that other person.  Now what?  

“If the offender refuses to listen even to the church,” says Jesus, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  

That sounds so harsh.  But is it?  On the one hand, it seems clear that at this point the offender is separated from the rest of the church.  An outsider.  On the other hand, it’s important to note that Gentiles and tax collectors were a special focus for outreach in Matthew’s gospel.  

So yes, that person is now on the outs for a while.  But you—and the you here is 2nd person singular—you have a new special focus for outreach.  You have a mission to find a way to bring that person back into the fold.  You don’t get to wipe your hands and say good riddance.

In a world and a time where so much is falling apart, now more than ever the beloved community needs to do everything we can to hold it together.

We need to remember that we owe each other love.  Love that is patient and kind.  Love that is not arrogant or boastful or rude.  Love that is not irritable or resentful or self-seeking.  Love that rejoices in truth.  And speaks truth.

We need to remember that, as much as we might like to have everything spelled out, as far as God is concerned, the entire law is spelled out in “love your neighbor as yourself.”  

We need to remember to speak the truth in love.  To pass our words through the three gates—is it true, is it kind, is it necessary—before we run them out of our mouths our through our typing fingers.  

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;  the night is far gone, the day is near.  In Jesus’ name.


[1] BBC News, 12 Nov 2018, Marco Martinez

[2] The Truth, Terry Pratchett

[3] Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, Matthew 18:15-20