Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
"Because I live, you also will live"
Hailing from the farmland of KS I grew up with agricultural sayings like
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink"
I haven't spent a lot of time with horses,
but I have seen that same stubbornness within people.
Sometimes our minds latch onto an idea, a question or a season
and refuse to let go
Easter may have started six weeks ago,
but some of us may still be lingering in the introspection of Lent
Others here may be fully embracing the joy of Eastertide
Ready and willing to carry the energy forward to Pentecost and beyond
One gift of the liturgical calendar is that it mirrors the cycles of life
Joy and grief, sorrow and celebration
And it also serves as a tangible marker when the patterns we live by feel out of sync
The resource which tells us which readings to use each Sunday
Is designed to align with the seasons.
Readings which build anticipation in Advent,
Ones that reveal Christ as God within Epiphany
Penitential texts for Lent
And of course the resurrection stories for Eastertide
Yet within these texts there is considerable room for the personal season of the seeker
These same readings will speak to us differently
Depending on what we bring of ourselves to them.
This is a great gift
And for this reason I want to welcome all of you.
In whatever personal season you currently abide,
If you are here fully embracing Eastertide joy…Welcome
If you are still lingering on the introspection of Lent…Welcome
If you are already eager for the expectation of Advent…Welcome
And if your focus this morning is on the afternoons Memorial Day Barbeque, You too are welcome.
I've started with a discussion on the seasons because ideas don't emerge from a vacuum
This year Easter has found me lingering over Lent,
The first word in today's lessons that jumped out at me was "REPENT"
When I first encountered that in the readings I wanted to run away.
That word has so much baggage,
So much pain
What could possibly be said on repentance that fit with the happy feelings of Easter?
For as much as I wanted to run, the word stuck with me.
Over time I've learned that when I can't get rid of an idea
Especially one I have reason to distrust
It's likely a sign from the Spirit that it is time to face it
I realized that there must be something to be said from that word
Despite my growing discomfort
And a church which likes to leave repentance in its purple Lenten box.
Repent is certainly a loaded word, at least in my life.
I grew up in a culture where repentance
has been made synonymous with patterns of fear,
fear of Hell
fear of not belonging
fear of exile.
From the streetcorner evangelists shouting "Repent or Die"
to the billboards surrounding my hometown which declare that
"sin is a cancer to all people"
If you only repent, you don't need to be afraid the message declares.
The unspoken ending, implicit in that message
is that if you don't repent you should live in fear.
In my mind repentance and fear intertwined into a nightmare of terror.
Part of why I wanted to forget that word
is that it seemed an impossible task to reconcile such fear
with the joyful hope of resurrection.
Indeed, such use of the word Repent has more parallels with modern advertising than with the Gospel.
Today we are inundated with messages which lead us to be afraid
Adds for beauty products which tell us that we're nothing
unless we're a size 0 model with perfect skin
Adds for cars which sell status as much as transportation
Adds for useless kitchen stuff which imply that we'll starve without the latest gadget.
Be very afraid, our media tells us
If you can't afford one simple thing
You'll be cast out, judged and known as worth less
If I look critically at the demands for repentance I grew up with I can see the same premise.
"Are you lost, depressed or isolated?
Is life without meaning?
Have we got a solution for you!
Repent now and we'll send you a personal boxed Jesus
ready to meet all your salvation needs.
Just wait, there's more.
We'll also include a guardian angel
in the form of this adorable winged toddler.
And there's still more if you call in the next five minutes
we'll double your order of salvation.
That's right, two personal Jesus'
and two guardian angels for the price of one. Order NOW!
That certainly isn't the Good News I'd show up to hear,
and likely isn't what you're seeking either.
In fact I think this is part of what Peter was addressing when he said
"Do not fear what they fear"
The fears I associated with repentance growing up
are the same fears our media uses
to get us to spend more than we have
on junk we don't need.
It is a part of our obligation as Christians to acknowledge
that some of our language,
Some of the gifts we've been given have been corrupted.
So where does this leave us?
I think Christian Comedian Mike Warnke hit the nail on the head when he said
"We're not in the business of scaring the hell out of people
We're in the business of loving the hell out of people"
If we are to "love the hell out of people",
To reach those lost in a prison of hatred, fear, addition and loathing and wrap them in the saving love of Christ
We need to tease out the word repent
from the knot of fear which surrounds it,
In returning to the root word
I learned the term "repent" stems from Hebrew
and combines two verbs,
to return and to feel sorrow.
First, to Return,
Not just a turning away from a current path
But rather a RE-turning back to something that was
Not a fear based turning away from what might be ahead,
But a RE-turning to that which was good and left behind.
A Buddhist monastery once received a huge clay statue Buddha
The statue was displayed, but otherwise ignored.
