40 Ways 40 Days #1: Repent and Follow

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Welcome.  And so we kick off #40ways40days with a call to repentance; Jesus first command in Matthew’s story…

Matthew 4:12-22 NRSV

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,

   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness

   have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

   light has dawned.’

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

“REPENT!”  It sounds pretty old school, preacher-man, fire and brimstone style religious to many modern ears. It’s hardly on the top list of best sellers in the spirituality section of the bookstores today, but I like it!

Far from being foreign to my ears, in these tumultuous times, ‘Repent’ invokes for me a variety of contemporary change and transformation language that I feel I hear everyday from leaders of quite diverse sectors and ideological persuasions.

“Stop the boats, your coming the wrong way.”

“Everything you know is wrong!”

“You’re an addict with a problem and this is an intervention!”

 “You’re way of life; your balance sheet; your industry; your economy is unsustainable and requires a structural adjustment.”

 “Global Warning, Stop the Warming!… No Economy on a Dead Planet!”

It’s confrontational and I don’t necessarily agree with them all but they are there!  This is not ‘touchy feely‘ spirituality.  Like Joseph receiving surprise news of his fiance’s pregnancy in Chapter 1, in Matthew’s story the journey of following Jesus’ way starts with a disconcerting and uncomfortable, ‘wake up’ jolt!

In marketing or activist terms its also a ‘call to action’.  Jesus command of repentance is presented as tied up with his agenda of a new kingdom, a new authority and way of life which was thoroughly political in his day and age.

Matthew has Jesus as the ‘returned from exile’ refugee child (having fled Herod’s massacre in Chapter 2). His repentance is proclaimed in response to the threat and arrest of John the Baptist  (4:12,who as we will see in Chapter 14 is also executed by the King).  Against this violent and charged backdrop we have Jesus, taking up the baton and poor fisher folk radically leaving their nets to be part of a movement for personal, social and spiritual change.

My prayers of repentance today include the people Ukraine and other places around the world today where ‘business as usual’ can no longer continue and people have no choice but, like the fisherman who follow, or the addict in crisis or the worker made redundant, must make costly vocational choices to see change.

Today, the first day of Lent, is known in the Church calander as Ash Wednesday and the image that is seered into my mind is also that of the fire and ash and smoke coming from the Hazelwood Coal mine fire in the industrial town of Morwell in my state of Victoria.  You can see some powerful pictures from The Age website here.

I’ve had a personal interest in climate change, post carbon and peak-oil economics through my local involvement with the Melbourne Inner North West Transition Town Initiative so for me it’s a powerful image of the limitations and problems of our current kingdom/economy and its dependence on cheap and dirty power.  What better Ash Wednesday image for the need for repentant change than a coal mine on fire, spewing unhealthy smoke and ash and relocating a poor town on the margins of our urban economy where some of the poorest folk in our community are forced to literally interrupt their business as usual, leave their ‘nets’ and find another way.

It’s conflict ridden and obviously we are well into the political blame game, buck passing and general ‘what’s to be done’ misery of this depressing and difficult situation.  For me personally its a chance to reflect and confess my own complicity with the problem. How does my day to day ‘fishing’, my lifestyle, passions and energy usage, both physical and spiritual remain unsustainable and in need of repentance?

As an action tonight I will be attending an Ashing Service at South Yarra Baptist Community and we will have ash to mark people’s foreheads or hands at today’s Flemington People’s Pantry Food Rescue and Redistribution Project at Newmarket Baptist Church as a symbol of the desire to repent.  Moreland Baptist will also have ashes at their prayer time this afternoon at 2.30pm.

How is following Jesus invitation for an alternative kingdom/economy of grace an option and a reality for us this Lent?  What are the ways in which this choice may be the best or even only option/reality for you? What is the ‘wake up’ ‘Repent and Follow’ jolt for your spirituality this Lent?

Much Grace and Peace,

Marcus Curnow.

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