text : Mark 1:9-15
theme verse : 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near – repent, and believe in the good news.' (Mark 1:15)
'Repent' is such a churchy word. How often did your parent or some authority figure yell at you in reaction to a poor choice, “REPENT!” I’m guessing seldom to never. 'Repent' is a word typically reserved to religious folk condemning someone for their poor and immoral choices. Jesus used the term firmly but as way of saying, literally, 'It’s time to turn things around.' That can be a very healthy thing for us to do. As we find ourselves on the first Sunday of Lent, may we reflect on the restoration offered to us in Christ with a receptivity to the call for repentance.
offertory : 'Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy' (arr.L.Shackley) :: Susie Monger-Daugherty, piano
reader : Geoff Brewster
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
special music : 'Just As I Am' :: Jennifer Epperley, vocal; Susie Monger-Daugherty, piano
anthem : 'Here I Am, Lord' :: Handbell Choir; Andrew Dugan, director; Morgan Briley, vocalist
If you can start the day without caffeine or pills,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things,
Then you are probably the family dog.
I read that this week and thought, “What a strange thing to write.” Do you know why I even read it in the first place? It was titled, “Getting Ready for Lent.” I don’t know who wrote it or why they wrote it, really. Apparently, they were preparing for these forty days we call Lent. I suppose it connects with the struggle we all have to clear space, to not go through our days numb to our existence, to find space to be holy, quiet, spirit-centered. And it can be tough, for sure… making space, that is. For some, simply finding enough courage and will power to rise on Sunday morning, get in the car, and sit down in these pews is about all you can muster. And then Lent happens and you’re like, “You want me to do what? You need me to focus more on my soul? You want me to do prayer exercises every day? I’m not really following you. I’m here. That’s what I got.” I hear you. I re-joined the gym a week ago – first time in, well, a while. My exercise routine at home was growing stale and my accountability was waning. So, I re-joined the gym. Not many of us join a gym for the first time, I’m finding. Most of us re-join. A little pattern here it seems. This time, however, I’m trying a number of group classes – I figure this will up my game some and challenge me in ways I wasn’t challenging myself. Took my first ever spin class. I’ve taken two of them now actually. One was called “Amp” and the other was called “EDG” (with no “E” on the end; just E.D.G.) because Spin Class isn’t an appealing enough name anymore. Just like church names these days, right? Everything has to be X-treme or mysterious or edgy in some way to get people interested: just random words like “Elevate” or “Destiny” or “Oasis.” Boom. Church name. Then you have the church names that sound like grocery store romance novels: “Burning Hearts” or “Word Aflame.” I like cool names so it’s all fine – I’m just noting the trends. I also took a class at the gym called “Strictly Strength.” Anyway – you go to these classes and everyone’s getting psyched and the music starts and the strobe lights are flashing and we start riding and then there are dance moves and then the instructor – who is totally amazing by the way – starts hollering at us and the people are hollering back. There is more call and response going on at the gym than there is at church, ya’ll. Can I get an Amen!?! Megan gets them in the spin class the whole time without even having to ask. My point? It took all I had to get to the class. I don’t have the right shoes. I don’t know that I need certain equipment at certain times of the class. I don’t know what language they are speaking most of the time. Maybe you feel this way about church and Lent. It took all you had just to get here and God bless you for stepping through these doors. I’m glad you’re here even if that’s all you’ve got to bring to the space today.
However, I wonder if we can hear Lent out; see what kind of partnership we may be able to foster for these forty days. The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen.” It is a reference to the lengthening of those long-anticipated sun-lit days of spring – which, as Christians – culminates on Easter Sunday when we celebrate that Jesus, above all odds, defeated death. We want to be ready for that day. We want to clear the clutter of the soul ahead of time. We want to get our lives in order, getting real with all that we’ve numbed ourselves from so that on Easter Sunday, we rejoice knowing what it cost us to get there. If Lent is about lengthening light, it’s also about broadening our hearts and preparing the way, making room for careful attention to what matters most. So – whether you’re a veteran to this season or this is your first time through – let’s get AMPed, on the EDG of our soul’s capacity, and apply some strictly strength reps for the heart. It’s a step toward the restoration of our mind, bodies, and spirits. And we’re in good company for Jesus had a #these40days experience as well; one of the main reasons we are calling this Lenten message series – “Who Am I in Christ?” Six messages to grind our way to Easter. Ready to get AMP’d?
