Rev. Earl M. Gould Sunday, February 18, 2018 Text: Mark 1:9-15
Westworth United Church
Year B, Lent 1
If I ask for things you associate with Lent – you will likely include: “You are supposed to give up something you like doing for Lent.” Maybe we Protestants associate that with being Roman Catholic – we Protestants are exempt! But, even if just a nudge somewhere in the shadows, there is that element in our Christian psyche: Lent = giving up something. Even if we didn’t make it to the Ash Wednesday service here – the day the 40 days of Lent officially begins – we are grateful some showed up – somehow vicariously benefiting us all.
Giving up for Lent – at its source – is not intended as a negative. The idea of giving up something you can do without during Lent is so that you can instead use that time, money… to devote yourself to doing some spiritual exercise that normally just isn’t part of your life style.
And yes, repent is a key work, action in the scheme of Lent, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic or whatever. Following Jesus to Good Friday and Easter is part of the cycle we repeat each Lenten Season – with the intent to grow in our faith.
Here today – I hope to help us see the role of repentance in our life – and if repent is not a happy thought for you, but something you do grudgingly – maybe this sermon will help you integrate repentance into your life – in a more positive way.
Mark’s Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson is baptized by John, lead out into the wilderness, where he stays 40 days, and then begins his public ministry.
The opening call is: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The context is very important: The Kingdom of God has come near.”
Just what is “the Kingdom of God?” For the Jews of Jesus’ day who were living under Roman domination, it defined the exact time in history when they would no longer be exiles in their own country. They came to believe a Messiah would come and overthrow the foreign regime.
So, if Pilate was still governing Judea, then the kingdom had not come.
If the temple was not rebuilt, then the kingdom had not come.
If Israel was not observing the Torah properly (however one might define that) then the kingdom had not come.
For Jesus to say “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near” needs a bit of unpacking.
Jesus – from Nazareth of Galilee – a nobody from the least prestigious part of Jewish territory: it’s absolutely outlandish – his proclaiming the Kingdom of God has come near – the time is fulfilled.
Jesus is turning the conventional idea of kingdom on its head.
Looking back on it through the lens of Easter – the call to follow Jesus is the way of the Cross, rather than to follow his contemporaries in the way of violence.
You read the gospels to get a sense of Jesus’ definition of Kingdom. Read Matthew 5,6,7 – the Sermon on the Mount – to get a capsule definition. In this section you will find Jesus teaching what we now call The Lord’s Prayer.
As you know the prayer begins:
“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed by the name,
Thy kingdom come…”
And a closing line added by the early church:
“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.”
Now, three other texts I have chosen from many to highlight Kingdom in the New Testament.
Mk 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
Lk 17:20f Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “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, in the midst of you, or within you. (equally accurate translation)
Later in the gospels, when Jesus sends out his disciples – Kingdom is uppermost in the commissioning:
Mtt 10:5f “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions, proclaim the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Summary about Kingdom:
- Jesus’ ideas of kingdom – a lot different than the world’s idea – both then and now!!
- If you choose to follow Jesus – you want to be part of this Kingdom: your goal in life is to be part of the kingdom.
How do you get into this kingdom? “Repent and Believe in the Good News.”
Please note – One of the most important linking prepositions in the Bible:
Repent AND Believe in the Good News.
- It is stressed time and time again in the Bible repentance is what Israel must do if Israel’s exile is to come to an end.
- It was political – summoning Israel as a nation to abandon one set of agendas and embrace another.
- Jesus was indeed summoning his hearers to a great turning, not just to an individual moral repentance, though this summons doesn’t ignore that dimension.
You can’t really have the one without the other. It’s not about being good so you will go to heaven when you die. It is about living as a community of faith in a way that our world is sustainable for all people, all creation, all time.
The word used in Mark’s Gospel for repent: Greek – metanoia. It has a variety of translations including to change one’s mind, to turn back, to change direction.
Today’s Old Testament reading is from the early chapters of Genesis – non historical – developing a Theology of Creation. Following the story of God causing a great flood, it is fascinating in that it refers to God repenting. Just before we pick up in the reading this morning God is saying – about the big flood – I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.
The rainbow’s purpose is to remind God of the promise God has made to never ever again cause a flood to destroy all flesh.
In solidarity with the Church School’s Lenten Project, for contemporary illustrations about the call to repentance I am focusing on God’s Creation.
