Like a Flower to the Sun: what is repentance?
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.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left thei completely. And it is the new life because his way of love was victorious over even death and the grave.their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Mark 1:14-20
Anyone who has turned to follow Jesus, anyone who has heard a call to follow him, understands this passage in a personal way. When I read this passage, I hear the calls of my Lord Jesus that I've heard in my own life. I hear him calling me by name, saying "follow me." Those words of are almost haunting: "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news." But what do they mean? What is this kingdom of God and what does it mean that it has drawn near, what does it mean to repent and believe in the good news?
As someone who has turned to follow, as someone who has said "yes" and left my nets to follow him, I feel as though I am constantly seeking the answer to that question. What is the good news?
Unfortunately our popular understanding of Christianity in North America has taken a passage like this, pulled out the word repent, and turned the whole thing into something it is not. Too often it is, "feel guilty about your sins!" "You are a sinner in need of saving. Repent from your dirty, filthy, sinful heart and follow Jesus." Where is the good news in that? Is that what Jesus was talking about when he said the kingdom of God has drawn near? Is God a righteous king on a throne, wielding his scepter of judgment to condemn the evil who do not meet his perfect standard?
In our IHS adult forum we recently read George MacDonald's first unspoken sermon, in which he writes:
How terribly, then, have the theologians misrepresented God in the measures of the low and showy, not the lofty and simple humanities! Nearly all of them represent him as a great King on a grand throne, thinking how grand he is, and making it the business of his being and the end of his universe to keep up his glory, wielding the bolts of a Jupiter against them that take his name in vain. They would not allow this, but follow out what they say, and it comes much to this. Brothers, have you found our king? There he is, kissing little children and saying they are like God. There he is at table with the head of a fisherman lying on his bosom, and somewhat heavy at heart that even he, the beloved disciple, cannot yet understand him well. The simplest peasant who loves his children and his sheep were—no, not a truer, for the other is false, but—a true type of our God beside that monstrosity of a monarch.
No, the point of Jesus' calling is that he is calling these followers to himself. The reign of God that has drawn near has drawn near in him. If we want to know what the good news looks like, we look to him. We look to the one who kissed little children and said they were like God. We look to the man who walked on the shore and called to the simple fishermen to come, fish for people. We look to the one who hung out and ate and drank with outcasts, and so-called sinners. We look to the teacher who got down on his knees to serve and wash his disciples feet. We look to the cross and see him there, dying. And we know him as he speaks peace to us, risen.
So what does it mean to repent? The first step in the "way of love" presented by the Episcopal Church, that is "practices for a Jesus centered life" is Turn. Turning to God is the beginning of a life, a journey, of faith. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, says, how can you turn each day like a flower in the direction of the sun, toward the light and love of Jesus?
George MacDonald also writes in that same sermon about repentance,
That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and his desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to him, "Thou art my refuge, because thou art my home."
What does it mean to repent? It means no matter who you are, no matter what you have been through, no matter what weight you carry of thoughts, failures, neglects, or wandering forgetfulness, no matter what regret, guilt, or shame you bring, you hear Jesus call you by name and say "yes." You say as the psalmist
For God alone my soul in silence waits; * truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, * my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor; * God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Safety, honor, security, forgiveness, second chances, healing, reconciliation, love: all of these things are found only in God, and God freely offers them to you and all of us. That is the grace God offers, that is the good news of God's reign that has drawn near. It is the man kissing the little child and saying "they are like God." It is the man humble to serve, humble to love, humble to die. It is the man giving himself to you completely. And it is the new life he gives us because his way of love was victorious over even death and the grave.
Do you hear his voice calling you by name? Repent, turn to him, and believe in this good news, that God loves you and longs for you to become one with him. May we all hear his call today and turn like a flower in the direction of the sun, to the light and love of Jesus.
Want to go deeper? Turn is the first step in the Way of Love. Learn more about the way of love here and what the next steps are on this journey, and let us join you in it.