We crack open Mark’s Gospel to launch these forty days. It’s a forty-day story of Jesus getting ready for all that was ahead of him in ministry. Forty days were spent in the wilderness where we can only imagine what he experienced. Now – I’ve got to warn you to not get lost in a hybrid story this morning. We all tend to do this. Similar stories told in various gospels often get thrown together in our minds and we think we’ve got a whole story of what’s happening. We don’t even know we’re doing this most of the time – but its why our nativity scenes at Christmas have kings and angels and shepherds and the whole crew though no one gospel includes all of those characters. Our nativity scenes are a hybrid story of all of the birth narrative stories. That happens with this story too – the baptism of Jesus, the temptation by Satan in the wilderness, and the launch of Jesus’ public ministry which ultimately is what has us all gathered in this space this morning. Matthew, Luke, and John all take their own angle on Jesus’ baptism – similar but unique. And Mark, who is known for just cutting to the chase and leaving out fluffy details, cuts to the quick again in this narrative of Jesus’ baptism and forty days of temptation. Mark tells no story of JtB, John the Baptist, arguing with Jesus over whether or not he should be baptized. Mark simply says, “Jesus came to the Jordan and was baptized by John.” This is the launch. This is the clarity Jesus must have sought – a marker to say, “I’m in. Now’s the time. Let’s do this.” And so he’s baptized. And the spirit of God speaks directly to Jesus – not for all gathered to hear as we experience elsewhere, saying, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” And then “immediately,” which is Mark’s favorite word, before Jesus can even dry off from his baptism he is driven into the wilderness for forty days of temptation. Not fasting with some temptation at the end. Not in Mark. Forty days of temptation. AMP’d. EDG. Strictly Strength – forty straight days. The Greek word used here, ‘driven’ is so strong it is almost like an exorcism – all to say, Jesus is thrust into these forty days to do some incredible soul searching and very difficult physical, emotional, and spiritual work before starting his ministry to save the world.
This is so important. We can easily look at this as a Jesus thing – “Sorry about your tough time in the wilderness there, pal.” Or… we can see it as our own invitation to do some serious work – mind, body, and soul. Do you know what I’ve discovered? No one will do that work for you. I wish it were not so. I’ve looked into it. I mean, I wondered if I could send someone into that Spin Class for me to do the hard work but allow my body to reap the benefit. Nope. I have to step into the room. I have to do the work. Whatever work we have to do – spiritually, emotionally, physically – all of which impacts the whole of our being – we have to commit to the engagement. I can’t simply want for there to be no more school shootings. Sending thoughts and prayers we do but that’s not going to get the work done to protect our kids. I’ve got my rhetoric. You’ve got yours. None of which seems to be getting us anywhere. So what does new level of engagement look like for you?
Do you give blood? Do you call our law makers and ask what they’re doing to keep our kids safe? Do you volunteer to read to kids at school – be a real presence – not just a social media ranter or an arm-chair politicist? We get involved. The immediate back-biting and tired rhetoric is the worst. One of my high school classmates posted something after the Florida shooting saying, “Twenty years ago, every truck in the student parking lot of our small town’s school had rifles in the back windows – and there wasn’t any school shootings.” And, of course, there were some school shootings that year and not every truck had rifles in the back windows but that’s beside the point. The trivialization has reached extreme levels – these are real lives being destroyed and someday they may be our own. We are quick to push gun restraint and others bark back about mental illness. Some of my best friends are responsible gun owners and some of my best friends struggle with the challenges of mental illness and are more than caring and people who are transforming the lives of others. Pointing fingers never brings about solutions. I don’t have all of the answers, of course. But I know there is something we all can do. And through the lens of our Christian faith – it has to include a growing love of some kind. You may not feel you have any voice of influence but I know you have capacity to show love in a growing way. Use the personality you’ve been given in the settings you do life to make a difference. If that’s to be an activist, we need you. If that’s to research and write new laws, we need you. If that’s time spent with a student who has little to no parental influence in his or her life, we need you. We need you to be you in a way that strengthens love and reduces violence. You can do something. We all can do something.
Jesus surely had an incredible time of wrestling in the wilderness with the recognition and reckoning of what it would mean for him to make fully known who he was… what he alone could do… these forty days for Jesus was like spiritual boot camp. There’s the action of justice work and there’s the hard work of soul preparation we need to get that work done faithfully. If Jesus didn’t take this soul work seriously, who knows how he would have handled what was demanded of him in ministry. For some of us, it may be simply believing the work is worth it; believing that your soul is not beyond repair and the soul work is more than needed for you to be who you were created to be in this world. Do you believe your soul is worth it?
