3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 21, 2018
“A Really Good Sermon”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis of the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark 1 as previously read.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Did you catch the content of Jesus’ first sermon? What a really good sermon! “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). Short and sweet sermon, aye? Well, you’ll have no such luck with me, I’ll tell you that! Not that I’m a better preacher then Jesus, because I’m not! Sermons should “do” a few things: explain God’s Word, have good Law/Gospel dynamic, and give you something to use in your life. Jesus’ sermon does all that and then some!
Repentance has a fairly simple, but meaningful definition in the Bible. It means to turn away from one thing and to turn to something else. It’s like driving a car and making a turn. Repentance is a turn from one direction to another.
When Jesus uses the word repent, he is calling people to turn away from anything that leads away from him and to turn instead toward him. Then comes his second directive: believe. Believe not just anything, but believe in Jesus. Trust him. Turn toward him. Hold on to him. Repent and believe is the heart of Jesus’ message. He says and does much more, but this is the gist, the summary, the heart of his ministry: repent and believe.
Why? Because the time had come. To Jesus, “time” here is not so much a calendar date, like 30 AD. No, it’s more the right time, a decisive time. Like in World War II when the Allies decided on just the right day for the Normandy invasion: D-day. Preparation, morning tides, the element of surprise, even the weather all had to come together…well, sort of. All had to be just right. It wasn’t just June 6, 1944; it was the day. And that day, just the right day, changed history. Normandy changed world history. Jesus is saying that now, since he has arrived on the scene, the prophecies from the Old Testament were fulfilled in him. History now turns in a different direction. All of time was leading up to this moment. Everything changes because he has arrived.
Now comes the hard part – what this does in our lives. Once again, Jesus turns everything upside down. He turns our lives inside out. He changes the direction we and our sinful nature so often – too often – want to go.
Start with something as simple as what you do when you do something wrong. People use many techniques when they’ve messed up so they can avoid taking responsibility. Deflection, that is, they blame someone else. They say they were only doing what everyone was doing. Minimization, that is, they say it really wasn’t that bad. Rationalization, that is, they call it a lifestyle choice. They “self identify” different from others.
Jesus doesn’t want excuses. Jesus calls for us to repent. He says take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. He says confess it to him and to each other. He says don’t make excuses like the rest of the crowd, but come before him with repentant, changed hearts and seek his forgiveness. The confession of sins at the beginning of worship is not just a part of the liturgy we do for the sake of doing. It’s actually turning away from the sin in our lives and turning toward Jesus, because he does forgive.
To repent is to turn away from anything that leads away from Jesus. One key area in life where Jesus calls Americans to repent is money. Christmas has caught up to many folks by now. Many went overboard and got overextended again last month, spending more and more than we should, to put ourselves into a deeper financial mess. A lot of people are headed in that direction instead of towards faithful stewardship through repentance.
Jesus calls us to repent of such spending on ourselves. He says we are to repent of being so concerned with stuff and more stuff. Instead, he wants us to turn in a different direction. He wants us to be wise stewards of our resources. He wants us first to give to the Lord and others in need; repentant stewardship means that YOU don’t get to come first anymore. To repent is to turn away from anything that leads us away from Jesus, and one of the prime offenders is money.
I grew up on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River in northern MN. I used to fish a lot; I dig fishing. I think about the four fishermen—Peter and Andrew and James and John—whom Jesus called to follow him. There they were, going about their own business, cleaning their nets by the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly their lives were changed, not just for 1 hour every weekend but turned; now they were to catch people for Jesus.
Think of the courage of those first fisherman disciples. They walked away from their income and way of life; they took a HUGE risk in following Jesus. When was the last time you took a risk for our Lord? When did we start believing the lie that we’re NOT supposed to say anything about Jesus in public? We’re told to keep our faith quiet. We’re not to impose our belief on others. Don’t wear a cross to work or at a social event…that might offend someone. Sure, the message of the cross and resurrection will be a “stumbling block” to some, but that should NEVER stop us in being faithful to what God put us here to do.
Jesus says repent and turn to a different direction in your life. You are called just like the disciples to share the Good News about Jesus with others. Because the time is right. The time has come. Jesus has come and He is here. He is the kingdom of God. You have been forgiven by his death and resurrection! You have a new life! Do as he bids: repent and believe. Find those areas in life that are leading you away from Jesus. Turn away from them, and turn to him. Repent and believe in Jesus. What a really good sermon. Jesus’ sermon…not mine, of course! Amen.