"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Matthew 3:1-2.
'Confession' and 'repentance' are not the same thing. "Confession" is acknowledging our wrong, or the world's wrong, before God. "Repentance" is a turning away from the power that has captivated your soul! This turning away is for the sake of turning towards - and in the case of Matthew 3 a turning towards God's kingdom which is drawing near.
This Sunday an expected 2,000-3,000 U.S. Veterans will be going to Standing Rock to protect the American citizens there being fired upon with rubber bullets and fire hoses. They will be interposing themselves between 'us and us,' that is between the Water Protectors and local police or National Guard. What have we all come to? This is beyond bizaar, one more wrinkle around these interesting days in which we live. Pray for our Veterans, law enforcement, Water Protectors and the earth's water itself.
The "those days" Matthew makes reference to, as in "In those days ..." begs definition, doesn't it? I suspect most of us have something to say about "these days," in which the Gospel also comes to us, but Matthew is talking about his days. Usually, though, preachers try to apply the Word to modern day contexts. Perhaps it is enough to say "these days" are hard. They are, aren't they? There is significant turmoil in our world today, and much to be played out over the next several months.
My question for myself this week, though, is "How will I repent?" Or, more specifically, "What am I ready or willing to turn away from?" In a word, I am done letting the country's political angst and chaos dictate my life for me. I'm turning away from FB posts, news saturation, worry, anger and grief. No more @realDonaldTrump or #FTS devotions. It's not a matter of whether I am for or against. It is a matter of having my life revolve around issues of power and politics rather than the "real" kingdom. This doesn't mean I'm through engaging important issues. Not at all! It's just that I'm moving from "reaction" to "response." My "reactions" are dictated by world events. My "responses" should be born of faith. This is what John the Baptist wants to say to us.
"The winnowing fork is in God's hand ..." Matthew tells us. This is not a new truth. It is not about American politics. Rather, American and global politics, economics, injustices and pressures are what is to be winnowed. Or rather, those of us who participate in the world are what - who - is to be winnowed. So, I am ready to repent. Yes, I believe I am! I am ready to turn away from that which causes me to faint, fail or swear. I am also ready, with God's help, to turn towards that kingdom which puts me to work protecting, feeding and pointing towards another Way.
A voice is crying out. The Spirit is baptizing. Fruits worthy of repentance are ripening. It is the Advent of our Lord. Thank's be to God!
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA