Saturday, January 21, 2012

Epiphany 3B

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Repentance. I think the Christian proclamation has twisted this word into so many knots that it would be unrecognizable to Jesus’ first listeners. And now, the mere utterance of that word evokes strong feelings of shame. At least it does for me.

“Repent!” we hear preachers say. And what they usually mean is “Stop sinning! Change those parts of your life that is putting you in conflict with God. Cut out those impure thoughts and actions and turn to the purity of God’s will. If you want to be close to God then you have to remove anything that gets in the way with your relationship with God.”

I heard that a lot from too many preachers. For me, when I hear that, and if it`s true, I always wonder if I have repented enough. I always worry that there’s something that I’ve missed, that there might be a spiritual blind spot that is keeping me from growing in my faith.

Luckily, in an old prayer of confession, there’s an escape clause. The prayer confesses those sins “known and unknown.”

However, while we may be forgiven of those unknown sins with a linguistic sleight-of-hand, practically, we are no better off because we cannot change that which we do not know that we SHOULD change. If being close to God and greeting the kingdom when it arrives is dependent on something that I do, than I’m not sure that really sounds like good news.

As Christians, we tend to focus our faith on the sin/forgiveness transaction. We reduce our faith to us sinning and God forgiving. And we repeat that over and over and over again.

And yes, that is an important part of our Christian faith. But that’s not where our faith ends. Our Christian faith is SO much more than that. Receiving forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of our faith. It’s not the whole of our faith.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

There’s more here than meets the ear. Jesus’ first listeners might have gasped at the boldness of such a proclamation. Not just because of it’s religious expressions, but for it’s political overtones. Such talk was a good way for a guy to get himself killed.

That’s because they lived in Caesar` kingdom. And Caesar doesn’t share. And Jesus’ listeners had seen plenty of loved ones fixed on crosses so Caesar could keep his real estate.

So Jesus set up “The Kingdom of God” in direct competition and contrast to Caesar and the kingdoms of this world.

The “Kingdom of God” that Jesus talks about isn’t a disembodied existence in the heavenly realm. But the Kingdom of God that Jesus talks about is God’s presence in their world. The Kingdom of God was God’s vision of life, of peace, of forgiveness, of justice, of mercy, and grace alive and running loose in our world.

To repent means to “turn in a different direction.” So when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” what they’re hearing is:

“Turn away from Caesar and the kingdoms of this world, and turn to God’s kingdom. Where the Caesars and kingdoms of this world protect their power through force and oppression, God’s Kingdom brings peace and justice. Where the Caesars and the kingdoms of this world seek revenge against those who hurt them, God’s kingdom brings mercy and forgiveness. Where the Caesars and the kingdoms of this world seek to grow their wealth by stealing from others, God’s kingdom feeds the poor and sets the captives free.

“So don’t align yourself with the Caesars and the kingdoms of the world. Be part of God’s kingdom. For God’s Kingdom is here. The kingdom of God arrived! Be my kingdom agent, be my agent of healing, of working for justice, of seeking peace, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving one another. That’s the kingdom that I have brought to the world. That’s the world I want my followers to live in. That’s the Kingdom I want you to be a part of.”

So, maybe, for us, instead of the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, some Sundays we could have a Brief Order of Kingdom Accomplishments.

Instead of always talking about where we have failed, we can share about those times we have succeeded!

Instead of always admitting our guilt, we can proclaim our successes.

Instead of pointing to our shortcomings, we can share our victories.

You can talk about where you have seen God working the world.
You can tell stories of how God is working in your life.
You can share about how you have participated in God’s kingdom work.
You can talk about the forgiveness you offered and received.
You can talk about the justice you worked for.
You can talk about how you feed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. You can talk about how you were that caring ear, that comforting touch, or that encouraging word.

You can talk about how you fished for people by letting them know about a God who loves them.

You can share all of this, not to brag about how spiritually awesome you are. But because this is evidence of the kingdom of God at work in the world and in your life.
You can share these stories to bear witness to the God who promised to make all things new.

You can tell these stories not to point to you, but to point to the one who called you, who chose you, who tapped you on the shoulder and said, “Follow me.”

You can do this to remind yourself and each other, that God has not given up on us or the world, but that God still creating and re-creating everything. Just as Paul tells us in the first reading that the present world is passing away just as the new world is arriving in Jesus.

You can do this because you are a citizen of Kingdom of God, named and claimed as God’s own because of what Jesus has done for you.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now go! Be the kingdom people that God called you to be!

May this be so among us. Amen!

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Blogger bmonkish said...

Hi Pastor,
Have you stopped posting your sermons in favor of podcasting them? Personally, I favor the postings because I can digest them faster. There are too many distractions (telephone calls, etc.) when I listen to a podcast.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I finally took the time to read this; a good one during Lent anyway.
I have a tough time with forgiveness; I will take whatever I get. I'm not good at giving to myself or to those who have sinned against me. In the United Church, we have, for the most part, given up on the confessional prayer, for which I am glad. I agree with you that it dwells on the negative. I do much better with reminders to do right and be glad for the opportunity.

12:18 PM  

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