By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 7, 2008
Read: Mark 1:1-8
“In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Isn’t it striking how Mark begins his gospel?
There are no angels appearing, no wise men from the East, no long list of geneology, no journey to the Inn; but an intriguing statement: “In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and a strange messenger in the wilderness.
Mark announces this is a beginning, declares it will be good news, and makes it clear the good news has to do with Jesus.
And, the next thing we know, we’re not at a manger—we’re out in the wilderness. We’re out in the wilderness, and we’re listening to a stern, urgent, wild-eyed prophet, wearing the strange dress and eating the bizarre diet of the ancient prophet Elijah, and proclaiming that God’s about to do something new. There’s that voice in the wilderness, urging people to repent and be baptized, insisting that the Messiah is coming any day, and calling upon them to get ready for what God is doing!
Why does Mark begin the story there? In some way, Mark associates repentance with the beginning of the Good News. There’s something about spiritual preparation that is connected with the Good News about Jesus in Mark’s book. Repentance is a change of direction. We’re driving down the road and we suddenly become aware that we can’t read the road signs because we’re headed the wrong way on a one-way street. We face repentance-the possibility of a change of direction. We may decide that traffic is light, no police cars are in sight, or that the scene down this road is quite to our liking. We could respond that way. But we may squeal to a stop and whip the car around like we see in Changing Lanes and begin to drive with the flow of traffic going the same direction.
Mark’s repentance also invites us to a reorientation of our life, to a fresh start, to a metamorphosis of life. I like the way Eugene Peterson says: “Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering…don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”
That is what Mark means by repentance-a change from the inside out. Repentance is a reorientation, the beginning of a life long metamorphosis into a Christ-follower. Mark is not scrooge who puts out Christmas cheer with joy-killing repentance. Rather, he offers us the possibility for changing our lives through confession and spiritual cleansing. Through repentance we draw near to God and receive healing from God’s hand. To see repentance as the starting of the gospel and the starting point of our lives is to understand Mark’s telling of the story.
The voice in the wilderness cries out, “Repent!”, and we think it’s hell. But, really, it’s an invitation to heaven. It’s an invitation to get on board with the wonderful, new thing God is doing in the world. It’s an invitation to prepare for the coming of Christ and, when he comes, to know the luxurious, lavish forgiveness he offers!
Noted preacher Fred Craddock likens it to “a third grader, trying so hard to finish his arithmetic test while there’s still time, and all the while the teacher is fussing, ‘Hurry up, children!’. When the third grader erases a mistake, making a big black mark and tearing the paper, he starts to cry. He’s convinced he’s failed, and then the teacher comes over, and the boy is terrified—and the teacher gives him a new sheet of paper and says, ‘It’s OK, why don’t you try again’!”
George Berdes tells this story about a life lesson:
She was about 8, with a smile like the sun and a herd of freckles. She was also a great teacher. I was much older but, as always, an avid learner. She taught me one of life’s most important lessons.
In some parlances that lesson is called “perseverance”. Broken down into its essential elements and in plain English, perseverance means confronting failure by taking a deep breath, gritting your teeth, squaring your shoulders, and trying again…and again…and then again and again…to get back up and do what’s worth doing.
For some, what’s worth doing may be climbing a mountain or surviving a personal tragedy. To others it means mastering a violin, learning to hit a home run, or get an “A” on a spelling test.
I had asked her what I thought was a simple question. What she gave me in reply was a profound answer steeped in the wisdom of the ages.
My question evolved naturally out of watching her graceful movements on a municipal ice skating rink. An Olympic figure skater she was not, at least not yet. But she glided across the ice with ease and self-confidence. One thing for sure, she stayed on her feet with a certain confidence, even aplomb. That was by stark contrast with the position I repeatedly took on skates at her age…plop on my prat.
And so it was with an admiration honed by long remembered envy that I asked her how she learned to skate so well. As I said, her answer was one of life’s great lessons. This is the way she put it: ‘Oh, just by getting up every time I fell’. With that she smiled and glided off to the far side of the rink. But with those simple words, the great teacher with the squeaky little voice had just taught a thunder-clapping truth.
We fall, we fail ourselves and others, we flunk the test, our violin still squawks and squeaks, and our home run has yet to be hit. But we get up every time we fall. And then we try again.
We disappoint ourselves. Worse yet, we fail a loved one who trusted us. No matter, we get up from that fall of frailty…and try again. We get up, no matter the hurt, we get up and try again.
Hoped for careers, hoped for loves, hoped for achievements, disappear as we fall on our rump. No matter we get up; hard as that may be…despondent though we be…we get up and try again—and then again, and still again.
In all that gritty, hard-nosed determined lifting of our butts off the ice what we eventually learn is that the beautiful thing about life is that it gives us a chance to begin over again..and again.
Yes, we may be weary from the effort and humiliated by the failures but – if we try- there will come that serene moment when we’ll know success.”
“Repent!” cries that voice in the wilderness. “Why don’t you try again! Because God is doing something new! In Christ, God is doing something new. And what is that? Well, he’s coming to this earth. He’s coming! He’s coming with urgency, and determination, and fierce power, and terrible might!” Yes, Christ is coming—and when he comes, he intends to forgive your sins.
Do you hear that voice? Do you hear that voice, crying in the wilderness of this world? Prepare the way to your heart; for Christ is here and wants to find a home in your heart. Amen.
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