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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

a revelation

This week, we celebrate the Transfiguration--a moment when Jesus reveals something of his divine identity with dazzling clarity.  Our scripture (linked above) tells the account: Jesus hikes up a mountain with three of the disciples, and suddenly appears in a brighter light than the disciples knew possible.  Moses and Elijah appear with him, as if to clarify that Jesus belongs in their tradition, but is more than they were.  Then a voice is heard--God speaking, claiming Jesus as a son.

Things that were true before were revealed suddenly, with new clarity.

Revelation and apocalypse, in their most literal definitions, are just that: an uncovering of what is truest.  Sometimes, what is most real is hidden to our eyes--then in a moment, they are revealed.  Jesus' image was transfigured, appearing differently and making the reality of his power clearer.

If revelation and apocalypse are about uncovering, in confess that they make me think of artists who do just the opposite: Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for their large-scale works which often cover, wrap or obscure things.  For instance, this installation in Switzerland, where they wrapped the trees in a park.
Funny how wrapping these trees up makes me much more aware of their beauty and the particularities of their shapes.

Knowing that God is present all around us, and that there are signs of the reality of God's kingdom all around us, I wonder what it would take for us (the church) to be better at revealing them?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Walking in faith

When I reflect on the scriptures we will consider in worship this week, the concept I keep coming back to is that faith requires all of who we are.

Faith touches our hearts.

Faith captivates and sometimes challenges our minds.

And, faith breathes through our bodies.

Walking in faith is a full-body experience.

Paul makes this point to the early Christians in Corinth using athletic images. He wants his body -- metaphorically and physically -- to be ready whenever he is called to act on his faith.

In Mark's gospel, a leper comes to Jesus asking to be made clean. To be healed. To be made whole.

How do we need to prepare ourselves to practice our faith?

How do we need to be healed to embody our faith?

As we consider these scriptures and as we prepare for Lent, consider your own preparations, consider what request you would make for healing and wholeness in your life.

How will you walk in faith?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

meeting needs and pleasing people

Our scripture passages are rich this week. And, for at least this preacher who falls victim to the lure of pleasing people, a bit confusing:

Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, talks of how he meets all people where they are, on their own grounds. He says he has "become all things to all people," for the sake of the gospel. The first thing I hear here is an expectation that I should do whatever it takes to meet the needs around me in a way that takes care of everyone.

That's a lot of work.

Then, Jesus, in the first chapter of Mark's gospel, has this weird encounter with the disciples. First, he heals this throng of people who'd come to be healed by him. Then, he takes off, early in the morning, without telling anyone. The disciples sound worried as the "hunt" for him, asking why he took off; they invite him back, because there are more people wanting to see him. But Jesus points them in a different direction: toward the neighboring towns, where he is called to take the gospel.

To me, it feels as if Paul is telling me to meet the whole world's needs, and Jesus is modeling a way of boundary-setting as he moves on, before everything's taken care of.

I wonder if, perhaps, one of the differences here is that Paul is speaking to (and teaching) a community. And, even more, a community of free people, accustomed to enjoying their own personal rights and liberties. Perhaps his claim to be "all things to all people" is an invitation to choose to do things that serve others, rather than doing what we're free to do, for our own selves. A kind of freely chosen obligation to one another.

Clearly, Paul is saying these things because he wants others to try them too: he doesn't mean to be the only person seeking to serve others' needs. Which, I suppose, is one of the tricks of servant ministry--it is most glorious and powerful when shared in community.

(I mean, have you ever been with a group of people who are trying to outdo each other in caring for one another, where no one is left to do the big pile of dishes alone, and folks share in other labor, too? It's good stuff...)

The passage we read today ends with this line: "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings." The footnote in my New Interpreter's Study Bible tells me that this "sharing in blessings" is a legal term of Paul's time, meaning something like "to be a partner."

So, perhaps, Paul is inviting us to be partners in his firm. People who work together in service, and get a taste of God's kingdom.

I suppose that this work, just as Jesus modeled, often sends us out on new paths--refusing to let us settle for pleasing people in one place as we seek to meet the needs of a hurting, isolated world.