Outside of Lent, Repentance isn’t really something that we talk about all that often. And you know it can be a hard topic to talk about, but I have been thinking about it a bit as we make our way to the end of another calendar year – as we move into the beginning of our Christian year, as John the Baptist screams at me in this Gospel tonight.
At least it feels like screaming.
Maybe we don’t just get to say that we follow Christ and that’s it. Maybe I can’t just say that I believe in God and leave it at that.
What are the things that I do in my life that draw me away from the love of God. How do I show that I’m a person of faith?
Because here’s the thing in the form of my confession to you: sometimes I feel like I live a double life. Sometimes I can forget that I am a priest and just get lost in being a mom, a neighbour, a friend.
And it’s not that I’m not a priest when I am those things – but sometimes – the thing that should impact who I am and how I am, you know, my baptismal identity – sometimes it is just hard work to remember that.
Andrew and I had a conversation the other week in our office about neighbourhoods and where we live in relationship to where our faith community is. I live a ways from here – I have to drive for at least 30 minutes on a Sunday or in the evenings to get home – an hour on weekdays in order to get to my office.
And this is pretty normal for those of us who live in the suburbs. We, many of us, choose to live out of the city for any number of really good reasons and we have become accustomed to traveling in or to other cities in order to access things – and this is good and bad.
It would seem that some of you are also choosing this community, even though it isn’t in the community that you live. We have come in here to be a part of this.
I love where I live, but it means that I don’t live with or near any of you and many of you maybe don’t leave near each other either.
For me, it means that I have to choose to reveal myself as a person of faith or a Christian in the community that I live. I’m not just known as an Anglican priest. And my confession to you is that sometimes that works out really well for me.
And I am not so sure that that a good thing.
On one hand it means that when I am home with my kids, I am just home with them – unless one of you calls me or needs something. It means that when I am grumpy or irritated (as I can be with more regularity that I might admit) rarely is anyone I encounter thinking: oh that is one miserable priest. It also means that when I have been slow to volunteer for community projects, I’m not really worried about how it affects this community.
In my mind, it lets me off the hook a little bit. You know, like when my son thinks none of us is watching him and he eats all of the caramels rather than one or two.
And of course there are people in my community who know who I am. Before I was here, I was an honorary priest at the local Anglican Church and I attended and presided and preached there – but almost none of that congregation were parents of children the same age as mine.
I also got to help start a Messy Church congregation for families in that church – that was pretty cool and I still get to see some of those families on the soccer pitch or in the grocery store. But you see what I mean? I don’t have to be a priest at home – or at least that’s how I sometimes choose to see it. But I am always a Christian.
None of us has to reveal ourselves as followers of Christ – but John the Baptist is calling us out on this tonight, my friends.
It’s not good enough to just say “We have Abraham as a father.” We don’t get to just rest on our baptisms and showing up on Sunday and have that be the extent of our faith lived out.
Our hearts and minds have to be changed by what we encounter here – or why bother coming?
God doesn’t just need us to show up for worship – God needs us to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We have to take this love of Christ and share it. We have to risk being known as people of faith in the places we live, in our places of work, in our lives generally.
John is pointing us to Christ. ‘Things are gonna change once that guy shows up’, John is saying. Once we know what Jesus came to say, we cannot be the same anymore. You cannot see that others need food or clothing and if you have it – not share. You cannot participate in systems that oppress.
To repent is to turn away from those things which are not good for you, for others or for our world – to physically turn away from them – to acknowledge where you have participated and then allow your heart, your mind and your actions to be changed.
And this is a message that we hear over and over in scripture, which leads me to believe that it was as much of a problem then, as it is now. We keep doing this over and over – almost without meaning to sometimes. I think we want to do the right thing, but then we get caught up in our own comfort or wanting to do what everyone else is doing, or I just don’t want to give that guy my coat because I like my coat even though I have another at home.
But John is pretty explicit: don’t take more that you have to, if you have two coats, give one of them to someone who has none and the same with your food and don’t accuse people falsely.
It’s really clear and still, we need to hear it again and again.
So, of course there are people in my life who know that I am a priest. In fact, I don’t keep it secret. I don’t pretend that I am only my kids mum. And really beautiful things happen sometimes because of it. Like when the secretary of our school was going through a really tough time one day and she asked me to pray with her – so we found a quiet room and we prayed.
I’m reminded of the goodness in the world around me, when a friend offers her rental home to Syrian refugees and I am asked how I would like to participate.
John’s reminder sounds pretty harsh – but sometimes I think that’s what we need to startle us out of our comfortable lives.
I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of a community that reminds me that I have a responsibility as a person of faith to do and to be differently in the world – to not subscribe to the attachment of things, to share what I have – where there are people in this community who force me to think about why I do things and what I might do differently.
God doesn’t need me to come to church and then do nothing about it in the week to come. God needs and wants me to be different because of our interaction.
Jesus pushes me to remember what that looks like, and today John the Baptist is kicking my butt:
Be changed by our reading of scripture and breaking of bread together. Live differently in this new year.
In this season of Advent, we are living into all of the expectations that come with new life and new possibility. We are encouraged to repent to the ways of injustice and isolation and to live into the world that we would want to welcome new life into.