Sunday, December 6, 2020
"Drenched In Grace"
Pastor Scott Landis
The gospel of Mark and Christmas (or, perhaps I should say Advent) simply do NOT seem to go together. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not contain a traditional “Christmas Story.” In Mark there is no Mary and Joseph, no journey to Bethlehem, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no angels singing “glory to God in the highest,” and no baby Jesus in a manger. Mark completely skips over any birth narrative and gets right to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. So why bother with Mark? And why this story during Advent – the season of preparation and waiting for the incarnation of God in the baby Jesus? It’s a good question.
Mark begins with an important antecedent to Jesus as a way of introducing him and his emerging ministry. The gospel begins as an announcement heralding God’s intervention in human history with these words,
“In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God,”
The author continues, quoting the prophet Isaiah - words that we heard just a few moments ago – introducing the one who announced Jesus’ imminent arrival.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way, the voice crying out in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord.”
John had a particular job to do – a different kind of preparation than we hear in the other birth narratives. John’s responsibility – his kuleana – was to challenge those in the surrounding community. His was the voice crying out in the wilderness “repent for the forgiveness of your sins.”
I wish I could tell what is running through your minds when you hear those words: “repent,” “sins,” and “forgiveness.” I asked that question the other day in our Wednesday Zoom gathering and received varying responses. Depending on your upbringing and the churches you attended, those terms could be loaded. Often misused as a means of shaming or as a club to wield guilt, words like “sin” and “repent” may be off-putting, perhaps so much so that you cannot even hear their deeper and more accurate meaning.
The true meaning of “repentance” and the one John intended in his “crying out in the wilderness,” is that of honest self-reflection, a process of personal evaluation, or a means of discernment to determine where I have missed the mark (which, incidentally, is the real meaning of sin) AND the possible need to redirect my path – perhaps to turn around all-together in order to begin heading in the RIGHT direction and much closer to God’s intention for my life. [Pause]
I recently read read a brilliant and passionate reflection, by Kahu Bob Nelson, that explains this concept extremely well. Using the metaphor of a labyrinth, Bob reminds the reader of the circuitous route one traverses in order to get to the center. In the many twists and turns of the labyrinth, the one walking may discover a larger life lesson – that sometimes I must turn around completely in order to gain a broader perspective and possibly head toward the intended goal. I must let go of my initial direction because I realize it is not allowing me to get where I need to go. Or, from a faith perspective, where God wants me to go.
Bob summarized this experience in the Hawaiian concept of e mihi ana – which refers to, in his words, “A turning, a letting go and repenting in order to move in a new direction. One of the wonderful things about e mihi ana,” Bob continues, “is the relief that comes in the process of doing it and, having turned in a new direction, it allows you to see things quite differently. It opens up your heart. It changes you.”
So, repentance is not so much something that I generate of my own power and volition – as it is a yielding to the invitation that is offered – to pause, to let go, and to open myself to the Spirit who seeks to guide me on “paths of righteousness.”
The invitation may come from a whole host of different sources. It may come through a rather loud intervention – much like John calling folks to get ready – the Savior is about to make an appearance. Or it may also come through a much more subtle voice – or noticing – that things are just not quite right in the direction I am currently moving. You may realize that change is necessary in order to live with integrity – to be fully honest with self and with others. [Pause]
So, repentance need not be heavy handed as in someone pointing out the error of your ways. I think, more often than not, it comes from within – an inner knowing – as the Holy Light that dwells within you seeks to guide you – as we spoke about last week – on the path of pono. [Pause]
I think it is no coincidence that our theme for today is kuleana. Often thought of singularly as my responsibility or my job – my lot in any given situation; kuleana also entails the notions of rights and privileges, authority and justification. While not specifically a theological term, kuleana has amazing theological implications – particularly when considering it in terms of our relationship with God.
My kuleana as a disciple of Jesus Christ IS to live pono, but that involves constancy in my reflection on how I am living my life. My kuleana in that case involves knowing who I am and whose I am – and listening closely to what God is calling me to do as I walk the labyrinth of my life. My kuleana in that regard requires of me to spend time – as Advent suggests – in prayerful preparation for Emmanuel to blossom within me. [Pause]
So, it involves more than just knowing what I am called to do. kuleana involves my attending closely to my responsibility to live justly and to be aware when I fail or veer off course. [Pause]
The prophet Isaiah has given us an incredible gift to hold dear as we seek to engage in this critical aspect of our faith walk. He reminds us that while God holds us accountable for our decisions and actions – there is nothing that God wants more than for us to know we are “Drenched in Grace.” In other words, God cuts us a lot of slack. Remember those words?
“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
And later he continues:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
My, that’s a beautiful image – AND it’s a powerful image.
As the bible reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Like sheep, we are all terribly vulnerable. Like them we make mistakes, we graze in the wrong direction, we lose our way and can get tangled up in some pretty awful thickets. But our shepherd is there to care for us, to provide comfort, and to bring us back into the fold.
I can’t possibly know what demons you are struggling with today – what issues have arisen in your life which may have resulted in your feeling greatly estranged from God. But I can promise you one thing – God will keep coming toward you no matter what! The Good Shepherd of us all wants nothing more than to be a healing balm, a blanket of comfort, and an assurance of total forgiveness as you realize anew you are “drenched in grace.”
I pray you will sense that blessing today – and everyday – as we walk the labyrinth of Advent and discover for ourselves – Emmanuel – God IS with Us.
Mahalo ke Akua – Thanks be to God.