My sermon this week was based on Mark 1:9-15.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
So after shoveling my driveway for the tenth time in half as many days, I am officially done with winter. I am aching to see leaves on the trees, to open my windows and let fresh air in, to drive on clear roads, to have the days get longer and warmer. I am ready for a change.
And how like winter is my soul these days.
Like many people, I get some pretty serious "blahs" this time of year. Whether it's the lack of physical activity or sunlight, I am not sure, but around this time of year, and it pretty predictable that many people will begin to feel a certain restlessness or general malaise as we anxiously await the change of seasons.
The word "lent" comes from "lencten", the Old English word for spring. Lent, not accidentally, is a season of the Christian calendar when we are invited to reflect on the changes that are going on in the cycles of the seasons, but also to reflect on what is happening (or what we would like to happen) in our own spirits. It is somehow comforting to me to know that even ancient peoples got the February blahs.
One theme that is often reflected upon during the season of Lent is that of repentance. This may not immediately sound as though this should help us cope with the winter blues, but I think it can.
The word "repent" has several definitions. We are probably most familiar with definitions like, "to feel sorry", "to feel regret", and so on. If these definitions and feelings work and are productive for you, by all means run with them. I would be the first to admit that acknowledging any wrong we have done is the first step towards making positive changes in our lives.
But my problem is that I totally do NOT buy into the whole "Christian guilt" thing. Original Sin, feeling to blame for the Crucifixion, feeling forever that I am not good enough for God...yeah, I just don't buy it. I don't think the purpose of religion and faith is to feel forever bad about oneself.
However, that being said, I do think the purpose of faith and religion is to provide us with a framework for self-evaluation and a process for and community with whom we can make positive life changes.
And that is the definition of "repent" that I would like to focus on. Another definition of "repent" is "to change one's mind".
The reason why I think this is more the type of repentance Jesus was talking about in today's Gospel passage is that this is exactly the type of repentance that he and John the Baptist before him were preaching.
Look, it is one thing to feel bad about things you have done wrong. But if that feeling does not motivate you to stop doing those things, what is the point of being conscious in the first place? If you feel bad for lying to your spouse but keep doing it, why don't you stop wasting the effort of self-reflection?
"Repent" is a verb, and action word. It is a word which does not just describe a feeling. The word is incomplete without an accompanying action.
Jesus and John were preaching and living the action principle of repentance. Not content with having been born into the race of God's chosen people, Jesus and John were aware that it was their actions, thoughts, words and deeds that would define them as good or bad people, not their lineage.
This is what many theologians think is the truly poignant part of Jesus' baptism. Having been born Jewish, he did not require baptism, which was practiced by the Jews as a rite of initiation for those converting to Judaism.
But he chose baptism. He chose to make changes in his life (and unfortunately, there is very little information about Jesus' first 30-odd years of life, so we don't know what changes he made specifically). He chose to dedicate himself to a lifestyle that was more in keeping with what he thought was good and righteous, or that he thought God wanted him to follow.
I am all for feeling good about oneself. But that being said, one of the best ways of feeling good about oneself is to BE a good person. It's tough to feel good about yourself when you know you're an ass. So Lent is the perfect time to reflect on those aspects of your life that are less than ideal, less that you would like them to be, and to commit yourself to making the changes that will lead you to a better and happier life.
I hope this Lent can be time that for you.