SCRIPTURE   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.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.  [Mark 1:14-20]


MESSAGE       “Our Agenda”        Rev. James Renfrew

Soon Friday I was at a meeting and someone asked me to chair the meeting, not permanently, just for that one meeting because the regular chairwoman was sick at home.  This is a group trying to respond to issues around immigration in our region, something I am very interested in.  And it’s not just a national issue.  According to yesterday’s Daily News from Batavia there was an immigration sweep during the past week in Genesee County, there was an immigration arrest right here in Byron, and several in Elba.  So there was a lot to discuss, and I had been asked to chair the meeting, to facilitate the conversation, to make sure all of the topics were covered and that we would finish on time.

So there I was sitting at the head of the table, asked at the last minute to fill in for someone who was home sick, and I had no idea where to start.  Fortunately, the woman who had called in sick had developed an agenda, someone else brought it in, and it was shared around the table.  With an agenda in hand, we were ready to roll!

When any group has a meeting an agenda is essential, otherwise you get bogged down, talk in circles, and leave with nothing done and a lot of frustration.  An agenda is a big help.  We use agendas at Session meetings, Deacons meetings and Trustees meetings.  We work our way through the list, everyone gets a chance to talk, we decide who is going to do what, and then we go home excited about what we are going to do.

Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel is all about Jesus’ agenda.  And of course, he’s telling us about his agenda so it can be our agenda too!   As I read it, I am already excited about what we are going to do next!

The agenda at yesterday’s meeting on immigration filled two pages.  Jesus’ agenda, as we hear it in Mark’s Gospel is much briefer.  Brief, but very much to the point.  It’s well worth our reviewing it, especially because it’s our 200th year, a good time to review our roots, motivation and purpose as we set out for the next 100 years.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  You know, on my own I could come up with a whole bunch of things to put on our church agenda, but as a Presbyterian I turn to the Bible first to see where God wants us to begin. So let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ agenda.

[1]  The time is fulfilled.  To me this is the most revolutionary part of the agenda.  Our purpose is not to offer the world vague promises about someday, down the road, eventually, but right here and right now.  What Jesus offers to the world is not on hold, it’s ready, ready for each one of you.  This first agenda item is reflected in the brief story that follows concerning the fishermen.  Jesus offered something to the fishermen and they responded to it immediately.  Maybe they were tired of everyone else telling them to wait, tamp down their hopes and be patient.   When Jesus invited them, they responded immediately!  It is a compelling story for us to see them respond so readily. Wow!  Can we demonstrate our readiness like this?

[2] The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near.  During this Epiphany season we have already read two previous stories about the heavens being opened, at the time when Jesus was baptized, and then when Phillip and Nathanael feel drawn to Jesus.  In both stories the heavens open, a visual image in my mind that just bursts with possibility.  That same theme is repeated here, that instead of only having a vague sense of God’s work in the world that those who respond to Jesus will no longer be spectators of God’s work, but vital participants in that work right where they are.  The nearness of the Kingdom of God draws us right into its possibilities.

[3] The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near, repent.   The Greek word for repent is “metanoia”, which simply means turn around.  Where we have gotten stuck, where we have taken the wrong turns, where we have become lost, Jesus says it’s time to turn around, and find a better spiritual direction.  And please note this very important point:  Jesus is not just telling us to turn around, he’s leading the way for us.  On Friday night Robin and I were watching “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency”, a series of stories about the first female private investigators in Botswana, Africa.  When the lead detective Precious Ramotswe  invites her secretary Grace Makutsi to become a detective, too, the poor woman is shattered by this unexpected opportunity.  Becoming a trusted partner in detective work is all that she could have wished for, yet when the offer is made Grace becomes stuck, unable to move.  So the lead detective takes her hand and leads her forward.  That’s what repent means, Jesus isn’t just telling you to change your direction, he offers to take your hand and lead you in a new direction that you’ve been wanting to go.

[4] The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near, repent, and  believe in the Good News.  This is more than reciting doctrines or handing out Bibles on street corners, it is living the hope, healing and peace of Jesus.  It gets me asking myself about how I demonstrate hope in my daily life, how I provide healing in my relationships, how the choices I make expand the peace of Jesus Christ.

     “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  In Mark’s telling of the Gospel, this verse is the first time that Jesus speaks, and it sure looks like an agenda to me, a plan, a purpose that he’s eager to share with others, and especially with you, so that his plan becomes your plan, too.

In our 200th year, the same agenda that motivated a small group of people to create a church in the frontier wilderness in 1818, continues to motivate us in 2018, because “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”