Going Deeper 1/14/19

I have long wondered why Jesus followed up so many of His healing miracles with the request that they not tell others what had happened to them.  There’s been a lot of conjecture as to why Jesus did so, ranging from the rather ridiculous idea that Jesus was using reverse psychology to the more likely thought that He was hoping to control the size of the crowds of people who were beginning to follow Him.  I believe that perspective is most likely.
But there is more to it, I am quite certain.  Jesus did not want people to get the wrong idea about why He had come, what the heart and core of His mission was all about.  The healing miracles were a powerful demonstration of God’s love and compassion.  Yes, definitely.  But there was and is more to it.  The healing miracles served as signs that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited and much-anticipated Messiah.  Yes, definitely.  But there was and is still more to it.
Jesus did not want those who were healed to go around telling everyone what had happened because, again, that was not why He had come… and least that was not what was at the heart and core of His mission.  Jesus did not come merely to heal bodies.  Jesus did not come to change externals… and least not primarily.  Jesus came to bring about internal and eternal healing… healing transformation of our hearts and lives… and of the whole world.  
That is where our focus is during this sermon series.  Actually, this needs to be where our focus continues to be—growing transformation.  (VIDEO)
From our Gospel reading, Luke 3: Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
There is so much happening in this story that is vitally important... important for the story of God’s work among and through humankind, and important for my life and for your life.  Jesus’ baptism was the launching of His Spirit-empowered mission.  The voice from heaven calling Him beloved, one with whom His Abba/Father was well-pleased, prepared Jesus for His world-and-history-changing mission.
We see our baptism in the same light. (After all, LIGHT is what the season of Epiphany is all about!)  My baptism-- and your baptism-- were the launching of our own Spirit-empowered missions, our Abba/Father calling us “beloved” children with whom He is well-pleased, and in doing so preparing us for our role in Jesus’ mission, Jesus’ world-and-history changing mission.
Listen, please, to these words from St. Paul’s letter to Titus, the 3rd chapter:  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
Now, with all that said, we need to take a step back and remember that there was a pre-requisite for baptism… at least for us sinners.  Jesus did not need this pre-requisite, but we do.  We need to hear John’s call to repentance.  For us to receive grace, we must recognize our need for grace.
A traditional understanding of repentance has been to see it as involving a sincere, heart-felt recognition and confessing of our sin… with “sin” being comprised of all of the bad things we have thought, said, and done… what theologians call “sins of commission.”  But added to that is the recognition and confession of our “sins of omission”—all of the good things we have had opportunity to do but have failed to do.  When we add all of this bad stuff up, commission and omission, we see it amounts to a whole lot.
I have preached that kind of repentance.  On top of that, this kind of repentance has been the focus of our times of “Confession and Absolution” within our various liturgies.  However, I have now been led to see that while all of that is good—even necessary—it is not enough.  It is a good start, but there is more.
In a recent devotional, Father Richard Rohr wrote this: “the first public word out of Jesus’ mouth was later translated into the Greek imperative verb metanoeite, which literally means ‘change your mind’ or ‘go beyond your mind.’”  What we must understand is that repentance involves a recognition that sin has broken us to our very core.  It is not simply a recognition that we think, say, and do a lot of bad stuff, and have also failed to do a lot of good stuff and need to say we are sincerely sorry.  Repentance is the recognition—as one of our liturgies declares—that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  
There is something fundamentally wrong with us, and we cannot fix it.  We can say we are sorry, and we can even mean it sometimes.  We can seek to change our behaviors, and we might even succeed sometimes.  But we cannot do what’s most needed—we cannot fix our brokenness.  We are sick, sick unto death, and we need a physician.  We need God.  We need Jesus.  Only God Himself can truly fix what is broken-- our relationship with God.  Only God can fix us.
In his excellent book, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the 12 Steps, Richard Rohr ties together this understanding of repentance with Step One from AA: Admitting Powerlessness over our Addiction.  Some people have reacted to the labeling of an addiction as being a disease by saying: “No. It is not a disease, it is a sin!!”  I now see the opposite as being true, sin is an addiction… over which we are powerless.  That understanding is repentance!
And that awareness prepares us for baptism… not only the one time sprinkling or immersion into water, but the ongoing transformation, the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” that is the “Baptismal Life.”  You see (I hope and pray you see), the Gospel, the Good News, is that Jesus was and is the Great Physician, the One who came and continues to come with “healing in His wings.”  Jesus took our sin, and the punishment and death which results from our sin, upon Himself.  He came and comes to declare: you are God’s beloved child, with whom your Abba is well-pleased.
It is in that Spirit that you and I can now ask God to take our lives and let them be, consecrated, Lord to Thee, and we can pray—and let’s pray this again together: Abba Father, this prodigal has come home; I have been embraced by Your grace. Draw me now ever closer to Your heart.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Make my heart Your home.  Spirit of the Living God, come.  Help me to open my heart, my mind, my spirit, my all to Your transforming work… in accord with Your will and to Your glory.  Amen.  Oh, and now don’t forget: Jesus does not so much love us once we change, but He loves us so that we can change.   

 

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