... hearing.

Mark 1:14-20



Recently I was sent the following story by email: for a long while a man thought that his wife wasn't hearing as well as she used to and may be she might need a hearing aid. Not quite sure how to approach her, he had a word with a family friend to discuss the problem. The friend offered a simple informal test that could be performed to get a better idea about his wife's hearing loss.

The advice was to stand about 20 feet away from his wife, and in a normal conversational speaking tone see if she heard him. If not, he was advised to go to 15 feet, then 10 feet, and so on until he got a response.

That evening, his wife was in the kitchen cooking dinner. He was about 20 feet away, so, in a normal tone asked, 'What's for dinner?' No response.

So he moved closer, about 15 feet from his wife and repeated, 'What's for dinner?' Still no response.

He moved to about 10 feet from her and asked, 'What's for dinner?' Again no response.

So, he walked to about 5 feet away. 'What's for dinner?' Again there was no response.

So he walked right up beside her. ''What's for dinner?'

'For goodness sake, for the FIFTH time, it's chicken!'

I wonder how often we, each of us, listen without hearing?

Immediately after the statement that John the Baptist had been arrested, the Gospel of Mark records that Jesus went about telling people the good news that God's kingdom would soon be present. It was an invitation to follow the Way of Jesus as he developed his understanding of the good news of the kingdom or the realm of God [Mark 1:14-15].

But did many listen? And further, did many hear and respond? And are we listening still, and if so, to what are we listening? There is, after all, a world of difference between listening and hearing!

Mark 1:16 - 20 states that Jesus was simply walking along the shoreline of Lake Galilee when he saw the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John. Probably all four were from the fishing village of Bethsaida. Jesus offered a simple invitation and they accepted it and responded positively to it.

The story says that they immediately went together to Capernaum. This was a journey of no more than 5 miles. Capernaum was an important strategic town built on the strip of land between the Capernaum Mountain and the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum became the centre of the Jesus mission.

The importance for me today of these calling stories is that I / we are still being called to follow the Way of Jesus in our day and age. But what may be the good news of the kingdom or the realm of God for us in today's world? And how might we live and be part of the Way of Jesus today? As I said here in my sermon back at the end of July last year, the kingdom or the realm of God is not a place but it is a process - it is a way of life.

Over the coming 14 weeks we will be considering who to vote for in the General Election. Will we vote from self-interest or will we make our decision based upon other criteria? I know that people do not like talking about money and finance and politics but if we are living the kingdom or the realm of God we cannot avoid the issues of money or of politics, either in our daily lives or in the pulpit.

The Way of Jesus is to work for and to serve others so that all can have a just and fair share of the abundance of good things that earth affords - it is the only way in which violence and terrorism will become things of the past. To help bring about heaven on Earth we need to invest in the future of all God's people, regardless of their colour, their creeds or their religious beliefs; regardless of their gender or sexuality; regardless of their age or infirmity.

Was it Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase, "lies, damn lies and statistics"? Well, either way, here goes... Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report for 2014 showed that 0.7% of the world's population controlled 44% of the wealth of the world. The University of California, Berkeley recently claimed that the USA's top 0.1% of families are worth, on average, $73,000,000 each. This means that just 0.1% own more than 20% of the wealth of the USA. The Oxfam report published last Monday shows that by next year the richest 1% in the world could own as much as the rest of us put together.

Like it or not, I am talking about a spiritual problem that governs our life choices - how we spend our money and the candidate and the political party for whom we will vote on 7 May, these are spiritual decisions. Robert Peston, the BBC's Economic Editor wrote last Monday:

"'We could have developed a vaccine for Ebola years ago if we had chosen to allocate the resources to the appropriate research'. That is what a senior and respected medical scientist, a man who would be seen as a world authority on such matters, said to me. So why wasn't the cure found? The relevant research didn't happen because Ebola was seen for a long time to be a disease only of the poor, especially in Africa - and therefore the giant pharmaceutical manufacturers couldn't see how to make big money out of an Ebola medicine.

