Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Year B RCL
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Repent, Follow, and Proclaim. These are the three actions or themes for our life of faith that I hear in our readings today. Repent, follow, proclaim.
None of these actions are particularly familiar in our culture, nor are they easy for us to think about. We’re taught to pick a course and stick with it; know your mind; be your own person; be right; be a leader; be independent.
The 1st Century Greeks to whom Paul writes thought that Christ was coming back any day now, and they felt a sense of urgency about getting right with God. They needed to turn their lives around and get on the right track…and fast! I’m not sure we feel that same urgency 2000 years later.
Repent, follow, proclaim
Repent means literally to turn around, to change direction, to re-turn to God. This implies that we first have to admit that we’re headed in the wrong direction. How many of us like to admit that we’re wrong? How many of us even like to ask for directions…to admit that we don’t know the way all by ourselves? Repentance means admitting that we’ve wandered away from God, that we’ve stopped listening to God, stopped asking God for help, and instead relied on our own will to guide us in life. Repenting, or turning back to God, is something that we may need to do over and over during our lives, in both small ways, and big ones.
A friend of mine is a social worker. She was offered two wonderful, but very different opportunities. One was to join a colleague in private practice, working with couples and families, with a flexible schedule that would allow her to spend time with her high school aged son before he headed off to college, and would be enough money to sustain her family. The other was managing a clinic, which included a prestigious office and more money than she had ever dreamed of making in her life, but demanded long hours and lots of responsibility. She asked my advice. I didn’t tell her what to do, but reflected to her that she really values time with her family, and she didn’t really need the gobs of money. Even though the private practice position was more in keeping with her values, she couldn’t pass up the lure of wealth, and accepted the high prestige clinic position. After a year, she just couldn’t hack it anymore. It was just too antithetical to who she is, and she made the choice that she probably should have made in the first place, to enter private practice. And she loves it. This is repentance: she headed off into the wrong direction, probably for the wrong reasons, and then corrected her course. There was no need for her to beat herself up over it; just return to the path that God had laid for her. And it feels right.
But how do we know when we’re listening to God or to our own will? I’ve discovered that when I’m following God’s lead, the doors just fly open; the course is easy; no roadblocks. But when I’m following my own will, instead, it can be like hitting my head against a brick wall; nothing works; I become frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes we get confused, especially in our work lives, because our culture tells us that work is supposed to hurt. But I think that when we’re using the skills and gifts that God has given us, for purposes that are pleasing to God, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s joyful and, perhaps, even energizing.
So that brings us to the second theme: Following. Jesus calls us to follow him (not to worship him; he’s always pointing to his Father for that; but to follow Him). What does it mean to follow Jesus? Jesus sets many examples for us through his actions and teachings about love, compassion, justice, and hospitality; and he sends his disciples out to heal people and to proclaim the Good News. So maybe it’s that same kind of discernment: are we using the gifts that God has given us, for purposes that are pleasing to God? Does it just feel natural, and good, and right? Or is it a struggle all the way? Are we accomplishing good things in the world – treating people with the respect due to children of God, making sure everyone has enough of what they need, caring for God’s Creation, bring about healing, and spreading God’s love?
And that brings us to proclaiming. Does this mean that we need to stand on a street corner and yell at people, telling them to repent or they are going to Hell? Oh, I hope not. After all, we are proper Episcopalians. But it does call to mind a word that often scares us away: Evangelism. Evangelism and proclamation both mean that we share the Good News that we’ve found with God; the Good News that Jesus has overcome sin and death, and secured for us eternal life; that we share with the world the hope that goodness and light overcomes evil…every single time! We can certainly do that with words when the opportunity arises. Sometimes we have conversations with friends and co-workers where it seems right to share our faith, and tell the stories of our own journey of following and wandering and returning. And other times it makes more sense to proclaim that in our actions – in the way we treat people, in the choices we make for our families and our work, in the purchases we make or don’t make, in how we spend our money and our time and our energy. We proclaim God’s love when we participate in One Family or common cathedral, by not only providing food to people who don’t have enough, but more importantly by offering them hospitality and kindness, compassion and fellowship.
St Francis is quoted to say, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” In other words, we can model a life in Christ simply by living it, and sometimes we might have to explain it. I think it’s good for us, and strengthens our faith, when we do have to explain it. Has anyone every asked you: Why do you do the work you do? Why does your family live in that particular house? Why don’t you buy a particular product? Why do you go to church nearly every Sunday? Why do you pledge a portion of your income to the church? I think it helps to clarify the values behind your choices when you have to verbalize them to others.
Let’s continue to listen together to who God is calling us to be, and what God is calling us to do – as individuals, as families, and as a congregation, so that we might turn time and again toward God, to follow Jesus wherever he leads us, and to proclaim God’s love here in Franklin and beyond.