One day the monastery suffered an earthquake,
which caused the clay to crack and fall apart.
What they discovered astonished the monks.
For beneath the layers of clay the statue was actually solid gold.
Like the Athenians with their altar to an unknown God
and the monks with their statue of clay
We underestimate God,
Masking our inherent value with layers of fear,
Just as the Athenians and the monks
treated precious things as common and cheap
We often treat ourselves,
a priceless treasure,
as worthless trash.
The Unknown God, has been made known to us
And a part of the mystery is that of our own intrinsic value.
Because of our value, we have been called to repent.
As it says in Acts, a day has been set where God will
"judge the world in righteousness
by a man whom he has appointed"
But what does that judgment look like?
Is it the judgment of fear and punishment we hear of so often?
Or something else, that we have yet to experience?
In court cases you can often predict the outcome of judgment
by looking at the judge.
The judge assigned to our case, Paul names as the one
identified by God's raising him from the dead
That is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
So what do we know of this judge?
We know that he is human, as we are
We know that he is God, never once straying from the fullness of himself in relation to God
And we know that our judge has promised us life
As he says in John "because I live, you will also live"
Our coming judge has lived as one of us
He wept and laughed among us
He is fully aware of the complexities of our lives
And through it all both loves us and
IS the Love that sustains us.
Our coming judgment isn't the fear of the world
But the love of Christ.
Which is in some respects more terrifying.
It is terrifying because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
This Judge will not be confined to a box,
sold for $19.95 plus shipping and handling
They will not limit their appearance to our expectations
She will call us to speak before princes and councils
Demanding justice for the abandoned and forgotten
He will draw us into a love so deep that we will no longer see ourselves
Overpowering our fear with a love so strong we would gladly walk to Hell and back again just to tell our neighbor of their great worth.
We have only one way of learning about this impending hope
And that is to follow the call to return to the fullness of who we were made to be
To repent, not from fear,
but in answer to the persistent call of love from Jesus
To turn back from the security of the known
And to plunge headlong into the oceans depth of Love
To die, fully and completely
So that we can emerge from baptism resurrected in Christ
This repentance, this return, this remembering is a journey.
And like all journeys it begins with a single step.
When making a decision to change your entire life,
It is necessary to move by steps,
For example when making the decision to eat healthier
it doesn't make sense to throw out everything in the kitchen
Rather you make a small change,
like buying wheat instead of white bread
Then after adjusting you make another one
And another, and another.
When you do these cumulative little changes you will find yourself reaching a point where things are different,
even if you can't pin-point the exact moment of change.
This steady growth isn't easy,
And in fact "steady" is probably the wrong word.
Some days it may seem like we take two steps forward, then one step back.
On others it may feel our progress is measured by a capricious fate, rolling a die to set our path
When the time comes that those we've called friends for years
say something we no longer can agree with.
And they assume that something is "wrong" with us when we fail to laugh at their hurtful assumptions.
How are we to respond?
With "gentleness and reverence"
To those who accuse us of not playing by their rules
And to ourselves when we fall.
When we are mocked, insulted and challenged
We respond by retreating into the warm embrace
Of the God who has named us his children
Whose gentle spirit will whisper the eternal words of comfort
"I made you worthy, and I love you beyond all measure"
When we are tired, worn out, and exhausted.
When our hope feels like the follies of youth.
We reverently bring our burdens to the altar
In a sacred, holy moment, timeless and immediate
We lay our weight at the foot of the one who has promised
"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light"
This reverent gentleness is only possible through the Holy Spirit
The Spirit of Truth which has been sent into the world,
Nurturing, guiding, and sustaining.
When we wish to mail something valuable
Or even the junk we order in a moment of temporary desire
We pack them carefully with layers of bubble wrap and tape.
How much more so has God taken the care
to wrap our fragile, treasured selves
in layers of protection for this journey
For the return journey of repentance is long,
On it we will leave behind all the things of this world.
All the gadgets which promise safety,
all the things which provide the illusion of comfort.
Yet it is through returning to the fullness of who we were made to be
Answering Christ's call to walk back to place from which we come
That we come to experience the restoration of resurrected life.
Such a Lenten word.
For now I'm content to let it ring in my mind in my heart
Because the word repentance is the symbol of the journey
which leads to the promised resurrection.
On that journey we are not alone,
For we walk with the Judge who is coming
Not to bring fear, but with the fullness of Love.
And that my friends is the Easter message.
Because of Christ's Passion death and resurrection
The road back home has been opened to us.
The gift of Easter is that we can repent, return
and remember who are made to be.
Thanks be to God. Allelulia! Alleluia!
Copyright © Azariah Liron 2020