There is something pleasing to God about repentance. That’s the conclusion we come to in the Gospel lesson for today.
It is a curious Gospel lesson in many ways. It prompts, (and has prompted through the ages,) many questions.
Why does Jesus have to be baptized? If Jesus is without sin, what need is there for him to repent or be baptized?
What kind of repentance would Jesus even end up doing?
What is it about a baptism of repentance that gathers such crowds out by river Jordan? All of Jerusalem and the whole Judean countryside are going out to see this, experience it.
Is it just the sight of John, or is there some deeper need that his ministry of washing taps into? A need perhaps to be cleaned up, or a need to turn around, or simply a desire to go out from one’s normal pathways into the wilderness and turn around out there from something in one’s past?
So many questions.
Who sees the heavens opened, the Spirit descending? Is it only John? Is it just Jesus? Is it Jesus and John? Is it everyone?
Who sees the heavens opened and hears the voice of God seems to depend upon the Gospel writer, as there is nuance in each telling of this story.
But there are at least two details upon which all of the Gospel writers will agree.
This is about Repentance and repentance is an action with which God is well pleased.
Maybe we need go no further than that this week.
It’s been a rough week as we have had to review the events and the turmoil of the last four years that culminated in it.
We’ve seen firsthand what a world without a sense or a need for repentance looks like, and it has not been pretty.
It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you’ve been on, insistence and doubling down has been the order of the day, the mode of operation, for everyone. Punching and counterpunching, those have been the words used.
No sense of repentance!
It doesn’t matter where you have been on the health care debates, mask or no mask, doubling down and insistence has been the way things have been approached, mandates and lock downs, protests and ignoring of urgings by health professionals, denial of science or insisting on one’s own “facts.” Rebellion and refusal, insistence upon “my rights” whatever you happen to believe those “rights” are.
There has been no sense of repentance, no pausing to consider direction, no turning around or turning over.
All of this insistence has yielded up a hefty helping of the virus out of control, divisions among communities and families, the nation’s Capital building stormed, shots fired, murder rates higher than ever in the city and government and society near the brink of collapse.
A world where no one even raises the possibility of repenting of an action is simply not a pretty world in which to live.
So, dropping all the heavy theological implications, and the questions and all the wonderings about “sin”, maybe this year is a good year to just consider the two things that all the Gospel writers agree upon.
Jesus goes to John to participate in repentance, and repentance is something that pleases God.
We should try it for no other reason than that.
We should try it, because so far insistence has not worked out so well for us.
We can speculate all we want about the reasons why the crowds were going out to John to be baptized for repentance, but maybe the reason pure and simple is that they were just sick of living in a world without repentance!
Maybe they were tired of all the energy it took to always be “insisting.”
Insisting upon their own way, and all the division they felt living under the demands of Roman occupation, or the Pharisee’s law, or their extended family obligations.
Always someone insisting… that you be better, that you do better, that you follow through, that you do this or that you avoid that.
Always an insistence on measuring up or meeting standards or meeting expectations.
Now in the wilderness arrives someone who invites you to come down to the river and wash all that insistence away.
Wouldn’t you be tempted to go out and see what that is about?
Aren’t you tempted now?
We have tried insistence, and it has not born the kind of fruit we expected.
It has not gotten us our hearts desires.
It has not secured for us long term power, control or security.
It has not made our world safer, or our kids happier, or made our future any brighter.
Might we want to turn around from all of that?
Might we want to try repentance, and the humbling of hearts, and the softening of minds?
There is something pleasing to God about repentance, because it opens up opportunities again.
It is as if the heavens open, and a new spirit descends upon us when we stop insisting on our own way!
Maybe we make this thing happening at the River Jordan much too complex.
Maybe what pleases God most in Jesus coming out to John for a baptism for repentance is recognizing that God knows Jesus doesn’t have to come to repent anything, but that Jesus chooses to come.
He chooses to assume the posture of repentance because it changes his own posture toward the world and toward those around him.
Would it be worth a try for you to do that as well?
Assume a posture of repentance, go down into the waters of Baptism so that you can come back up and see things differently, see those around you differently?
“The beginning of the Good News” Mark says, starts with this scene. John baptizing for repentance out in the wilderness, and Jesus coming to be baptized.
Maybe all we need to do to see the good news as well is to stop our insisting upon our own way and open ourselves up for some repentance, even if we don’t think we need it.
Even if others can’t figure out why we do it.
Just do it.
Do it because there is nothing more Christ like, it seems to me, than choosing to do something simply because it pleases God.
Mark’s Gospel tells us that God gets busy in this world through Jesus after this scene, the heavens open, the Spirit descends, and Jesus moves with new purpose.
Might that be the same for us? No longer insisting on our own way, might we behold the Spirit’s direction and feel it’s power upon us?