Today of course it is clear that Ebola is a global threat - and hence there is a mad rush to find a treatment. What the preventable tragedy of Ebola shows is that in a globalised world the interests of rich and poor are frequently the same - although it is hard for businesses to recognise this mutuality of interest when driven to make short-term profits. This solidarity between those with least and those (us) with most is also lost when governments are under pressure from voters to use tax revenues only in ways that demonstrably benefit a domestic population.

Perhaps the most important point is that when decisions about who gets what or how investment funds are allocated are left to markets, the outcome may seem to benefit only the rich but the consequence may end up hurting rich and poor alike.... Which is a powerful argument for why the widening gap between the rich and poor, in wealth and income, is bad for everyone - even the super wealthy, unless that is they never want to leave their fortified, hermetically sealed, lavishly appointed bunkers."

As I understand it, the Way of Jesus is not concerned with helping individuals to feel good about ourselves or comfortable with our lives while others are dying as the result of preventable disease, famine, terrorism, and the like. As important as our home comforts are, they need to be set within the context of the Way of Jesus. It is the way of the man from Galilee who was so poor that, often, he had nowhere to lay his head!

The Way of Jesus is concerned with seeking justice and abundance for all and, as we continue our involvement in this Jesus enterprise, we will be part of the social, political and economic decision making and transformation that this world so desperately needs. How we decide to live - how we decide to use our money should be life affirming for all, not just for ourselves. How we decide to use our money should not be life denying for the poor, the outcast or the marginalised.

Again, as I understand it, the Way of Jesus is reflected in the recent '2020 Vision of the Good Society' report produced by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It puts forward statements designed to foster a society that works for all, valuing the individual and respecting the Earth. It sets out a vision for the kind of world, locally, nationally and globally that many wish to see over the five years of the next parliament. The '2020 Vision of a Good Society' has five goals:

1] All citizens will have access to enough income to enable them to live with dignity, either through paid work or through a properly functioning welfare safety net.

2] Reasonably priced homes where people can flourish will be available for everyone who needs them and where there is a reliable safety net for all homeless people.

3] All children and young people will be enabled to live fulfilling flourishing lives in which their contributions are valued, enabling them to grow and achieve their potential.

4] An economy that is in service to every person irrespective of their wealth or the market value of their labour; including robust action to clamp down on tax dodging.

5] UK greenhouse gas emissions to continue falling rapidly, and the Government works to secure a global climate deal that limits global temperature rises to 2 degrees.

The '2020 Vision of the Good Society' also makes the following comments:

"The best measure of society is how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. A good society is one where the richest contribute most to eradicate poverty and improve society as a whole."

"A good society is one where we all think about the impact of our choices on others especially those who are marginalised in any way."

"A good society involves a sense of community, underpinned by justice, fairness and the inclusion of all."

My constant mantra is that Christianity today needs to be less concerned with statements of faith and creedal words and more, much more concerned with a renewed emphasis upon justice and abundance for all God's people. Any alternative will come back to bite us all as we will increasingly have to retreat to Peston's "fortified, hermetically sealed, lavishly appointed bunkers."

I finish with one of my favourite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi. It is a challenge to me and to the way in which I choose to live my life. It is a marker for me as I discuss issues with our candidates who are vying for my - for our - support on 7th May. It puts its finger upon what Jesus was calling his followers to become - it is the Way of Jesus and it is still calling me to the same today: it is a deeply spiritual comment. Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

If all people of good will could really do that, just think of the different world we would be living in! It would be a world where justice is paramount and transforming compassionate love is unconditional. It would be a world where all share fairly in the abundance that earth has to offer. No more genocide, ethnic cleansing or holocausts. And if that is not good news - kingdom news then I don't know what is. You may or may not agree with me, but for me, this is what 7th May is all about - it is the kingdom basis upon which I will decide to whom I will give my vote.

Mark 1:14-20 (NRSVA)

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

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.'

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake-for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Copyright ©: 2015, Rev John Churcher. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.