Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

 

  1. Epiphany 3.18 “Change Your Mind” Mark 1:14-20

“And if the answer is ‘no’ can I change your mind?” Sets a different tone, doesn’t it, from Jesus’ “Repent and believe in the Gospel”? The first could be from one of the better b sides of an indie rock band like The Killers, and you can almost hear the angst in the singer’s voice knowing the girl of his dreams is slipping away. The second sounds very properly religious and puritan and is often followed by acts of penance, dull sermons, and very little angst. The first captures our hearts and imaginations more than the second, usually, I would suspect. Especially you Killers fans—a very good festival band I must say. Fun for the whole family.

But would it surprise you to learn that Jesus’ words actually conform more literally to the first sentence than the second?! Well, they do, as a matter of fact. You know I love the King James Bible and the modern recensions of it. If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me, right? Right! But it isn’t a perfect translation. There are slips and mistakes and gaffes. Plenty, actually. And this is one of the more egregious, and sadly more consequential mistakes the King makes because nearly every other English translation has gone on after it in making it. And God is so often in the details…

The Greek word turned into “repentance” is μετανοιετε a nice sounding, simple compound word—two words “meta” meaning “change” and “nous” meaning “mind”. So “change your mind”. Any first year Greek student has got that one. “Change your minds—believe in the Gospel”. That’s what Jesus actually says and how those who speak His language would hear Him. It’s how Martin Luther translated it—well, the German equivalent, actually. Luther was rather adamant this word did not involve lots of contrition, penances, etc. but was simply “change your mind”.

So how did we end up with “repent” and get fitted for this Roman ecclesiastical baggage? (Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip!)? What went wrong here and why has no one fixed this mistake? Well, translators have a lot to repent of here (see what we did there?) I would say. Lots of violence done to the actual words of Jesus and a great opening scene with lots of drama and passion is turned into something very “meh”. The King James translators certainly knew better but they were men under authority—they did not have a free hand. King James fancied himself a theologian and hounded them constantly. James was afraid of changing too much in the way the Bible sounded. To make too big a leap away from the medieval church and her love for guilt and acts of penance and confessional booths was a step too far. James had been raised by Presbyterians and though he liked the Roman stuff better, both traded heavily in old fashioned ecclesiastical guilt, so Luther got shouted down I think. Besides, a Jesus who calls for a “change of mind” instead of repentance is not religious enough(!), not bolstering the church’s control over the lives of her members quite the way early modern monarchs and bishops would wish…

A conspiracy theory? Well, maybe a little bit. But I think we’ve been conspiring from the earliest days to contain the Story of Jesus in boundaries we deem safe and appropriate, lest it get loose and turn the world upside down (the chief complaint against St. Paul!). We wouldn’t want that, now, would we? Well… maybe if we were fed up with the world as we found it, like Athanasius, Luther, Sasse, Lewis, we might. If you feel bad about your behavior, make resolutions, shape it up a bit, you change only yourself, a little bit. If your mind is changed though, everything around changes too! Hearing the Story of how God fits you marvelously into His Kingdom by Christ’s dying and rising, not just you, but the world itself is made new…

Making Jesus a religious leader preaching religion is an excellent way to keep the Story of Jesus within safe boundaries, unlikely to turn our world upside down at all. Keeping Christianity within churchy boundaries with youth groups, praise bands, small group ministries, the odd soup kitchen or social justice movement, neuters it nicely. Letting Jesus be God come in the flesh not to make us repent and behave but to change our minds (and hearts!) to win and woo, to Romance us back to Himself, well that’s a bit racy. We wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

But, I’m afraid that’s exactly what’s going on here if we unleash the language the Lord actually uses on us. After John was put in prison, and Herod and the authorities had sounded their great big loud “No!” to all he’d been saying regarding Jesus, Jesus goes to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, the Gospel, saying “The time is fulfilled. I’m here. And if the answer is “no” can I change your mind?” This is a love story, not a religion story, I’m afraid. Ear muffs for the squeamish from here on, it gets a bit racy. He’s not trying to persuade you to endorse religious propositions. Actually, He’s weaving a spell…

We are the girl that got away, all of us. We are Israel as Hosea pictured her—the unfaithful bride chasing after strange flesh, gone off the rails and broken off the marriage with our first love, Yahweh. Very R-rated story—the one Hosea tells and participates in! Read it sometime. It will shock, usually, most sensibilities. Jane Austen it is not. More Heathcliff and Cathy clawing at the window…

God lets her walk away, the girl of His dreams. Why He was so set on Israel is hard to figure. Like any great Romance, there’s plenty here that defies logic and reason. But He lets her go and wander far away. Egypt, Babylon, Rome. No end to her tawdry affairs. Reason, logic, science, technology. She’s insatiable, Israel is. He’d tried a lot of approaches, God had, including wrestling late at night by the Jabbok, creating a Kingdom for her and a gallant, giant-killing King in David. But it never really took. Israel wandered ever further away…

So He appears in the flesh, in Person, humble and lowly. All the power and glory hidden (well, pretty much). Just His unfailing love for a faithless bride on constant display. Embarrassing for the King of heaven and earth, right (?!) to stoop so low, for her?! Satan has just tempted Him in the wilderness, with power, wealth, health—to give her up. But Jesus shows up (after His friend John is locked up) and says: “The time is up. I’m here. And if the answer is ‘no’ can I change your mind?…”

He does not want to make us feel bad—to make us grovel in confessional booths and fool with rosary beads and stuff like that. He’s not out to make us religious, contrary to popular belief, Jesus is not. He’s out to make us fall in love with Him, again, to follow Him anywhere, everywhere, All The Way to the Palace He’s prepared for us as our new home with Him. And, along the Way, He’ll lay down His life for us, to save us from ourselves…

Kierkegaard gets it when he says: “Christianity is not a set of teachings. It is the Teacher.” Peter, James, John, Andrew, get it. Jesus isn’t after what’s theirs. He’s after them. “And if the answer is ‘no’ can I change your mind?” It’s not what He says. They have no idea what “the Gospel” is! It’s how He says it, Who is saying IT. Will you drop everything to follow Him? Will He be your Light, Life, Compass Star? That’s the question of Christianity. There really is no other. Change your mind on this and everything changes; the world turns upside down, and Peace surpassing understanding guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Services

Wednesdays – Lenten Vespers 7:00 p.m beginning February 21.

2nd Sunday Lent  25 February 2018

8:30  Divine Service w/Communion

11:00  Matins

Sunday School: Age 3 to high school

Adult Bible class with the Pastor

 

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.