Jesus doesn’t yet explain that he himself is the good news of God’s kingdom come near. That comes a little later. But right from the beginning, we know that Jesus’ ministry is defined by the good news of God’s kingdom.
And immediately Jesus begins making God’s kingdom visible. Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him because the kingdom is manifest in our world when we come together in Christ’s name and commit ourselves to living Christ’s way and truth and life.
Then this morning, we heard about Jesus’ first sermon and miraculous healing. God’s word is proclaimed, and God’s will is done. Suffering people experience healing, and freedom, and love.
And, Mark tells us, people are amazed at this eruption of God’s kingdom in their lives.
I picture the people of Capernaum talking about what Jesus had said and done over the next days and weeks. I picture them wrestling to make sense of the miracle and to absorb Jesus’ teaching. And I picture different people responding in quite different ways.
Some surely saw it as the good news that it was, as a sign of God’s kingdom come near, brought about by Jesus Christ. But I imagine others were not convinced. Some were skeptical. Some were jealous. Some were distracted. Some were beaten down by the challenges in their own lives. That is how people are. That is how we are.
But God invites us, just as Christ invited his disciples all those centuries ago, to believe the good news, to follow him, to watch kingdom happen in and around us. Our job, as followers of Jesus in our day, to keep alive the amazement at the good news of what God is doing.
It is not easy because, of course and as always, we are surrounded by news that is not good. Last week, our government shut down. Meanwhile, problems mount in our world. Climate change accelerates. War threatens. People are suffering for all kinds of reasons. A woman I know who is facing a very difficult time asked me where God is in her life right now. I didn’t have a good answer.
The bad news is real. Awful things happen. Crucifixion happens. And it can blind us to the good news of God’s kingdom come near.
But as people of faith, we know that there is good news too. As people of faith, we know that suffering is not the end of the story, that crucifixion is not the end of the story. As people of faith, we know that the story keeps going.
The good news is that our story ends well. The good news is that we live in God’s world. The good news is that, even in the midst of pain and suffering, we are moving towards God’s kingdom. The even better news is that God’s kingdom is coming near to us.
Even if the good news of God’s kingdom is hard to spot, as Church, we are a people defined by good news. We are people charged with keeping alive the amazement at what God is doing.
With that in mind, I have been trying to look for good news over the last few days, to notice when and where God is at work, when and where God’s kingdom shines through the darkness.
And I found good news in, of all places, the newspaper. I read a column assessing the state of our world in 2017 and our prospects for this year. The columnist began by acknowledging that it sometimes seems like “the world is going to hell.”
But he argued that “2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity,” and he expressed the hope that 2018 would be even better.
Apparently an economist has calculated that every day the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty drops by more than 200,000. Every day 325,000 people gain access to electricity, and nearly as many gain access to clean drinking water. Every day.
He says, “As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15% are illiterate and fewer than 10% live in extreme poverty.” He says there is reason to hope that illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone in another 15 years.
Now, future predictions are dangerous, and you never know about statistics. Still, that is really good news. And, as people of faith, we recognize that good news as a sign of God’s kingdom coming near. We should rejoice. And we should be amazed.
The other good news from my week is more personal. On Thursday, I flew to Atlanta for the funeral of one of my cousins. Emily was a quiet, gracious young woman whose life was cut tragically short. I knew that she was a good and faithful Christian. But I didn’t know how deep and powerful her faith really was.
Emily’s service was amazing. The Church was packed, the pastor was great, and the eulogies were beautiful. The most moving moment for me was when one of Emily’s close friends described her weeping a few weeks ago. The friend assumed Emily was grieving. But Emily wasn’t grieving. She was weeping in gratitude for how beautiful her life had been, for how much she had been given. Even as she died from cancer, Emily’s life was defined by good news. That is God at work. Amazing.
At the reception after the service, I was chatting with a woman about my flight home the next day. It was an early flight, and I had to navigate security at the Atlanta airport, so I was anxious. The woman turned out to be the Episcopal chaplain for the Atlanta airport. I had no idea we had an airport chaplain! She told me the Atlanta airport has three chapels, and that it is saturated in prayer. Amazing that I happened to bump into her twelve hours before going to the airport.
The next morning, as I waited—a little anxiously!—in the long security line, I remembered that I was in a place of prayer, and I felt better. God was at work. It was a minor kingdom moment.
God’s kingdom comes near to us all the time. We are surrounded by the good news of Jesus Christ at work in our world, if only we can see it. Our task is to open our eyes to the one who is here. Our task is to open our hearts to the amazing good news of his presence in our midst.
Immediately after this service, we will hold our annual meeting. And, as I said last week, we’ll do our annual meeting business. But the key question behind everything we say and do will be, where is God’s kingdom happening today? What is the good news of God in our lives and in our parish and in our world? How can we get on board?
And so, on this annual meeting Sunday, I give thanks to God for Jesus Christ, who brings God’s kingdom into our lives. And I pray that God will fill our hearts with the gratitude and joy and amazement that comes from seeing God all around us all the time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Nicholas Kristof, “Why 2017 was the Best Year in Human History,” New York Times, January 7, 2018.