Earlier this month there was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press – “Federal act failing to protect at risk species.” “Researchers say inadequate funding and poor collaboration between governments and private landowners are behind the failure of Canada’s laws to protect endangered and threatened species.” (Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, February 3, 2018, page A12)
And Peter Denton, who many of you know, is becoming a regular contributor to the Press’s Think Tank page.
Feb 05/18 article – “Is Manitoba prepared for a water crisis?” (Winnipeg Free Press, Monday, February 5, 2108 A7)
I belong to the Wilderness Committee – a charitable organization concerned about our environment. A Wilderness Committee calendar hangs in my study; each month the focus is on some grave concern regarding our Canadian environment.
Calling people to repent was a crucial ingredient of Jesus’ ministry. In that, he was in solidarity with the long line of Old Testament prophets. They did not see their role in life to be popular, but to be faithful.
We who would follow Jesus – in our Christian heritage – similarly see our role to include that of the prophet – not predicting the future – but shaping it; having eyes to see and the stamina to tell it like we see it.
Regarding the Lenten theme of repentance, this Lenten season, my friends in Christ, what are you feeling called to focus on: in your personal life, in your sphere of influence?
I really think it is important to see the range of meaning of repentance. Yes, there are times when it is huge in our life, when we need to see that our actions are less than helpful – for ourselves, for others, for the world, and repent…. Capital R!
There are less dramatic circumstances, when the meaning of metanoia – repent – is more – change direction. We are sort of like a ship on the ocean, or a jet flying from point A to point B – needing to constantly get our bearings – and adjust accordingly so as not to go off course.
I had a little insight come to me this past week. It happened Wednesday morning – I was in a rather long line, all males. We were a motley crew – each waiting our turn to buy a flower. I saw the humour in what was going on; how somewhere out there – there was somebody that would hopefully appreciate the flower presented to them – by we far from picture perfect males. Some of use needing a razor, some of us wearing caps that should have been burned five years ago!
It struck me that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday – not such an unfortunate co-incidence: every flower pro offered would have in the presentation – articulated or not – “Here Dear, please forgive the times I’ve been a nit-wit!”
But what has really come into focus for me in preparing this sermon – is how Jesus’ instructions “To Repent” includes “Believe in the Good News.”
He puts Repent and Believe together:
But both together.
You start to see how repentance is rooted in God’s love for us, even God’s gift to us, even grace – if we allow God into our life – showing us the way to fuller, healthier living. This Lent – be in conversation with God – assess how things are going.
Be honest with God.
Let God nudge you into the things you need to work on.
You, me, we don’t repent because we are bad;
We repent because we are each a child of God.
We feel, see the invitation to be part of God’s Kingdom.
As the choir sang to us in the anthem this morning:
“O Love, that will not let me go.”
God is not around to punish us.
God is in our life to lead us:
from darkness to light,
from death to life,
from despair to joy.
That is the Good News.!
During Epiphany – sections of “A Song of Faith” were read to us each Sunday. A Song of Faith is a statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada; – that is – the United Church’s understanding of “Good News”!!!
What is your statement of faith?
If you didn’t take a copy home with you – A Statement of Faith – the leftovers are on the coffee shelf in the Narthex – take one home – read it again – but then write your own statement of faith – your rendition of the “Good News”.
Our Gospel lesson this morning – Jesus’ opening call – as he begins his ministry… “The Kingdom of God has come near; Repent and Believe in the good news.” Not an insignificant component of the Good News is a love that forgives and reconciles – always making all things new, day by day, sometimes hour by hour, and even moment by moment.
As we enter Lent 2018 we absolutely include in the good news that Jesus is among us today. We move through Lent as Easter people. You recognize the symbolism of our Lent being 40 days – remembering Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, immediately on the heels of his being baptized by John.
What you may not know, or may have forgotten, – 40 days of Lent that started with Ash Wednesday – and end on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – do not include the Sundays that are contained in this span of time. That is because every Sunday, even during Lent, is a mini-Easter.
That is so because we are not called to repent without the context of Good News.
That is because we have a God of Love – who came and comes to us in Jesus – with a love that will never never never let us go.
For scholarship behind the Gospel lesson – primary resource is N.T. Wright:
Vol. 1 The New Testament and the People of God
Vol. 2 Jesus and the Victory of God
Vol. 3 The Resurrection of the Son of God.