Monday, 23 January 2017

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

Isaiah 9: 1-4 (page 573 in our pew Bibles) "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". So familiar at Christmastime, it gets another airing this week because it is quoted in the gospel reading. It refers to the parts of Israel overrun by the Assyrians in 734BC which became the "land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations" but then introduces the notion of "Holy war" by referring to "the day of Midian" referring to Gideon's military victory over the Midianites (Judges 7:15-23) with just 300 men, so was only achieved with God's help against impossible odds. 
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18 (page 952 in our pew Bibles). A reminder that what unifies us is the cross of Christ, a fact that is central and supersedes all other things and personalities and internal movements and denominations within Christianity. 
Matthew 4:12-23 (page 809 in our pew Bibles). It is clear from this passage and from Mark's gospel that the content of Jesus' preaching was "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand". Our call to repentance, of turning our lives around and aligning them with God's rule, is akin to Paul saying "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind"(Romans 12:2). This command of Jesus is still central to our call.

If you had gone to hear a sermon preached by Jesus, what would you have heard? The central message upon which everything else was based, like the sermon on the mount is made pretty clear in the Bible and is repeated in our gospel reading this morning in verse 17.
From that time Jesus began to preach saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
That is what you would have heard primarily. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
The word translated “Repent” in our Bible is actually a very interesting word in Greek with layers of meaning.but it primarily means “change”, change your mind and change your ways. An actual literal translation is “Go beyond your mind”.
So you meet Jesus and what would he tell you….he’d tell you to change. But why should you?
Well he tells you that as well. He tells to “change” because the “kingdom of heaven” is at hand. The content of Jesus ‘ preaching was “the kingdom of heaven” or as the other gospel writers call it, “the kingdom of God”. The two phrases are interchangeable. Matthew talks about heaven rather than God because his is the most Jewish of the gospels and his audience were mostly Jews and culturally they didn’t like to use the name of God too freely because the name was considered too holy.
So your meeting with Jesus would be a bit confrontational because that’s how Jesus is. He’s tell you to change because the kingdom, which he, Jesus, was inaugurating is in your midst or “at hand”. So a Christian faith that invites you to have no growth or change at any level is not Christianity, it is something else.
So if you were to meet Jesus or been in the crowd listening, he would be issuing you with a challenge. To change your beliefs to change your perspectives, to change the way you relate to God, your neighbour and the world.
Now as the famous joke has it. “How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?” and the answer is “Change, what’s that” is symptomatic of our general attitude to change.
It is tempting to think that if you had met Jesus in his physical ministry that you would have been drawn to him, but that wasn’t the response of most people. They took what they wanted, which may have having their appetites satisfied with loaves and fishes on a hillside, or Uncle Timaeus had had his sight restored (Thank you very much) and then forgot about him and didn’t respond and didn’t change.
Most people in Jesus’ time let’s not forget were not drawn to that message. Some were, including a central tiny core of just twelve people, but most were repelled.
Most people wanted Jesus’ death and were baying for his blood come Good Friday.
That central challenge , the gauntlet that is thrown down to us, is the same today as it was then and shall be tomorrow.
Change your mind, your perceptions and your actions, change your way of life, because because God wants you to. “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
And this is before the full revelation of the depth of God’s love and sacrifice were revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross!
In the light of that earth shattering event – the cross - that  Paul says is the biggest motor for change and the thing that is absolutely central to the Christian revelation for aiding this change of heart that the church has. Paul says, make the cross central to your mission. That goes before everything else, and transcends all other divisions in the church, whether denominations or personalities.
But what if after all that, you are left thinking. Yes, I do want to follow Jesus more and more and change my mind and my life, but I just can’t do it alone – I am too weak and I haven’t got the will power.
Just remember that you are not alone. If you decide to move closer to God he will provide the help and support you need.
Isaiah uses the image of a famous battle in the Old Testament which he calls the “day of Midian” when a tiny force of 300 commanded by Gideon prevailed against a much bigger army. Gideon could do so only because he had the support and help of God.
And we have the help of God’s Spirit whenever we decide to take more tentative steps toward God. As we take those few faltering steps closer, God joyfully runs towards us to give a helping hand. God will also provide that helping hand through other people – especially from within the church
Our moment of Epiphany this morning is the realisation that God wants us to change, but also that provides us with the help we need to make that change.
Jesus says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”


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