Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 3B; Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20


What do you hear when I say that word?

Do you hear a sense of judgment?  Do you hear condemnation?  Do you hear accusations?

The problem with that word, I think, is that it has lost it's original meaning and has been taken over by people too eager to point out the sins of others; and not just any sins, but particularly salacious sins.

Repent of your gambling sins!  Repent of your drinking sins!  Repent of your lustful sins!  Repent of sloth and indulgences of all kinds!  Repent of your gluttony!

These things get our attention.  They get our attention for the same reason the Enquirer gets our attention – they are bigger than life, not seen every day and they make us feel superior.  They are also easy targets because, really, who is going to stand up and say, “You know . . . I really believe sloth is good for the soul.”

Repent and Repentance seem to have been co-opted by some religious people to be used as a form of control.  They've been used to point out the shortcomings and inadequacies of victims.  And using these words in that way is a sin.

The word Repent, and the action of Repentance, isn't about control.  They aren't about over-the-top actions that are easy targets.  They aren't about being easy for us to deny we've ever participated in those particular sins.  And they aren't to be used to point out what the victim did wrong.

To repent, to go through the act of repentance, is to change your course, to change your direction.  These actions also remind us that there is much rejoicing in heaven for those who do truly and earnestly repent of their sins because of the simple fact that one who was lost is found, one who was dead is now alive.

In the Lesson today, repentance is a major theme.  We know the story: God sends Jonah to Nineveh; Jonah runs away; he gets swallowed by a big fish; he goes and prophesies their destruction; they repent; they are saved.  It's a good story of people truly and earnestly repenting of their sins; that is, unless you are Jonah.

But there is more to repentance than putting on sackcloth and ashes, and saying you're sorry.  A true and earnest repentance is, like I said, about a change of direction.  It's about moving from death to life.  And it's that change we see in both the Lesson and the Gospel.

In the Lesson, the people of Nineveh are confronted with their evil ways (whatever those were).  Then, beginning with the king and going all the way down to the animals, the city changed how they did things.  They changed how they related to each other.  They changed how they treated widows, orphans and foreigners.  They promised to respect the dignity of every human being.

And when God saw their change of heart, God changed his as well.  God changed his mind about the calamity that he was planning on bringing to Nineveh.  Some translations say God repented.  But the important part is that God changed the path he was on, and God moved from death to life.

Today's Gospel doesn't have any episode of repentance, but it does have a change.  Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him and become fishers of men (people).  Like the act of repentance, this was a change in direction.

This act of following Jesus off the boat changed how they saw and related to God.  It changed how they saw and related with each other.  It changed how they saw and related to others.  There was no condemnation of how they had lived, or were living, their lives to this point.  There was simply an invitation to change directions and find a new way with God.

This is what repentance should be about: changing our lives and living into a new way of relating with God, a new way of relating with those around us, and a new way of relating with those whom we consider Other.

Another way of saying this is that we have an Epiphany.

The Epiphany Season is all about the manifestation of Christ to the world.  That manifestation showed Jesus to be God incarnate.

As we move forward, from what do we need to repent?  Where do we need to make a change of direction?  Will that change of direction lead to much rejoicing?  Will those around us notice the change?

Nineveh changed directions.  God changed directions.  Simon, Andrew, James and John all changed directions.

This Epiphany Season when we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the world, will you be willing to change for God?



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