Sunday, January 25, 2015

3 Epiphany

January 25, 2015

Mark 1.14-20

+ I now I’ve shared this with you before—many several times. But years ago—back in my carefree late teens and early 20s—I became a bit disillusioned with the Church—capital C. I sort of floated away from church for several years.  I questioned many things. And I became a bit of an agnostic. Actually, I’m still a bit of an agnostic. On some things.  I think we all are to some extent, if we are honest with ourselves.

An agnostic is essentially anyone who “doesn’t know.” And in this sense, we don’t know about God and the greater mysteries. Let’s face it—we don’t know. We can hope. We can have faith. But, ultimately, as long as we are on this side of the veil, we don’t know for certain.

Nor should we.  Because we don’t know, our faith becomes more vital to us. And that’s a good thing.

Last Wednesday, one of those people who helped the agnostic twenty-something old Jamie come back to the Church and have a deeper faith in Christ, died. Marcus Borg was—and still is—a very important theologian.  Of course, I could relate to him to some extent. He was raised Lutheran in North Dakota.  So was I.

And his Lutheran upbringing was important to him. He wrote often about Lutheran theology (though not always positively about Lutheran theology). He attended Concordia College in Moorhead. He later became Episcopalian. His wife is an Episcopal priest.  His theology, although liberal, was very non-abrasive.

Many of us so-called liberals often found agnosticism and heady theology about the validity of the “historical” Jesus, although intellectually stimulating, a bit lacking in an applicable way. A lot of liberal theology did not do a very good job of comforting one when one was diagnosed with cancer, for example, or mourning the death of a loved one.  In those moments, I hate to say, it really didn’t is Jesus actually said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” or if it was something his followers attributed to him.  Borg knew that. And what Borg did for people like me was he brought back a faith-centered Jesus for us, without us having to sacrifice our intellectual mindset on things.

For me, when I first read his book, Meeting Jesus again For the First Time—a truly
radical book in many ways—I was blown away.  This was the book I needed at that time in my life.

Especially his writing on the so-called “pre Easter” and “post-Easter” Jesus.  It was a book that essentially gave me back Jesus, at a time when I needed Jesus. And yet I still could be a “liberal” Christian.

I essentially could talk about Jesus and pray to Jesus and believe in Jesus, no matter how “true” or “factual” much facts were from the Historical Jesus theologians.  There are many people—several who are here at St. Stephen’s this morning—who are Christian to this day because of Marcus Borg.  There are people here today who love Jesus and for whom Jesus is a reality in their lives because of Marcus Borg.  And for that, I am grateful.

Diana Butler Bass, another important theologian in the Church today, wrote on her Facebook page this past week, that she was “hoping fr an experience of the post-Easter Borg.  I like that.

What Borg’s books did for me anyway was helped turn me around theologically and spiritually.

And in today’s Gospel we find Jesus essentially doing the same thing.  And he does it with one little word.


I think in our contemporary Christian society, we have found this word hijacked by some of the fundamentalist-minded people 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, which means to change our mind.  But the word Jesus probably used was probably based on the Hebrew word, Shubh, which another great theologian who also influened me, 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 this mystery that is 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 certainly am the most guilty of this.  I find a certain comfort in my daily schedule.  It’s not very exciting.  But it is comfortable.  And it’s easy.  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 right before us right now.  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, 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.

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.  


Wake up.  

Turn around and see.

God is here.  

Jesus 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.

He is saying, 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 to follow after him.  We want to be followers of Jesus.  Being followers of Jesus means that we are awake and we see.

People like Marcus Borg have helped us to wake up and see, even if we are a bit agnostic about it all.  

So let us truly follow Jesus in our lives.  We don’t need to do it in a flamboyant fashion.  We can truly follow Jesus by striving to be spiritually awake.  We can follow Jesus by allowing ourselves to spiritually see.  And when we hear and see, when we become, in a sense, fish—awake, aware, not sleeping spiritually—it is then that we can become truly effective fishers.

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