Wednesday, February 25, 2009

repent and believe the good news

Photo by slworking2 on; used by creative commons license.
So much in our world gets reduced to sound bites--quick sayings, repeated over and over become the way we know things. Which is, really, the only way I can win that one part of Cranium where you have to impersonate funny people. I succeed best when I draw someone known by a sound bite. You know: "I am not a crook." "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." "I have a dream." "Yes we can."

Reading the gospel lessons for this Lent--a season in our church life that begins today--Jesus' gospel sound bites jumped out at me.

For reasons very different from those in our over-saturated news of today, short, powerful quotes became one of the primary ways that folks in the early church passed Jesus' message on.

This week, Jesus delivers a sound bite that invites us into this season of Lent, a time of repentance, refocusing and devotion: "Repent and believe the good news."

Now and then, I get quite infatuated with little things. This week, its the word "and." See, when I searched the internet for depictions of repentance, the most common images I found were end-times predictions: "repent or perish." "Repent or else." "Repent sinner."

Not a single "repent and..."

So I tried a bit of biblical research. The Greek work for repentance is metanoia, which literally implies a turning--a changing of one's mind. In Mark, the shortest and earliest-written gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, "repent and believe the good news." In Matthew, the similar message, translated into English, comes: "repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

I love these translations--at the turning of repentance, which orients us away from our previous, isolated lives, we turn toward God's good news and set our vision on the kingdom of God. In both Matthew and Mark, these words become a sound bite that condenses the basic message Jesus takes as he begins his ministry in the world.

You have to look to Luke to get "repent or..." line from Jesus. And, there, it comes much later in his ministry, in a particular story about the necessity of change (as opposed to as a condensation of the whole message.)

Where am I going with all this, you wonder?

I'm feeling like, on this Ash Wednesday, as we enter into Lent together, we're called to change our hearts and minds. But not because we're afraid, or because we're threatened; we are invited to change because there's good news to be found when we turn to God.

Change (if you'll indulge me) that we can believe in.

So, here at Ash Wednesday, as we are invited to make confession to God, we are invited to turn our lives toward a new and life-giving possibility: the good news of God's kingdom.

Justice and peace. Abundance. Infinite, generous love.

Repent and believe the good news.


I hope you'll join us in worship tonight, on Ash Wednesday. I love the humbling and reorienting act of confessing our own sins, and of being marked with a cross of ashes. We are mortal, and called to repent so that we can receive God's good news.

During this whole lenten season, we will orient our worship around the Gospel sound bites that carry core message of our faith. I hope to see you at the Water's Edge as we journey through this season.

We also invite you to pray along with our congregation, daily, starting Monday. Devotions will be posted online, here.

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