12/10/17 – Continuing Cry for Repentance

THE CONTINUING CRY FOR REPENTANCE

 

December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent
Sermon: Isa.40:1-ll; Ps 85: 1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mk. 1:1-8
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

Repentance. That’s a hot topic these days. Time magazine revealed their cover naming the person of the year this week. It wasn’t one person, it was a group of women who brought sexual harassment into the spotlight in recent months. It was, indeed, a spotlight because those accused were all men who had lived lives in the spotlight – politicians, entertainers, media bigwigs. Some people accused expressed regret and spoke words of repentance, others did not. Some denied some, but not all, of the allegations. A few denied all allegations, including one who denied an allegation to which he had previously admitted. We may not know the full extent of the guilt or innocence of anyone accused; but, what is plain is that there has been a problem of sexual harassment in the workplace for a long time. One can only hope that the pain experienced in private for so long will now, once exposed, will lead to healing – for individuals and for our society. Meanwhile, the upheaval caused by these accusations and revelations is painful to watch.

This year our country has seen the largest number of mass murders in our history. Recently, one occurred at an outdoor concert in the big city of Las Vegas and another in a small church in a small Texas town. The latest school shooting in New Mexico didn’t even make the front page of newspapers across the country. Do we have a gun crisis? A mental health crisis? No matter the cause, nothing is done to prevent these horrific events. There are wounds that are going untreated, and there is pain.

This week the National Civil Rights Museum opened. The prophets and the heroic soldiers of the Civil Rights movement were applauded. Yet, it was a bittersweet affair. This past year we have observed the limitations of progress in civil rights. White supremacists crawling out from under their rocks into public podiums have revealed how far we still have to go to make this country equitable and just for all people. This past week a senatorial candidate remarked that our country was better off during the time of slavery because there were more intact families. The fact that the families of black slaves were intentionally and systematically broken apart during that era was glaringly left out. Lack of repentance keeps old wounds festering.

Confession is hard. Repentance is even harder.

For many weeks we have heard in our Old Testament readings that the nation of Israel sinned against God and neighbor. Wealth was hoarded by an elite few. The poor and powerless were exploited and oppressed. Injustice ruled. God was greatly displeased. Prophets were sent, but Israel ignored God’s message calling for repentance. The consequence of their sin was defeat by foreign powers and exile. But, today we hear words of comfort and restoration.

During the time of Babylonian occupation and exile, the people had to face the fact that their plight was their own doing. Yet, eventually, God acknowledged their pain and had compassion. A repentant people were ready to come home to God and Jerusalem. God assured them that the way would be made clear for them to return. The strength they lacked to endure the journey, God would provide.

Around 500 years later, God sent John the Baptist to deliver another call for repentance. This time the people Israel were occupied by the Roman Empire. They looked forward to a savior who would release them and ‘make Israel great again.’ Yet, God had a different idea of what they needed. They did not need their nation’s political and military power restored, they needed their relationship with God and their neighbors restored.

In this year of our Christian calendar, we will be focusing on Mark’s gospel. Mark alerts his readers of the magnitude of Jesus’ story by starting his gospel with the same words that begin the Old Testament – “In the beginning.” Jesus’ story begins as God’s began. Mark’s description of John the Baptist is identical to the description of Elijah found in 2 Kings. When Elijah came out of exile in the wilderness – “he was hairy and dressed in animal skins with a leather belt around his waist.” For Mark, John the Baptist was a great prophet in the mold of Elijah, the prophet the Jews believed, and still believe, would return to earth to announce the Coming of the Messiah and the end of time.

John had God’s message of harsh truth. ‘The world just isn’t the way it’s supposed to be’ John the Baptist cried. Like their ancestors in Israel, they were failing to follow God. John the Baptist told the people they needed to change and if they didn’t, things would get worse for everybody. This time, it was up to them to make the path to the Lord straight. And, the way they needed to do it was to repent. To press the urgency of their need, John told them the day of judgment was near.

For the past few weeks, we have been hearing a lot about the day of judgment when Christ returns. In bible-speak, this is called apocalyptic writing. The first Sunday of Advent we heard Mark’s description of the future event. It’s not a very comforting start to the season of Advent; but, as I said last week, the first Sunday of Advent focuses on why we needed a savior. Today, our gospel reading assures us that the Savior did indeed come, and God sent a messenger for us to prepare for his arrival. Mark does not have a birth narrative. For Mark, shorter and more starkly succinct than the other three gospels, what was important for his audience to know was that the world had a new beginning – the chance for a do-over. And, that new beginning started with Jesus’ ministry.

In our epistle reading for today, we continue with Pauline epistles that address the problems that arose in early Christian communities when Jesus’ return did not come quickly as they expected. I refer to our reading as a Pauline epistle because, though its message was in line with Paul’s theology, it was most likely written by a protégé of Paul’s, not Paul himself. Some church members had concluded that since Christ had not returned, he would never return. If he did not return, the world would never end and fully become the kingdom of God.

Second Peter envisions Christ’s return but warns that God’s time is not our time and predicting it is both futile and false. The author asserts that God is slow and patient to send Christ again because God wants all people to have the chance to repent and become righteous. The author also presents the case that we can hasten Christ’s return and make the return a less harsh event if we become a more righteous and just people. While we focus on Christ’s birth, the original Advent season was both a preparation for the first and the second coming of Christ.

You may not have been aware, but Christ’s second coming was in the news this week. You see, the Christians, that are now referred to as “Evangelicals,” believe that Christ will return to Jerusalem and he will only return when Jerusalem is once more the capital, “the shining city on the hill.” Thus, the pro-Israel faction in this country has two unlikely supporters desiring the same end – Jews and fundamentalist Christians. Although claiming Jerusalem to be the true capital of Israel and moving the American embassy there is only symbolic, it makes fundamentalist Christians very happy. Reading apocalyptic scriptures, such as the book of Revelation, literally, this group of Christians has perpetuated a myth and added their own beliefs about who will be judged guilty and why.

So, in this second Sunday of Advent, we remember that repentance is a necessary part of preparing for both Jesus’ coming and return. ‘The world just isn’t the way it’s supposed to be’ John the Baptist cries. Advent is a time for re-examining those things that you thought to be true, but when the light of Christ shines you see it just isn’t so. The truth is the world needs to change wherever it does not conform to the will of God. Discernment, confession, and repentance prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Christ. Another biblical truth is that we need to trust in God to let Christ into our hearts and minds so profoundly that we become agents of change – the body of Christ in the world. John the Baptist’s cry for repentance is a cry for peace – peace with each other, peace with ourselves, and peace with God. Amen, may it be so.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois