Humility, Repentance, New LIfe

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God made us all and filled us with the breath of life.  But he wants and wills more for us than just that.  He calls all of us forward to the riches of life in Christ.  We must not be narrow-minded, set in our point of view, rigid in our expectations… so that we can grab the opportunities for growth and change that he has set before us.

SIxth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 2:1-5, Mark 6:1-13

July 8, 2012

Peder Stenslie

The summer after my senior year in high school I worked on a construction crew building a hotel in the small town where I grew up.  Four out of 7 on the crew were — like myself — just out of high school.  The other 3 had graduated just a few years earlier.  The eighth man was the boss himself. It seemed like a big project to me and I wondered why he wouldn’t hire a crew with more experience. 

I asked the owner about this one day.  He explained that he had found that an inexperienced crew was usually more open to learning and doing the job as he wanted it done.  With an experienced crew, he often had to battle his workers’ rigid ideas about how things should be done.  He didn’t want to deal with that on such a big project.

His answer made quite an impression on me.  More experience… more knowledge… could actually be a barrier when it came to getting something done.  That was a new idea to me.  And I think it reflects a serious problem we have as human beings… a problem that is attested to in both the Old Testament and the Gospel lessons.

We see in those passages people who think they know what’s going on.  This belief, however, has made them too narrow-minded, too set in their expectations… to see things in a new way, when seeing things in a new way is necessary… too entrenched in their ways to change… when change is needed.

In the Old Testament lesson, God calls his people “a nation of rebels….”  He calls them “impudent (which means disrespectful) and stubborn,” because they won’t listen to him.  But that’s not how the people saw themselves.  They were sure that they were right and cool with God. 

In the Gospel lesson, the people of Jesus’ hometown, including his own family, were sure they knew who Jesus was; but their familiarity and rigid expectations blinded them to what really was going on around them.

We seem, by nature, to be narrow-minded creatures.  We get great satisfaction from saying to ourselves (and others), “I know what’s going on.  No one can tell me anything;” when, in fact, that is never really true.  Assuming or acting like we know more than we do, gets us in trouble all the time… in small matters and great.

God has always had that problem with his people, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus… and it is most certainly true today.

As Christians, we have a tendency to assume we know more than others.  We often become very smug thinking we know what God is doing in the world, and in us.  But that’s just the kind of thinking that often gets in the way of being a good servant of God.

It’s always an uncomfortable match.  God always surprises.  God is always acting in ways his people don’t anticipate or expect… or even understand.  That is God’s way.  Our way, on the other hand, tends to be very rigid.  We are certain we have God figured out.  We are certain we can predict what God is doing and what his attitude toward us is.  But it’s silly for us to think that way.  It’s also self-destructive.

We need to be able to be surprised by God.  We need to be ready to see things in a new way… take a new direction… so that when important opportunities to change or to grow present themselves, we can act.

This isn’t just a problem for religious people.  It doesn’t even have to be considered a religious problem.  This is a problem all people have… relating to the most basic matters of living.

What I’m talking about is simply the art of living.  And I think the foundation of that art… is humility.  It is admitting that our vision is, by nature, narrow, unclear, broken. 

Nothing hinders our growth and our ability to change more than narrow-mindedness or self-righteousness.  But from humility can grow flexibility, a willingness to question one’s assumptions, an ability to see things differently… in a completely new way.

When Jesus sends out his disciples in today’s Gospel, he does so in such a way that humbles the disciples.  “Take nothing for your journey.  Rely on the kindness of others.  Cling to my Word.”  It forced them to open themselves to the grace of God and the gifts of others.  This was a radically new approach to living for the disciples.

When you look at scripture, you can see that whenever God calls his people.  That call always begins with a call to repentance.  

It’s important to understand that repentance is not feeling or saying you’re sorry.  In the original language of the New Testament, the word “repentance” [μετανοια] means to change one’s point of view or to transform one’s mind.  It means, most fundamentally, to see things differently. 

And that is what is required… but it can only happen when we have enough humility to admit that our present point of view is limited and flawed.

The art of living well, requires that we undergo repentance repeatedly.  That means confessing our limits and our need for God’s help and the help of others.  That’s never a process we’re done with.  It’s a way of life that we all need to renew daily.

For you students here at Y.C.C., repentance is key.  If new life is to come to you, you need a new way of seeing things… a new way of thinking about things… and a new way of doing things. 

You need to see that you are like the disciples in today’s Gospel lesson.  You stand empty handed on your journey.  And so you must look outside yourselves for support and strength and help.  You must learn to receive the gifts and guidance of God that are found in scripture, in people… in creation. 

And you must learn to receive the aid and support of good people who stand in a position to help you find new life that leads to joy and health and wholeness.

And out of that kind of repentance, real change and growth has a chance.  Repentance isn’t the end goal.  It is a means to an end.  The goal is the new life that grows out of repentance and is given in Christ.

This new life, that grows by the power of God, with the help of others in our midst is the greatest treasure in creation.

It is life that is strengthened by love and strengthens others through love.

It is life that accepts uncertainty and weakness because it knows that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

It is life that knows it is loved and forgiven and therefore is able to accept flaws and failures in others as well as ourselves.

And finally, it is life that never ends… life that even death cannot extinguish, because its source is God, who has declared that the nature of the life he gives is eternal.

God made us all and filled us with the breath of life.  But he wants and wills more for us than just that.  He calls all of us forward to the riches of life in Christ.  We must not be narrow-minded, set in our point of view, rigid in our expectations… so that we can grab the opportunities for growth and change that he has set before us.

We need to be humble enough (and truthful enough) to admit we don’t know much, that we always need to see things in a new way, and that we need the help of God and our neighbor.  And by God’s Spirit, repentance will open our hearts and minds to the power of God so that new life and the true riches of Christ might be ours forever.