Sunday, January 25, 2009

3 Epiphany


January 25, 2009

Mark 1.14-20

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus using a word we have heard countless times, but maybe haven’t really thought about too often. That word is “repent.” I think in our contemporary Christian society, we have found this word hijacked by some of the fundamentalists in our churches. Repent is often seen as a shaming word. We seem to hear it only in the context of “repenting” of our sins. Certainly that’s a correct usage of the word. When we turn from our sins—from all the wrongdoings we’ve done in life—we are repenting.

But I think it’s a good thing to examine the word a bit closer and see it in a context all of its own. The Greek word we find in this Gospel is μετανοειτε (metanoiein), which means to change our mind. But the word Jesus probably used was the Hebrew word, Shubh, which Reginald Fuller translates as “to turn around 180 degrees, to reorient one’s whole attitude toward Yahweh in the face of the God’s coming kingdom.”

When we approach this word with this definition, all of a sudden it takes on a whole new meaning and attitude. What is Jesus telling us to do? Jesus is telling us we must turn round and face God. We must adjust our thinking away from all the worldly things we find ourselves swallowed up within and focus our vision on God. Or, rather, we should adjust our thinking, our vision, of the world, within the context of God. However you want to look at it, is about seeing anew. It is about changing the way we think and see and do things.

As you can imagine, this kind of command isn’t a popular one. We don’t like change of this sort. We are a complacent lot for the most part. We enjoy our predicable, daily lives. I am the most guilty of this. I find a certain comfort in my daily schedule. I get up, I get ready for work, I pray Morning Prayer, I take my vitamins, I go to work. I have my lunch, I work some more, I come home, I pray Evening Prayer, I watch TV, I go to bed. It’s not very exciting. But it is comfortable. And it’s easy. So when things come along that disrupt that schedule, I find myself slightly resentful. I find myself grumbling under my breath, or wishing quietly that I was doing my usual schedule. In those complacent moments, I don’t find myself thinking too deeply about God…or anything else for that matter.

This of course brings up probably our biggest point. For the most part, we don’t think. We don’t have rational, concentrated thoughts about our faith or the world. We are usually thinking about what is before us. We are thinking about what we are going to do next, what we are going to eat or drink for lunch or supper. We think about what our children are doing or not doing or about what our spouses are doing or not doing, or about the work at hand. We are thinking about what needs to be thought about at that moment. In that crush of thoughts, thoughts of God don’t come up so easily.

What Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel is, when he tells us to repent, is, essentially, this: He is telling us to mindful. Be mindful of God. Be mindful of the good news. Be aware.

As some of you know, I have had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism since my early 20s. For me, Zen is more than just a religion. It is a philosophy—it is a perception, a way of seeing things. In Zen Buddhism, the basic thinking is that one should be aware of this one present moment. This moment that we are living in, right now, is all we know for certain. The problem with it is that as soon as we recognize as such, it has escaped us and is gone. We can’t capture this one moment. We can’t pin it down. We can’t claim it and wish it would stay, frozen in time. Because as soon as we even begin to think that way, we find it has escape us. We are simply hoping after a swift and elusive ghost. In Zen Buddhism, one practices Zen very simply. One just sits. The sitting is called zazen. One sits, very straight, usually in what is called the full (of half) lotus position, which involves folding the legs in particular way. One centers one body, usually by finding the spiritual center, which is called masa, located in the general vicinity of the navel. One then just clears one’s mind.

You can usually count your breaths to center yourself. As one breathes, one counts.

Inhale, exhale, one.

Inhale, exhale, Two.

Inhale, exhale, three.

And so on until one reaches ten. Then one starts all over again. Now as you can imagine, as one follows this kind of meditation, distracting thoughts are going to come in. Most Zen Masters instruct their disciples not to worry about those distracting thoughts. Of course they’ll come. But the key is not to attach one’s self to them. Let them come and let them go. Let them flow throughout your sitting like clouds. Above all, the master will instruct the student that one should be mindful of that one moment one is living in. One should simply be aware of it. One should live it fully while one has it. And then let it go and live the next moment fully and completely.

A very popular image in Zen Buddhism is that of a fish. A fish is seen as something that never sleeps. It is always awake. As such is held up as symbol of a truly enlightened person. It is a symbol of the goal of what one does in Zen. Like a fish, one should always be awake and aware.

What we find here is a very simple lesson in how to live fully and completely. Essentially, this is what Jesus is telling us as well. Repent. Wake up. Turn around and see. God is here. He is saying to us, Stop living foggy, complacent lives. Repent. He is saying, Quit being drones, mindlessly going about your duties. Wake up and think. Open your eyes and see. God has come among you. God is here, speaking to you words of joy and gladness. Listen. Hear what God is saying. Look. See God walking in your midst. And when we see God, when we hear God speaking to us through Jesus, we find that we too want to do what those disciples in our Gospel reading for today did. We want o follow after him. We want to be followers of Jesus.

Being followers of Jesus means that we are awake and we see. So truly follow Jesus in your life. You don’t need to do it in a flamboyant fashion. You can truly follow Jesus by being spiritually awake. You can follow Jesus by allowing yourself to spiritually see. And when we hear and see, when we become, in a sense, fish—awake, aware, not sleep spiritually—then we can become truly effective fishers.

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