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“Resolutions Worth Keeping”

A sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

Mark 1: 4-11

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Did you resolve to lose weight? To get out of debt? To learning something new? Have you kept your resolution so far? What do you do when you fail to keep your resolution? Do you hit the restart button and start again?

I don’t know what time of year it was when John the Baptizer showed up in the wilderness but it sounds like he knows about the drive that pushes us to make New Year’s resolutions. He knows about the desire to improve our lives. Mark says that the John shows up in the wilderness places of our lives proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

“Repentance” and “forgiveness” are about making changes in our lives so that we can experience more life, a better life, a blessed life — life in all its fullness. John has something larger in mind than just losing a few pounds or exercising more. Mark says John’s message is the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”. Before we are through Mark’s gospel, we shall have been caught up in a great adventure. We shall have experienced a life lived with such courage and passion and hope that the whole world is changed and transformed.

When John calls you to repent, he is not scolding you for bad behaviour. He is not talking about your moral failures and telling you to behave better. John calls you to repent, to turn around, because God is on the move in the world. God, the ruler of history, is about to do something new and, if you want to get in on it, you have to get ready.

You repent when you say, “I refuse to settle for merely holding on. I refuse to cling to a past that is familiar and comfortable but is now disappearing. There is no life in that.”

I have heard someone confess that kind of repentance. She did not use that language, but the action was there. She was ninety years old. In the past, when I had visited her, she talked about her church: how she liked the old hymns and the old liturgy and the dressing up for worship. She did not like all the new changes that were being made in other churches. Then, her church died. There were no young people. There were not enough people or money to keep it going. She joined with another congregation. The ushers wore jeans. Music was played on keyboards and rhythm instruments. The minister did not preach three-point sermons. It was not what she was used to. It was not what she liked in a worship service. However, this time, she said, “There are lots of young families. There are lots of activities going on.” She liked the ‘life’ that was present, even though she still missed the old familiar ways. She was glad that there was ‘life’. That’s repentance.

Repentance is saying, “I refuse to frame my life by despair.” Despair is a common response these days. We face huge challenges and there are no easy solutions in sight. Many people believe that the future is bleak. They feel that there is nothing to hope for, nothing to live for. Repentance says, “I refuse to give up expecting that God will do a new thing. I refuse to stop looking for signs that the risen Christ is on the premises, bringing new life where death seems to prevail.”

To repent is to go out to the world wasted by violence and greed and to turn your life consciously and intentionally toward hope. Mark’s gospel says that hope is not a concept or an ideal or some power of positive thinking. Hope is a person: the person of Jesus who shows up unexpectedly in the midst of your ordinary life with the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Whatever God is up to in Jesus, that is our hope.

The Church has now entered the season of Epiphany. Epiphany begins on January 6th, when the Church marks the visit of the magi to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. On the first Sunday of Epiphany, the church marks Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Epiphany begins with God’s voice saying, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” (Mark 1:11, The Message)

The season of Epiphany will end on Transfiguration Sunday when the Church heads up a mountain with Jesus and again hears God say, “This is my Son, my Beloved. With him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5) From that place, Jesus will head to the cross and the culmination of his ministry here on earth. Jesus’ life is framed by God’s word to him: You are my Beloved.  Jesus is beloved at the beginning. He is beloved at the end. Every moment in between is bathed in the love of God.

To repent is to turn, consciously and intentionally, day by day, towards the voice that also call you “My beloved.” It is to keep remembering that that is who you are. You belong to the One who calls you “My beloved child.”

That was the truth that was proclaimed at your baptism. It is the truth that undergirds every moment of your life. It is your most fundamental identity: “Beloved of God”. Nothing in all creation can separate you from that great love.

This is not a love that is tame or comfortable. It is a love that is powerful beyond our imagining. It plunges you into a life shaped by God’s grace. The psalmist tells us that the voice of the God who calls us Beloved shakes the mountains. It makes the desert shake. (Psalm 29)

Karl Barth once said that it is not God’s wrath that you should be afraid of, but God’s love. God’s love will change you. It will change your world. It is God’s love that will set you free from destructive habits that diminish your life. God’s love will lead you into developing the courage and commitment you need to become the kind of person who lives life to its fullest.

God’s love draws you into God’s new creation. God’s love plunges you into the great adventure of trusting radically in the living Christ so that you find your place in God’s salvation work in the world. The world is not without purpose. Our lives are not pointless. You and I can live in hope.

It all begins with soaking in God’s great love for you. It all begins with your receiving the grace of God that Jesus brings. It all begins as you surrender to the mystery of the Holy Spirit blessing your life.

Will you repent? Will you turn from anything that makes you disbelieve that God loves you with a deep, abiding love? Will you turn day by day toward the life-giving embrace of Jesus Christ? Will you receive the Holy Spirit’s work to claim your true identity as God’s beloved child?

Those are resolutions worth keeping.

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