Some would say, “No.” We live in a throwaway culture who feels the soul work is only some strange thing reserved for desert monks or mountain-mist mystics. And we do throw away just about everything. This isn’t new. LIFE magazine published an article in 1955 about a new phenomenon that emerged in that time of prosperity. The article was called, “Throwaway Living.” It was a time when the culture was moving away from using washable hankies to using disposable tissues. Cloth diapers gave way to disposables. Not everyone was on board with the shift. I experienced the tension of this visiting my grandparents on the farm when I was a kid a couple of decades later. My grandmother conserved everything – bathwater – just a few inches of water for five of us cousins to use for our baths, one at a time – not cool to be last – just saying. Paper towels, reused. Don’t think about using more than one glass during the visit. Landry hung out to dry. It was just good conservation. Contrast that to my own family of five – three kids, spanning six-plus years we figure we had a whole decade of using disposable diapers – just for our family. Even as recycling has been a rising practice, so much of our stuff is discarded. We say things like, “They don’t make it like they used to,” which is often true but also plays into our disposable culture. Televisions, appliances – the cost of repair? Much of the time, we just throw them away as it’s more feasible to buy something new. The old fix-it shops like Emmett’s in Mayberry depicted on the Andy Griffith Show are all but extinct. Emmett Clark fixed clocks, lamps, radios and more but all of those shops have seemed to disappear. We wash our hands of the stuff, discard it, and move on to something else. I wonder if that same mentality has affected our approach to our souls… our spiritual health. Unrepairable. Not worth the hard work. Cast off for the likes of the latest spiritual fad.
There is a new organization called Repair Café – they are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things together. The idea has spread to at least eleven states so far and is a global movement. At a Repair Café, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make repairs to clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bikes, toys, and just about anything else. You’ll also find expert volunteers with repair skills in all kinds of fields. The organizations website says, “[People] bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table — by leafing through books on repairs and DIY. There are over 1,400 Repair Cafés worldwide.” And of course they add, “Visit one in your area or start one yourself!” Some congregations are even considering starting these Cafes.
Maybe our faith community can be a Soul Repair Café during these forty days. Can you imagine? A real group effort. Because we throw away a lot more than our stuff, don’t we. We throw away friendships, values, traditions, civil discourse, decency, morality. We get lost in this cast-it-off, throw-it-away, reality that we become numb to the very heart of what it means to be in Christ. And one morning we wake up wondering who we are and where we’ve been and where our life has taken us. Beatles legend, John Lennon, famously said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Whatever you call it. However you want to see what is going on in our world and in your very soul these days… Christ calls us to have a reckoning of the soul. And when we do, we may find we’ve got some work to do, some soul repair, some repenting to do… some repair to experience.
Repent is such a churchy word. I can’t really think of anywhere else we hear that word any more. But Jesus uses it in this text after his forty day soul survival experience in the wilderness. He comes out of the clearing with a determined focus and a word for all to “Repent and believe the Good News.” Don’t get all worked up about the word, okay? In Mark’s original Greek, the word for repentance is metanoia, from meta (“change”) and noia (“mind”). Change your mind, get focused on the Good News. Today we might say, “Change of heart” or “Change of life/Life Change”. In the end, repentance is a recognition that something in your life, in your spirit, needs repaired and you’re awake to that need and ready to do something about it. I hear people say all of the time, “He’ll never change until he decides to do it for himself.”
You, right now, in this season of your life, are contemplating some important things about who you are, what your place is in the world, in your life, in your family or work system right now. There is some pain and some of it is deeper than you’ve ever mustered up enough courage to speak aloud. You may wonder if it, if that, can ever be healed, repaired, restored. It can. I believe that as much as I believe anything. It may not be repaired in the way you imagine it when you picture “wholeness” but there’s only one way to find out. It’s to join us these forty days of soul repair – a soul café where we are real and honest and vulnerable with God and one another – where we don’t look for pat answers but we use the best of who we are to aid in the healing of others and do the hard work of soul repair ourselves. May restoration start today… for it is a key part of who I am in Christ. I end this morning by offering a prayer of restoration. The words are written by Sharlande Sledge. Close your eyes, soak it in, allow it to be your first step toward restoration.
In this season called Lent,
Our souls, like our surroundings,
Need spring cleaning.
Shake us out so we can work and walk with energy.
Blow off the dust and polish us until we have the luster of your new creations.
Strip us back to the bare essentials.
Reach far into the corners of our lives to pull out things we’ve left too long untouched.
Rub the windows of our souls until others can see your reflection in them.
Help us make hard decisions about what to keep and what to give away.
Let us know when enough is enough,
When we have all we can say grace over
And when we have space to care for more.
And as we pay attention to what is important,
Let us make room for the new thing you are preparing for us.
Renew our lives until they are ready to receive the fresh spirit of your spring.
* * * * * * *
 Prayers & Litanies for the Christian Seasons. By Sharlande Sledge. Smyth&Helwys Publishing. Macon, Georgia. Pg. 64.