This is the first of a series of sermons on the five marks of mission, five aspects of the mission that Christians are called to in the world. This list was developed by the Anglican Communion and endorsed by the Episcopal Church as a helpful framework within which we can better understand our calling to the mission of Christ. The five marks of mission are: 1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; 2) To teach, baptize and nurture new believers; 3) To respond to human need by loving service; 4) To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation; and 5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
This evening we’re focusing on the first mark of mission, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. This first mark can be considered a summary of and a foundation for the rest of the marks, just as it was the basis for Jesus’ own ministry. For example, in the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” In the gospel according to Luke, when some people want Jesus to stay with them he says “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” And in the gospel according to Matthew Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
So let’s take this as a summary of the good news of the kingdom we’re meant to be proclaiming: repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. Now, repenting means turning around, a change of heart and mind, but defining the Kingdom of God is more difficult, and since the time of Jesus’ ministry, it’s been understood in many different ways, although it often involves the ending of one thing and the beginning of something new.
Taken in a literal sense, what’s ending could be understood to be the entire world, a final apocalypse. So the Kingdom of God is near because the end of the world is near, which is what sets the stage for Christ’s return and the fulfillment of our salvation. This is where we get that stereotypical image of a man standing on a street corner shouting, wearing disheveled robes, wild-eyed, with a scraggly beard, holding a cardboard sign reading “Repent! The end is nigh!” where “nigh” means very, very, near, so we don’t have far to go or time to waste. Unfortunately, their credibility often isn’t very good, especially with all the predictions that come and go about the exact day of the end of the world with nothing seeming to happen.
Aside from the end of the world, the coming of God’s Kingdom can also be understood as an end to ignorance, ignorance concerning the message of Jesus and the will of God. The Kingdom of God then is like the church or the community of Christians, striving to make the way of Jesus known to those in need of saving grace. And in that respect it’s the church living up to its own identity as bearer of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
We can also see the Kingdom of God as an end to injustice, war, poverty, and the pollution and degradation of creation. In that sense, the repenting is a call to social and political action, to work towards the coming of a Kingdom of Heaven here on earth which itself bears the fruit of Christ’s return and our collective salvation.
All of these interpretations of the Kingdom of God have some truth to them, and can bear good fruit in the world as part of a proclamation of good news. But trying to define God’ Kingdom, to narrow it down to one thing in particular, can also be misleading. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God he spoke in parables, saying the Kingdom is like this or like that, and we’re left with the impression that maybe the Kingdom of God is just very difficult, or even impossible, to put precisely into words.
In the gospel according to Luke, for example, Jesus says “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” And the word translated as “among” is ambiguous since it can also be translated as “within,” so somehow this mysterious kingdom is among us and within us, already, except for some reason we can’t see it. In this way of interpreting the Kingdom of God it’s more about a kind of inner spiritual reality, a way we see and relate to ourselves, each other, and creation.
It’s like there is an end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, the end of a way of seeing defined only by our egos, the end of our attachment to the things of this world and to false ideas and beliefs. It’s an end to the world defined by separation and sin before we awaken to God’s truth, enlightened by the light of Christ. But the end of our world isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning, because when we remember our true selves, who we are in Christ, then we recognize and participate in the Kingdom of God among us, bearing the fruit of God’s love for all to share. And so the hope of this Kingdom includes a belief in some very good news, namely that the transformation and healing of an individual or of a society is truly possible.
And this is how the first mark of mission, proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, serves as the foundation for the other four marks. Our mission as begins with the seed of stillness, light and love buried in our own hearts, the seed we nurture through prayer, through turning inward toward a truth we’ve forgotten.
It’s like with each passing moment there’s a small, hidden, part of ourselves that can make a choice, a choice to let our Beloved God end our world of sin, ending our separation from God’s Kingdom within us, so that we can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom simply by sharing Christ’s loving presence. And that presence moves and takes action in the world as a servant of God’s love, proclaiming God’s Kingdom among us by, for example, teaching, baptizing and nurturing new believers; responding to human need by loving service; seeking to transform unjust structures of society; and striving to safeguard the integrity of creation. And it all starts with something as humble and fragile as a human heart, your heart. That’s our mission as followers of Jesus and disciples of Christ.
Now, in the interest of fairness, I’d like to give the last word on proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom to one of those poor end of the world guys standing alone on a street corner. So here’s what one of them had to say:
I am so
because I was going
to make one of those
big, cardboard street signs.
But, I was just
have to listen.
and turn away
from the noise and distractions
of this crazy world.
and turn inward
towards the stillness
of your waiting heart,
the Holy One’s secret home,
our Beloved God’s most favorite place
in all the universe.
Repent, for the end,
for the end of your world,
and the beginning
of a new world in Christ.
Repent for the end
of the lies
that separate us from the Kingdom of Heaven,
that separate us from our True Selves,
that separate us from each other
that separate us from God’s Truth and Beauty
present in every waking moment.
for the end of the “me,”
for the end of the “mine,”
for the birth of a most humble servant
by the ending of the “I.”
Please, please repent,
for the end…
well, for the end is
just so very, very, very nigh.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.