Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11 and an Excerpt from In His Spirit by Richard J. Hauser
Sunday January 10th, 2021
Good morning and Happy New Year! I am grateful to be back among you after a time of rest. Thank you to Jackie for curating such a wonderful worship service last Sunday while I was away. If you missed it, you will want to visit cucclivestream.com to experience joy and wisdom from three of our sages.
As we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself be here as fully as you are able, arriving to a place of openness, to receive whatever word there is for you today. So, as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Anger. Sadness. Rage. Fear. Insurrection. A mob. An attempted coup. Violence. Death. An attempt to stop something new…
The truth was unveiled for us once again. Showing us without apology what is. Because we saw this summer when protestors with the movement for Black Lives were met at the Capitol with an army and lines and lines of law enforcement, equipped with tear gas, shields and military-grade weapons. And then on Wednesday, even given that the U.S. military spending is estimated at $934 billion, on a precious day in our democratic process, Confederate flags and yellow banners that read “Jesus Saves” and men in hoodies with the words Civil War- on that precious day White Supremacy was allowed entrance into a sacred American site during a sacred American process and now five people are dead. Elie Mystal said, “The Confederacy finally stormed the Capitol…Frederick Douglass said that power never concedes anything without a demand. And what we saw this week was power not conceding. White Supremacists have never conceded defeat. Not once. And we have to always be ready to fight.”
With those in the highest office in our land denying that race is a construct and that our systems have privileged those of us with white skin and that this nation was constructed on stolen labor and land, these denials of the truth unleashed more hate and gave permission to attempt to undo our experiment in a multi-racial democracy with a government for and by the people. It is clear now that we have not reconciled our sin of slavery- that we have not spoken the truth of our history, that we have not yet repented in the way that we must, in order to be the country we are summoned to be.
I trust that the Holy Spirit is not just with us, but ahead of us because the assigned text for us this Sunday, is a story where the first thing we hear is about repentance. We read that John, Jesus’s cousin showed up in the wilderness yelling about repentance. And we could easily miss that this is how it starts, because after all, the story of Jesus’ baptism is one where the details are plentiful and fascinating. There is John, Jesus’ cousin who is adorned in a camel hair robe with a leather belt and brags about eating bugs dipped in honey. And then there is the word that people from across the countryside were rushing to the Jordan River to do the same thing. And then there is the blessing that is heard when Jesus comes up out of the water, “You…are…the beloved.”
Because there is so much in this core story in the Christian tradition that we could miss, that the very first thing we hear, the start of this, the beginning of receiving and remembering the blessing that we are beloved, is this: repent.
I suspect for many among us repentance is a word laden with baggage or perhaps even a concept rejected entirely as unnecessary. And yet, to repent, in our tradition isn’t about a theologically grounded self-loathing or a sense of unworthiness in light of our sinful nature, rather it refers to a lifelong commitment to changing, of turning ourself closer to and radiant of a Greater Love. You might already know that the Greek word for repentance is metanoia and it translates to this: a change of mind and a change in the inner person. Metanoia is about acknowledging what is wrong and expressing regret but not in a hollow way, it an acknowledgement of what is wrong that is accompanied by a change.
It must be no accident then that throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus shouting Repent! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
Perhaps this is another way of saying, be willing to change inside by acknowledging the truth. And you will be in heaven because you will know joy and true love and you will do justice and you will then live and share that holy name with people and places, the name you were given from the start: beloved.
As you heard from the poet Jan Richardson, this blessing is one in which we must live into. She writes that we must, “Keep saying it and though it may sound strange at first, watch how it becomes part of you, how it becomes you, as if you never could have known yourself anything else, as if you could ever have been other than this: Beloved.”
Now we have clarity that we have not reconciled our sin of slavery, we must repent and move toward something where people of every skin color can live safely and fully and know they are beloved by God, created beautifully and powerfully in the image of the Holy, to live this gift, this blessing we have been given.
And we don’t do this alone. The other important part of this baptism story is that the Holy Spirit is present. And as Richard J. Hauser reminds us in his writing, we are free to choose not to follow or join this Spirit, but still it is with us.
He writes, “at this level we remain free to choose to move or not to move with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is indeed active in us at all times drawing us toward greater love and service of God and others, but the Spirit does not control our response. That flows from our freedom.”
And I believe that now it is time to use our freedom, our power, our faith, our privileges to change, to speak the truth, to repent and repair. As our church engages in a lifelong commitment to dismantle racism within ourselves, within our congregation, our community and our institutions, I wonder how we are called individually and collectively to repent? How is Boulder County called to repent? How could our church rise to the tasks of this time? How might we support shifts from charity to justice, shifts from prayers and good intentions to reparations? I don’t have all of the answers, but I have learned that isn’t necessary for us to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading.
It is clear now that we have not reconciled our sin- that we have not spoken the truth of our history, that we have not yet repented in the way that we must. The Holy Spirit is indeed active in us and around us. Let us not turn away. Let us push for accountability, let us continue to speak the truth and live the truth, our word and our actions build a field of energy that is and creates beloved community.
Anger. Sadness. Rage. Fear. Insurrection. A mob. An attempted coup. Violence. Death. An attempt to stop something new… But our belovedness and the truth are too powerful, too deep, too wide, they’re already breaking through. Repent. The Spirit is with us. Amen.