Gospel Thoughts 26 February 2012, 1st Sunday of Lent
In the Gospel Story (Mark 1:12-15) Jesus says, “This is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” In the Psalm we pray, “Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”
In the Story Jesus has just come from the desert where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. Some say this was a defining experience for him as he came to get a glimpse of what his journey on earth would be for him. He begins to teach the folks that the kingdom is happening now for them, and he called them to repent and believe in the Gospel. The Gospel’s basic message is “My Father loves you”. The folks need to repent because they were not ready to accept God loving them, much as we are today.
If these words are true today, that this is the time of fulfillment and the kingdom of God is at hand, are we missing something? This morning’s radio news talks about the struggle and killing in Syria, rioting and killing in Afghanistan because of burnings of copies of the Quran, unrest in Egypt and other area countries, shootings in the city in or near which we live, political campaigns working towards the coming presidential elections, commotion over recent decisions of the federal government which church leadership is calling an attack on their civil rights, the trials in Philadelphia about an alleged organized cover-up in dealing with abusive priests, an obvious intolerance among many of us for those whose opinions on anything are different from our own, the newly-elevated Cardinal Archbishop of New York, etc. Where is the kingdom? I look at my own life here, and my obvious need to repent, which is the basis for these thoughts. Basically, I am talking to myself here.
If we believe, as do many of various religious traditions, that we alone have the message and the means of and for the kingdom/salvation/etc., are we missing something? Why are so many folks staying away from our version of Christianity and living a very good and loving life anyway without it? Why is it not safe to question or discuss certain things in our tradition? Why is the church, which claims to be pro-life, seen by so many to be concerned only with abortion and birth control, and ignoring other pro-life issues such as war? Why can any of us dare to claim that our tradition alone has the truth about the kingdom? When Jesus told the folks of his day to repent and believe in the Gospel, he did not give them a series of questions and answers or a code of conduct. He invited them to change where they were looking for their happiness, to look to him, to follow him and live as he lived. He did not tell them to tell others how to live. Their relationship with him was to be the basis of how they lived and thought.
If we believe that what Jesus said to the folks of his time he is also saying to us, what are we doing with what he said? Among other things he also said, “all people will know you are my disciples by your love for one another”. It would appear that there doesn’t seem to be much of this nowadays, especially among folks of different opinions. Jesus invited them, as he invites us, to let him bring them into a relationship with him, to let him show us our Father.
This is really something very positive. However, it seems to have been replaced by a relationship to an institution: believe what we tell you to believe, do what we tell you to do, and we will get you to heaven, because we alone have the means to get you there. We will do your thinking for you. Do not worry about forming your conscience, because we will do that for you, too. In my own narrow-mindedness I don’t see any of this in the Gospel that Jesus calls us to believe in. The church seems to have declared itself the only means to Christ/God for everybody always, and it will not tolerate discussion.
Throughout history we have been taught that reason is a gift from God. If so, why are we directed not to use it? As long as any organization claims for itself the unique power to speak for God, there is no possibility for dialogue, and, therefore, for growth. I think folks nowadays are intelligent and educated enough, using their God-given reason, to realize the fallacies inherent in this position, as well as recognize the injustices and abuses it has given rise to, and so they are staying away. Who can blame them?
The Gospel must always be proclaimed anew, in terms understandable by the current culture to which it is being proclaimed. The Gospel proclaims that God loves us, every one of us, that we can do nothing to make God love us more, or make God stop loving us. For all of us who are called to proclaim the Gospel, we might start by living it, by imitating Jesus and living as he lived, loving folks as they are regardless of what we might find offensive, regardless of their lifestyle, marital status, or anything else. Perhaps we need to repent, to change where we look for our own happiness, to spend time with Jesus, to be open to him however he comes to us, in whomever he comes to us, to beg the grace and courage to do whatever he asks us to do. Being loved and appreciated ourselves by the folks among whom we live, or the church leadership itself, is not necessarily part of the deal, as so many wonderful folks have learned. Stepping out of line in service to one’s Gospel call is dangerous in any number of ways, but the loss of the kingdom is not one of them.
I have been privileged to serve with wonderful folks of many different religious traditions. They were as dedicated to their understanding of God as I was to mine, many definitely more so. We worked together in general very well. Who am I to say they were wrong, or to declare they are part of the church in some convoluted way? I include here folks of no religious tradition. No tradition has the right to impose its values on any other tradition.
We might think of supporting each other on our journey, even folks who do not agree with how we see things. We are all in each other’s life because we need to be there. Each of us needs the gifts the rest of us have, and we need to share our gifts without condition. The loudest and most vocal among us may be the ones who are hurting the most. And so the Psalm, “your ways, O Lord, make known to me, teach me your paths”.