I have lived in Seattle for nearly four years now, and I am still surprised at how the city reacts to snow. Even on Tuesday afternoon, when there wasnʼt even a cloud in the sky, schools were closing early, businesses were locking their doors, and people were running to the grocery store to get stocked up. Like some of you, I grew up in the Midwest and the thought of an entire city shutting down for 8-10 inches of snow seems absolutely ridiculous. The fact that such a forecast could inspire such drastic change in an entire city seems unthinkable. But when I woke up on Wednesday morning, with my classes cancelled, my workplace closed, and the weekly text study that Pastor Scott and I go to on hiatus because of the weather; I was struck by how strange it is that one message can disrupt the lives of nearly 1.9 million people.
The texts that we heard Flo read earlier today should be familiar to you. Not because you have heard the stories before, but because they are a perfect picture of our experience from this week. Each reading is about how peopleʼs lives are dramatically changed because of an announcement. Jonah comes to the Ninevites and tells them that God will overthrow their city in 40 days, and every living creature in the massive city drops what they are doing put on burlap sacks and start fasting. Jesus announces the coming of the kingdom of God and calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him and they interrupt their workday and close up shop to follow after him. Paul announces that the appointed time, the time before Jesusʼ return, is coming to an end, and so he advises everyone to stop doing what they normally do and do the opposite.
Aimee Stewart, who has recently started working on a new faith education program for our kids, based on the scriptures that we read in church every week, suggested that Paul in this passage from Corinthians is instituting the worldʼs first opposite day. On an opposite day, you do everything complete different. “No” means “Yes” and “Yes” means “No”. You eat breakfast for dinner. You do things that you wouldnʼt normally do. On an opposite day you do (say it with me) the opposite. And it is doing the opposite that Jesus has in mind when he says, “Repent and believe the good news” The word that we translate as “Repent” is the greek word metanoia which in its most literal form means “to turn around” or if you are translating it for our purposes “to do the opposite”. Repentance isnʼt just about confessing our sins and asking God and others for forgive us. When the writers of the Bible tell us to repent they are telling us that we need to make a radical change in our lives. To repent of something means that we do a complete about face, a 180 degree turn, a complete reorientation of our life so radical that it looks like we are doing the opposite of everything that we ever did before we repented.
In the stories and readings from today, we read about people who repent who completely change their life because they have heard a message. But donʼt assume that this message is just for the characters in the story or the original recipient of Paulʼs letters. Pull out your readings and go over them again and notice that this message of repentance is for us too. Paul isnʼt speaking to new Christians, he is speaking to a well established congregation of believers. Does that sound like a congregation you know of? Peter, Andrew, James and John we can well assume were raised as good Jewish boys. How many of you were raised in the church? Jesus says “Repent and believe the good news”. And do you notice that he isnʼt saying to anyone in particular? The fact is that I, you, we are being called to repent. We are being invited like the Ninevites, the Corinthians, like Peter, James, John and Andrew to reorient our lives. Each one of the readings for today assumes that I, you we need to change.
But this isnʼt just change for the sake of change. The repentance that these texts are calling for is because something has happened, the situation has changed and action is required. The thing that has changed is that the time has run out. Both Paul and Jesus in the readings for today tell us that the appointed time has come. If you were reading these passages in Greek, you would notice that the word for time is familiar. Thatʼs because the word for time in both these cases is: kairos which coincidentally is the name of Lakeridge Lutheranʼs weekly e-newsletter. Throughout the New Testament there are two kinds of time: Chronos which is the kind of time that we measure with our watches, or the kind of time we control with our schedules; and Kairos which is Godʼs time or the most opportune time. Itʼs used whenever the writer wants to talk about a moment that is just perfect; when all the elements of a situation come together in the right place and at the right time. Like the harvest, which can never be precisely planned, but happens whenever things are ready. Or a much needed conversation with a long lost friend that you just happened to run into at the store. According to Jesus, the time is just right for God to draw near to us and his kingdom to come.
The kingdom of God has come wherever God is in control and wherever his absolute authority is completely acknowledged and acted upon. Jesusʼ invitation to repentance comes after the announcement of this kingdom, because we are a people of divided loyalties. We are committed to our churches, country, family, friends, money, ourselves; and all of these things can keep us from facing God. Throughout the Old Testament, Godʼs biggest complaint against the people of Israel is that they chase after other gods. That is because for God anything else besides him counts as a God; and if we are facing anything else, then we are not acknowledging God and his authority and we must repent and change.
