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Leaving Chaos for Kairos

A sermon preached by Rev. Jay Rowland on Sunday January 21, 2018 at First Presbyterian Church, Rochester MN.


Leaving Chaos for Kairos


Text: Mark 1:14-20


We are now past the mid-point of the season of Epiphany.  Every year it begins on the 12th day of Christmas and ends with Transfiguration of Jesus. In a couple of weeks, Epiphany will give way to Lent.

The season of Epiphany celebrates God’s self-revelation–God’s desire to extend God’s covenant love beyond Israel to include foreigners or outsiders: God will reveal to anyone and everyone who has eyes to see, ears to hear, or the spirit to discern God’s presence and movement in the world.  The foundation of Epiphany is the story of the magi, mysterious “gentile” or foreign, unnamed travelers who are led untold miles by a star, and come to bear witness to God’s decision to enter humanity in the one named Jesus.

Given the context of Epiphany, I have to admit I found today’s gospel episode, well, rather plain–at least on the surface.  Without embellishment Mark notes the public appearance of Jesus and Jesus’ call to his first disciples.  Mark’s concise, no-frills style is what sets his gospel apart from the others.  This also makes it easy to overlook or ignore the first five words of this passage:

“Now after John was arrested …”

Wait … what?

What happened?!

Mark just introduced us to John a few verses back.  John just baptized Jesus a couple of weeks ago.  Then Jesus goes into the desert for his vision quest, and the next thing we know, John is arrested. It’s almost a throwaway line.  Mark mentions this as more of a place-holder than the tragedy that it is.  Now Mark will report more about John’s arrest … in chapter six so you’ll have to wait.

I find it interesting because unfolding the story this way makes it seem as if there’s no obvious implications of John’s arrest.   But that doesn’t mean there are no implications.  After all, Jesus emerges (in Galilee), publicly preaching the gospel, picking up right where John left off.  Jesus announces:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near …”.

In the New Testament are two (Greek) words for time.  One is chronos, from which we get chronology–time measured by minutes, hours, days, months, years.  The other word is kairos, which refers to a significant time period. When Jesus declares the time is fulfilled, isn’t talking about chronological, linear time, he’s talking about kairos—a significant moment in time.

Think of it this way: when societal forces come together to produce a cultural shift which births a “movement” … that’s the sense of kairos.  Think reformation movement … the civil rights movement … pivotal moments or eras in human history which transcend time, but which also occur within chronological time (chronos) .  Perhaps we are witnessing another such moment with the women’s movement.

I like to say that the kairos Jesus is announcing is the arrival of God-time. Jesus marks the beginning of an unprecedented in-breaking of God’s kingdom into the world.  This will unleash the forces of opposition upon Jesus.  John’s arrest reveals the dangers awaiting those who preach and hold up the supremacy of God’s kingdom over the kingdoms of men (and I use that term intentionally). Much of the time this danger is veiled. At other times it’s out in the open.

The kingdom of God has always been opposed.  The courts of religion and government have always demanded and expected (presumed) our undivided loyalty, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge God’s sovereignty.  Allegiance to God makes us one less reliable, a perpetual threat to the presumed authority of religion and government to do as they please. History bears witness that these kingdoms of men are not interested in sharing the road of life, rather, they declare ownership of the road, they patrol the road and hide IEDs all along the way.

These are the implications of John’s arrest. These are the terms of engagement (then and now) in place when Jesus enters the picture. Wherever the kingdom of God appears, there will be opposition. John’s arrest is merely the most recent example. The slaughter of the innocents at the time of Jesus’ birth, reported in a different gospel, is another.

We see it every day.  Day after day.  Year after year.  Hand me today’s newspaper from any city in the world. It’s all right there, written on the page. Every day begs and screams for change,  for salvation—a churchy word if there ever was one.  But it fits our predicament. Humanity has charted a path toward self-destruction.

The appearance of Jesus is God’s response.  Jesus is God’s response to our self-destructive tendencies.  Jesus is God’s response to human hostility—toward humanity and toward God.

Which is what makes Mark’s report about Jesus’ invitation to the first four disciples a bit hard to swallow—their immediate acceptance. Here’s another one of those moments TJ referred to last week, moments in which there must have been a pause between the divine offer and the human acceptance.  But on the page there is no “pause” … nothing to indicate any pondering on the part of these four fishermen.

One of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately”.  Jesus says follow me and “immediately,” Mark reports, “they left their nets …”

We are left to wonder why they did.  Who in their right minds would accept such a proposal on the spot—without hesitation.  It doesn’t make sense.  One moment they’re engrossed in their work, fully engaged in life. The next moment, along comes Jesus with no explanation and no sales pitch–just an invitation–and off they go.

On the other hand, I can think of a scenario in which it’s plausible.  Perhaps everyone in Galilee heard John’s convicting preaching and call to repentance. Then too, perhaps Jesus has Galilee abuzz, preaching the good news; maybe these fishermen had been thinking about all of this as they do their work which must have long periods of waiting and quiet.

Jesus appears preaching the good news of the gospel, “repent and believe, the kingdom of God is at hand.”  After John had also done this, perhaps people like these four fishermen were ready.

This is what happens when kairos happens.  The kingdom of God means God-time has arrived. The kingdom of God is all about bringing order out of chaos … light out of darkness … life out of death.  This is the pattern of creation. This is the sacred pattern of life with God … of God-time. Wherever and whenever chaos miraculously yields to order, there the kingdom of God has appeared.

Perhaps the fishermen intuitively understood all of this—perhaps they felt the kairos.  They know all about interplay of chaos and order; they directly experience the sea’s many different moods.  The sea can be peaceful one minute, a raging lunatic the next.  Maybe they sensed Jesus’ capacity to bring order out of chaos. light out of darkness, life out of death.  Maybe they feel the kairos of Jesus’ appearance and his stated intention to gather up all of God’s people like fishermen gather fish.

Whether they immediately agree to Jesus’ invitation or think it over first, following Jesus will mean leaving certainty behind with their fishing nets.  Because at times following Jesus might look and feel a lot like chaos.  And this will challenge their decision and raise doubts in their minds.  Indeed the dilemma of discipleship is our preference for certainty.

Jesus takes on the forces of chaos unleashed by sin.  He stands firm against the firestorm of opposition. This will require Jesus to spend a great deal of time surrounded by the forces of chaos.  As the Apostles’ Creed declares: Jesus “descended into hell” to save us.  That’s such a powerful statement.  To me chaos is hell.  Jesus will do whatever it takes to save us.  He will set us free from chaos, and at the same time set us free from our need for certainty.

That’s the thing.  Following Jesus doesn’t lead to certainty.  I think so many of us start out believing that’s why anyone would agree to follow Jesus in the first place.  But I believe that Jesus is the way out of chaos.  And so that means that when we find ourselves in the midst of chaos of one kind or another, Jesus will be there with us too.  Jesus is not intimidated by chaos like we are.  Wherever Jesus is, there too is the kingdom of God.  Even in chaos.

Jesus is the kingdom of God, the kairos of God.  And so, whatever the year or month or day; wherever the place; whoever may be in control or under control; suddenly or slowly, noisily or quietly, God acts, Jesus appears and it is kairos. Everyone who believes the good news experiences kairos[1]–God time; the kingdom of God is at hand.  May it be so for us, as we follow Jesus together, leaving chaos for kairos.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year—Year B.  Third Sunday After the Epiphany. Trinity Press International (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) 1993.