Is Our World Repenting?

Throughout Lent we have been unpacking one statement of the prophet Isaiah:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” ((Is 30:15)

I’ve been wondering off and on the past few weeks, is our world repenting right now? Most of us have been conditioned to think of repentance as a bad word. Feel bad about yourself, say your sorry for the same mistakes over and over again! That is not repentance, not even close. Repentance is re-evaluation that leads to action. With that definition in mind, is this a season that is causing us to re-evaluate our lives? To re-evaluate what matters, how we spend our time, what we spend our moments doing and thinking about?

In the midst of a crisis we can actually go further down the road that Isaiah and Jesus warn against. Isaiah’s observation of the people he was speaking to, “but you would have none of it.”  Jesus seems to have similar language to Isaiah when asked a question by the Pharisees,

1Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”(Lk 13:1-5)

The temptation when crisis hits is not to repent, not to re-think our lives or re-evaluate, we don’t have time for it. We have to try to figure out how to do life amidst the latest crisis. But isn’t that really what we were trying to do before the crisis, trying to figure out, mostly on our own terms, how to do life given whatever was in front of us that day? What if Isaiah and Jesus are inviting us into something more?

Repentance seems to be an invitation to live life with a whole new outlook. It is an opportunity to value both God and people above all else. From my perspective, Jesus answered the question of repentance most clearly with these timeless words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the first and great commandment. And there is a second like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As our world seems to get more and more chaotic each day will we hear the words of Isaiah and Jesus? Neither sound condemning to me. They both are offering a different perspective, a new way, and alternative pathway that leads to life.

Believing that God is With Us Today

Each of us has a way of making life work that doesn’t involve Jesus. That is the case whether we are attempting to follow Jesus or want nothing to do with him. Because of the incredible freedom that God gives us to chose, we can do today with or without Jesus. As we continue to explore repentance through Lent, what if repentance is choosing to do the day with Jesus? With that perspective, repentance is being aware of our freedom, realizing our propensity to do life on our own terms and then choosing to walk through this day, this hour, this moment with Jesus.

“The next hour, the next moment, is a much beyond our grasp and as much in God’s care, as that a hundred years away.  Worry about the next minute is just as foolish as worry about tomorrow, or for a day in the next thousand years—in neither can we do anything.  In both God is doing everything.”  An Anthology of George MacDonald

I love that last line from MacDonald, “In both God is doing everything.” Do we believe that? Perhaps that is at the heart of repentance. It is so easy to think that we are on our own, that today is up to us. We get into a situation real time, and for most of us our knee jerk reaction is, “What am I going to do now?” or “What am I going to do about this?” Perhaps the repentance that Jesus invites his follower to over and over in the Gospels is a lifestyle of believing that God is with them, that they are not on their own. I believe Jesus’ message is the same for all who seek to follow Jesus.

As we walk through the uncertainty of today, may we see repentance as an invitation to believe that God is with us, that we are indeed not on our own.

Advent Week 3: Digging In, Holding On

I read this great article about shepherds.

“You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best they still die, and you will need to keep going. The romance wears off after a few weeks, believe me, and you will be left standing cold and lonely on a mountain. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.”

Reading about what is required as a shepherd is giving me a little more insight into why the first group of people to get a visit from the angels were shepherds. According to Luke there were four visits from angels, possibly the same angel. Zacharias, then Mary, then Joseph, then shepherds. So a devout old priest, the mother of Jesus, the father of Jesus and shepherds. (One of these things is not like the other…) That song from Sesame Street just came played in my head.

Back to the shepherds. I love that line from the article, “It’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.” I can’t read that enough or say it enough to myself this morning. It’s true. The shepherds knew that. Zacharias knew that from his long life as a priest. Mary and Joseph had a glimpse of this truth through having a child out of wedlock and making the journey to Bethlehem. They would learn this truth more and more as they raised Jesus and his siblings. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Shepherds knew this truth all too well. They were at the bottom of the social rung, outcasts, you might even say homeless since they primarily slept outside with their flock. There was a strong prejudice against them, especially from rabbi’s and religion leaders. They would have not only felt the pain of their occupation, but also the internal pain of their position in society. If anyone near the birthplace of Jesus needed saving it was the shepherds. Into that context Luke writes:

“There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

Three statements stand out to me:

all people; Savior; has been born for you

Some might say these shepherds were the most human, the most real of all those living around Bethlehem. They knew pain, joy, loss, sacrifice, friendship, wonder. They were not only the ones to first hear the news of the baby being born, but they were the first ones to tell others. Their message was about a Savior being born just down the road from where they were tending their sheep. These men who brought this message of hope understood, it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

The message of the shepherds was that a baby had come into the world. This baby would  learn that it’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on. Not only would baby Jesus learn this as he grew, but he would eventually embody this message as a man, showing all who dare to follow him that it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Maybe that is why Jesus calls himself the good shepherd.