“The Inconvenient Timing of God”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 1: 9-15
February 18, 2018
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The timing seems all wrong. Jesus, right after He is baptized, is led by the Spirit (by the Spirit, mind you) into the wilderness. Most of us would have gone with our families to a nice restaurant to mark this passage into adulthood. Then there’s this. John has just been arrested and Jesus goes out and says, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” The tone seems all wrong. The kingdom of God has come near? John was just arrested. Isn’t that proof that God is distant and aloof?
Or look at the events of this last week. As I write this there are seventeen known dead in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Yet in Lent, the church talks about preparing for the return of Jesus. If I were a parent of one of those dead children, I would wonder where Jesus was on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. Or where was Jesus when that nineteen-year-old’s brain went haywire? And we heard it yet again. This, we are told, is a mental health issue. No. This is a moral issue. It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Action must be taken to get assault weapons off our streets. Why? Because clearly what we are doing isn’t working. So today, with the words of our text ringing in our ears while the nation mourns its dead children, we need to square our faith with the inconvenient timing of God.
I would suggest that God’s timing will always be inconvenient. The first reason for this inconvenience is our own culpability. The shooter in Florida should have been stopped. There were more than enough warning signs. But for God to have intervened would have resulted in the loss of free will. So often we are given warning signs by the way the created order is structured. We can either choose to take heed or deny the facts but we should not complain to God about the consequences. Sea levels rise. The third warmest year in recorded history was 2017. And the United States pulls out of the Paris Climate Accord. We can blame God but this is not God’s fault. Climate change is upon us and the consequences are coming home to roost. The only way God could act preemptively in the affairs of humanity would be for God to crush our freedom.
The second reason for the inconvenient timing of God is our propensity to sin. At the risk of oversimplifying the meaning of sin, let me suggest that sin occurs whenever we give ourselves over to another god. Please do not misunderstand me. We do not fashion a golden calf, we do not bow down before an alternative altar. We are too sophisticated to be so blatant. We place something other than God at the center of our lives. Our ultimate concern is not faithfulness to God but this little demon on our shoulder that whispers in our ear what we want to hear. Simply put, Sin is idolatry without the golden calf. And if you think I am pointing my finger at others, then let me confess. I avoid faithfulness because I do not want to forgo my pleasure. So when God comes to us, when God calls us to the ultimate way to virtue, it is always inconvenient. When King David gazed upon Bathsheba bathing on the roof, his sin was not looking at her but acting on his impulse. And when his lust resulted in her pregnancy, David called Uriah, her husband, back from the front lines of battle hoping that her husband would sleep with her and David could claim the child to be Uriah’s offspring. David’s first attempt failed because Uriah was more virtuous than the king and would not partake of life’s pleasure while the king’s army was deployed in battle. So David had Uriah stay another day and got him drunk thinking that Uriah’s resolve would weaken and he would go home for the night. Again, Uriah would not. So David had Joab, his general, deploy Uriah to the front line of battle where Uriah died. And David almost got away with it, until Nathan, the prophet, came before the King’s presence. Nathan told the king of a poor man who had but one lamb. A rich man, who had many sheep, wanted the poor man’s lamb to feed the rich man’s guests and he took it. When David heard the story he was incensed. He bellowed out his justice and said that the rich man was deserving of death but short of death, the rich man must restore fourfold what he had stolen. Nathan then turned and said to David, “Thou art the man.” The inconvenient timing of God is in part due to our propensity to sin. There is no good time to share bad news.
But wait. Someone will say that Jesus was bringing Good News, revealing God’s love and grace. How can there be any time when such Good News is inconvenient? It should always be welcomed. But God’s love and grace await our response. When I told my wife I loved her, I expected a response along the same line! Suppose she had said, “Well, that’s nice,” or “Thank you.” You think that would have been enough? No! I expected her to take the same crazy risk. I expected her to love me back. So yes, God brings Good News, but it is news that awaits our response. And there are times when such Good News comes to us at an inconvenient time.
Such a moment may be upon us. We may be perched on the brink of environmental extinction. We may be facing a moral crisis in this nation when parents have to explain yet again to their teenage daughters how men of power use them for their pleasure. We may need to protect the fragile value of truth and guard against those who would select “alternative facts” to suit their ignoble ends. My Evangelical brothers and sisters will have to decide if morality has any place within the political order. Inconvenient timing? You bet. Nonetheless, it is God’s Good News. Let us pray…
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”