This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 21, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten season, the forty days before Easter. This season marks an important story, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It’s a period of waiting, of grief, of longing, and of mourning. Resurrection is coming, but it’s not here yet. And so the question is, what will we do in the meantime? Lent calls us to the heart of the Christian story, what it means to be a disciple.
What does it mean to be a disciple to you?
Just as you all have shared, being a disciple is about living how Christ lived, helping people, learning about God, seeing God in others, and so on. These simple things are the fundamental basis for our faith. Sometimes I think we make it too complicated, when in reality, Jesus gives us a really simple explanation for what discipleship, what the Gospel is all about.
The gospel is simplest when we hear it from Jesus himself, just as we do today. “Repent and believe in the good news”. Now repentance is a word that to me, hasn’t always had the best meaning. I’ve had my fair share of people tell me to repent, repent from being queer, repent from preaching as a woman, repent because I visited Planned Parenthood for a checkup. In some circles, repentance carries a dangerous and toxic taste to it. But when we examine what it means to actually repent, we might be able to utilize that word as a means of grace rather than a weapon.
Pastor and scholar Brandan Robertson breaks it down for us. He says this:
“The word translated “repent” here is the Greek word “metanoia”, which literally means “expanding your mind”, to work, to move from our finite human perspective and expand to a broader, wider, divine perspective.”
So Jesus, in saying to repent, wasn’t saying that we needed to wave this sword of righteousness around at other people, to tattle on people who didn’t agree with us, to hurt people because we thought we were correct to do so. He was saying that for us to believe the Good News, we must allow ourselves to be that Good News, to see God in newer ways and more far away places. When we open ourselves up to all that God is, we will never be able to unsee that.
Just before he talks about repenting and believing the Good News, Jesus says “the kindom of God has come near”. This is not just good news, it’s great news, it’s God news! God is here, among us, and God is asking us to be a part of what Jesus is preaching, to participate. And to do that, we have to believe that it is indeed, good news.
This Lenten season, we may experience or be experiencing times that feel far from heaven on earth. These next forty days might not need a reminder that they are meant to be a journey, because life in and of itself is already a journey right now. Perhaps you’ll go through days that feel the furthest from good news. We all have them. Just as Jesus was tested and tried, we too have those wilderness moments when we feel lost and afraid, especially now.
But the Good News, that great news, that God news, is that things don’t need to be perfect in order to be Good News. We don’t have to have it all together in order to experience joy. We don’t have to be the most loving all the time in order to experience love, and so on. Good News, at the end of the day, is all about recognizing that God is among us.
Directly following his baptism, Jesus saw the heavens torn apart, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. And God spoke to him, saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When it says the heavens were torn apart, I think of it as a symbol of God’s promise. Because when something is torn apart, it means it’s very hard to put back together again. So just like how when we practice repentance, we are expanding our perspective, when the heavens opened up, Jesus’ perspective expanded too, seeing this kindom of heaven nearby, on the horizon, just as God promised.
As we continue on our 40 day Lenten journey together, I encourage you to find spaces to allow the Good News to radiate, spaces in your life where despite the struggles and fears and exhaustion you are facing, you recognize that God is still there with you. This could mean you have a gratitude journal where you record these things. Maybe it means looking back at old pictures of you and a friend or family member. Maybe it means standing up for something you believe in.
What’s a piece of “Good News” you can share with us?
The Good News we get to carry with us, is that God is with us for this journey, the rocks, bumps, hills, and everything in between. And our job is to believe that God is with us, to expand our perspective and grow closer to God in the process, being a bearer of the Good News in this world.
As you leave this place today, may you, like Jesus, see the heavens opening up before you on your journey, a promise that you are not alone. May you seek a deeper and more expansive understanding of the Divine in the people you encounter. And may you find ways to be a bearer of this Good News, this promise, on your own Lenten journey, remembering that you too are beloved, with whom God is well pleased.