"Repent and believe the gospel!"
"The kingdom of God has come near."
"The time has come."
These are your words, Lord Jesus.
The words you spoke as you ventured out into active ministry,
leaving one kind of wilderness for another.
Leaving the wilderness of temptation and triumph,
entering the wilderness
of walking dusty highways and byways,
of wearing your heart on your sleeve so that all could see
who you were
and what you were about.
And as you began that part of your wilderness journey,
that journey that would take you to the garden,
to the high court,
to the hilltop outside the city,
to the cross...
as you began your ministry journey,
you shouted to all who would hear:
the time is now,
the good news is now,
the reign of God is now.
And at the same time,
you also demanded something of those who would hear.
You commanded --
for the verbs are most definitely in the imperative voice --
you commanded two things:
Maybe that's because you knew that those two things
are the very hardest two things that we human creatures could ever be asked to do.
Repent - admit we're wrong,
more than wrong -
admit that we're broken beyond fixing,
that we do and say and think dreadful things about
and about you,
that we follow our addictive desires,
or indulge in our malicious talk,
or greedily hoard
from people who need them,
from you who command and deserve them.
Believe - firmly grasp,
hold onto without equivocation,
allow to infiltrate our every waking thought and action --
believe the good news
believe the gospel,
believe that you are near,
that you love us without measure,
without merit on our part,
Two tough things for us.
In fact, outside of your goodness and grace,
two impossible things for us.
For it is only by the movement of your Holy Spirit within us
that we can do either one of them.
So today, on this first Sunday in Lent,
on this first Sunday of the month,
on this Sunday when we gather around your table, around the table of our Lord,
we humbly seek that grace,
we humbly thank you for that grace,
we humbly ask you to fill us again with
that only you can provide.
Help us to be your repentant people,
truly and deeply sorry for the wrongs that we do,
truly and deeply committed to turning away from those wrongs,
and facing, once again, in the direction of right and truth and life and love.
And help us to be your believing people,
filled with child-like trust in
your abiding commitment to love us, just as we are,
and then to shape us into what we can be....
people who look more and more like Jesus.
In whose name we pray,