The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s126g09 Sunday 14 5/7/2009
'all should repent' Mark 6.12
I have to confess that inadvertently I did an 'Abiathar' a few weeks ago and in my haste to get three sermons done to cover my time away in Adelaide, read Mark 1.14-15 incorrectly. I now admit, Jesus did, once, call people to repent. There, I've repented! I feel so much better :-)! I don't think I would repent of my argument however, that 'repentance' was not used as an all-encompassing message to others that others must turn away from sin and become devout or whatever like us.
The classic texts to explain what Jesus means by repentance are in Luke 15, the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son. Repentance is primarily directed towards the devout, the orthodox, bidding them to rejoice that others are found, that others are included.
So again in today's gospel, the disciples' use of the message to others to repent comes after Jesus preaching in the synagogue in his hometown. Here amongst those with whom he had worshipped all his life, the comment is made that 'he was amazed at their unbelief'. Again, it is St Luke who gives us more detail of what he actually said to offend them that Elijah was sent to the widow of Zaraphath and that Elisha cured Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4) Jesus called those with whom he had worshipped all his life to accept that others were found and healed and included.
So the sending out of the disciples immediately afterwards was to include others, and the message to repent was all about accepting that others were being sought out, healed and included. So again, 'repenting' is all about seeing, recognising and accepting that this was happening.
The disciples were to go and become incarnated into the real world, into the homes and lives of people. They were not to go with lots of possessions to impress their hosts. They were to go and stay with people, accepting welcome and shaking off rejection. It was this being incarnated into the real world that cast out the demons, anointed people and brought healing. And all are called to repent to see, recognise and accept what was happening that others were being found and healed and included.
Indeed as I survey the use of the word repent it is directed towards groups, not towards individuals. So in Acts 5.31, the words are that God exalted Jesus 'so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins'. So the resurrection was the opportunity for the ancient people of God to see that God in Jesus included others.
It seems a particular favourite word for Luke, occurring most times in Luke / Acts, closely followed by Revelation. It does not appear at all in the gospel of John and only three times in the letters of Paul.
To explain what I think repentance is all about I am indebted to David Eagleman: 'neuroscientist by day, novelist by night', speaking on "All in the Mind" recently when he told this story: 'God decides to sort of revolt against the structure that she had set up (this binary categorisation into good and evil) and .. instead invites everybody to come into Heaven and to be a part of Heaven. And what ends up happening actually if I can just read the last line here: 'So she brings everyone to Heaven and everyone's achieved true equality and the communists are baffled and irritated because they have finally achieved their perfect society, but only with the help of a God in whom they didn't want to believe. The meritocats are abashed that they're stuck for eternity in an incentiveless system with a bunch of pinkos. The conservatives have no penniless to disparage, the liberals have no downtrodden to promote, so God sits on the edge of her bed and weeps at night because the only thing everyone can agree upon is that they are all in Hell.'' http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2009/2594804.htm#transcript
This delightful story has wonderful parallels to the parable of the marriage feast and the man without a wedding garment not because of his lack of attire - but because he didn't want to be there. He, like the ones in David Eagleman's story, thought he was in hell.
The setting up of a totally inclusive heaven is something that God has already done. We have nothing to do to bring it about it has already been done. Our inclusion is not dependent on anything, even our repentance. All we need to do is welcome the reality rather than fight against it.
My little confession at the beginning of this sermon about my own lapse focuses all about myself and my own inadequacies. It still focuses on **me**. Real, biblical, repentance is about welcoming the inclusion of all. It is all about others.
So Jesus didn't associate with others to get them to do something. He associated with them, because this is what this kingdom is. And this reality is what was so anathema to the religious, the devout, the orthodox - so anathema that he had to be killed.
So the kingdom is something that is already there, and by welcoming it now we make it, little by little, a present reality in the lives of all. If we choose to shut the concept out, it is we who deprive ourselves of the joy of communion in the here and now with others.
Recently I was pondering on the words of the Lord's Prayer and particularly the adjacent petitions: 'Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.' The daily bread is more than our material sustenance, it is that which feeds us spiritually the Holy Communion. (The word 'daily' in Greek is epi-ousia an over-substance.) Our reception of the Holy Communion is linked intimately with the communion we have in the here and now, in our willingness to forgive others. But it is trite to keep this to the personal realm alone. When we as a communion bar anyone from our communion in the name of god can we really call our communion holy?
Again the church turns a message of inclusiveness for all into a personal message to the devout to avoid the joy of the kingdom, for herself and others. How sad! It is to me little wonder that some services are so funereal.
In today's gospel, the disciples were sent out to be incarnated into the world. There are a number of pictures of the Church. Some see it as the building, others as the gathered congregation. Some others see it as knocking on doors to convert others. I want to suggest the church is the real world, on days other than Sunday, people just being ordinary and doing their best to contribute to the community and working for the wellbeing and inclusion of all. If it doesn't mean this then we have no good news for anyone, least of all ourselves.
I want to finish by returning to the perception that this is a call to groups rather than individuals. In Luke 14 Jesus says: "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" (5) with the obvious answer "Yes!" Normal peoples' instinctive reaction to others in need is to lend a helping hand. It was devotion and orthodoxy that held them back. Jesus wants to encourage that normal instinctive reaction to assist that we all have, and calls us to reflect on a religion that might cause us to prevaricate. Repentance is therefore joyful permission to reach out in care to others as most people other than terrorists would want to do. It has nothing to do with endlessly ruminating on past sins, negligences and ignorances, forever berating ourselves as if this pleased God. I have done this myself for as long as anyone else, and I would not want to suggest I've managed to expel this recurrent demon in my life, but something much nicer is being offered here.
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