Third Sunday before Advent 11th November 2018
Introduction and Call to Worship
As we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, we meet to remember those who have died in wartime and to repent of all that causes conflict in the world. We turn to worship God and to follow Christ, who has brought the good news of God’s kingdom of peace.
First Reading Jonah 3:1-5. 10
Jonah proclaims God’s message to the people of Nineveh who repent, so God decides not to destroy the city.
Second Reading Hebrews 9:24-end
Christ sacrificed himself and appeared once and for all before God on our behalf, ending the need for an annual sacrifice of atonement.
Gospel Mark 1:14-20
Jesus begins his ministry by calling people to repent because God’s kingdom is near. The first disciples – Simon and Andrew, James and John – hear his call and follow him.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
In the aftermath of the First World War politicians from various countries wanted to find a way to prevent such death and destruction from happening again. They had a vision of a world where nations would not be threatened by competing empires, disputes would be resolved through discussion, and the threat of war would be minimised by working together to guarantee security and agreeing to disarm. They wanted to turn away from their old way of doing things and create a more peaceful world. As a result, the League of Nations Covenant was signed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Although the League of Nations failed to prevent further wars, and we still live in a world that is ravaged by conflict, it was an important development. Politicians recognised what was wrong in the world, had a vision of how it could be better, and acknowledged that they needed to change how they did things.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus calls people to share his vision of a better world and to acknowledge that they need to change. This is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, immediately after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. The first thing Jesus does is to announce the good news that “the kingdom of God has come near”.
In Jesus’ time it was only too evident to people that the world was not as God had created it to be. The Jewish people were under Roman occupation and ruled by the cruel and ambitious King Herod, and there were many corrupt officials who oppressed the ordinary people. It is no wonder there were many rebel bandits around at the time, calling for the old order to be overthrown and God’s kingdom to be established.
Into this tense situation came Jesus, inviting people to believe the good news that the kingdom of God had already come near. To some people it must have sounded a bit far-fetched, others must have been curious to find out what he meant.
Mark gives us a clue as to what was meant when he describes Jesus’ baptism, in the passage immediately preceding today’s reading. We are told that “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove”. The barrier between God’s realm and the human world has been broken. In the person of Jesus, the kingdom of God is beginning to break through.
But what sort of kingdom is this? Some of Jesus’ early followers probably thought he was going to launch a violent revolt to overthrow Rome and its collaborators. But God’s kingdom is not like that. In the book of Isaiah, which Mark quotes at the beginning of his Gospel, there is a vision of a peaceable kingdom, where the lion lies down with the lamb and the whole of creation lives together in harmony. This is the kingdom that Jesus invites people to trust has come near.
We still live in a world that is far from peaceful, but God still longs for us to turn away from oppression, conflict and violence and to live in peace; to change our ways and turn away from sin. Sin in this sense includes corruption and failing to put God’s Law, vision and worship above self-interest. People need to turn towards God, who sent Jesus to embody the kingdom and demonstrate justice and peace. This is what repentance means.
The second scene in today’s Gospel reading is key to realising God’s vision. Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him and “fish for people”. They had probably already heard of Jesus and his message – they may even have met him before – but now he is specifically calling them to help him to spread the good news.
Jesus calls us too. Like the fishermen, we are called to recognise where we have gone wrong, to turn to God, change our ways and follow him. Then he will show us how we too can help spread the message that God’s kingdom of peace has come near, and that if people change their ways, with God’s help, it will come nearer still.
1. After the First World War politicians recognised what was wrong with the world, realised they needed to change and had a vision for peace.
2. The kingdom of God has come near in the person of Jesus, who calls people to repent from their old ways and share his vision of a better world.
3. God longs for people to turn away from oppression, conflict and violence and to live in peace.
4. Like the fishermen, we are called to help spread the good news and work for peace.
Original text: ‘Living Word’ for Common Worship, Redemptorist Publications 2018.