The difficulty comes when we try and figure out what needs to change. Because while we may be directed towards God in some areas and in some moments, there may be other parts and other moments where we are turned away from God, and where we need to repent. There can be no blanket statements here, everyoneʼs situation is unique. The only universal is that we all must repent in some way. So I want to ask you to take in the words of Alcoholics Anonymous, a searching and fearless moral inventory. I want you to listen to yourself for a moment as you think about your life and make some mental notes about the thoughts that you have and the emotions that you are feeling in the next few moments. What is your response to this word “change”. What are those things that you couldnʼt dream of letting go? What are those parts of your life that have worked themselves into your existence in such a way that you donʼt even notice them anymore? I am not just talking about superficial changes like the color of carpet in the sanctuary or where we do Sunday school. I am talking about other changes that are close to many of your hearts like how we do worship. Like closing the congregation and selling the building off. Or more personal changes like letting relationships go or embracing new relationships with more vigor. What about changing the way you think about yourself? Or changing the way you talk to or talk about your spouse or your children? If in the last few moments you stopped listening, if you got angry, if you got scared that is probably a sign that something needs to change.
This semester I am taking a class on the Sabbath. The assignments for the class are not difficult they are just time consuming, and for those who know me well I have very little extra time to spend on anything. So when the professor told us that we were going to have to take three Sabbaths during the semester, I started to get angry at the expectation that I would have to change my life in order to complete the assignment. To make this very clear, I got angry because I was being told I needed to rest. I got angry because I was being asked to follow Godʼs way of doing things, a way that has been instituted since the beginning of time. It is hard to change. It is scary to change. And when you add up all of the possible places in your life where God may be calling you to turn and repent, you may begin to imagine how your life might look like a complete reversal of the way that you have always lived. You may also be able to realize how difficult such a project may be.
But here comes Jonah, Paul & Jesus, who each declare that something has got to change. That the time has run out, that the kingdom of God has come close. And a similar response is expected of us as was expected of the Ninevites, the Corinthians, and the first disciples. Drop everything you are doing, and do something different. Stop focusing on other gods and direct your gaze to the coming kingdom of God. No matter how hard it is. But here is the irony of Jesusʼ announcement as Jesus declares the coming of the kingdom, as Paul declares that time is short, those declarations are new to us each time we hear them. One more Greek lesson for the day. When Jesus declares that the time is fulfilled, people have a hard time figuring out when he means, because the Greek version of this passage can either be translated as the time, the kairos, has been fulfilled; or the time or the kairos is fulfilled. But which is it? What time frame are we working in? Has the time already been fulfilled or is it happening right now. Was it the kairos moment when Jesus first said it, or is the most opportune time right now as we read this text today?
Luther in his explanation of the Lordʼs Prayer talks about the Kingdom coming and I know that it has been a few years since some of you went through confirmation, but maybe this will sound familiar. Luther says that we know Godʼs kingdom will come with or without our prayers, but when we pray The Lordʼs Prayer and say, “Thy Kingdom come” we are asking that Godʼs kingdom would come to us. Luther understood that every moment is in fact and opportunity for Godʼs kingdom to come to us, and that every moment is a kairos moment. The danger for us is when we stop listening to the proclamation that we need to change, and we hunker down and get comfortable. When we do that, it is hard to hear the voice of God or anyone for that matter who may be calling us to change, to turn around and reorient ourselves towards God. The joy of our understanding as Christians is that every moment is pregnant with the possibility of change. Every moment is an opportunity for the kingdom to come. Every moment a prophet stands in our midst and says turn and repent. Every moment we get to put behind us all the other times we either did or didnʼt acknowledge God, and make a choice this time. Contrary to some understandings of the Christian life, faith is not made up of a single moment, when someone makes a decision to follow Christ. The journey of faith is a long walk in the same direction. And at every step the Spirit of God stands with you asking where your gaze is set, asking where are you oriented. And its funny because with each step closer to the kingdom, with each moment of repentance the kingdom of God comes closer.
I was struck by how one announcement can completely change the lives of so many people when I walked outside on Wednesday, to enjoy my first Sabbath day in a long while and saw an entire city that had turned itself around from its usual Wednesday morning busyness and said was playing. I would never have gotten to take advantage of such a gift if some meteorologists hadnʼt said that snow was coming, and if all the places like school, and work, and internship hadnʼt take the snow so seriously. It is funny…what finally makes us change. AMEN.
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