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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, I Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

I’m a tourist—and photographer. There are many other dimensions to my personality, but I enjoy observing the wonders of God’s creation and the variety of expressions and circumstances found in the interactions of the human species (and other species as well). Highways through scenic areas often offer viewpoints. Some are high on the edge of a cliff. Others are close-up to a rushing stream. Some are beside a quiet bird-filled lake. One may find himself or herself craning the neck to look almost straight up. Watching, and photographing, people is sometimes done while sitting on a bench in a busy square. There may be a wedding that one stumbles upon in a public rose garden. From some tower, the people below may look like ants.

How one sees the world, its people and creations, is deeply affected by one’s point of view. Viewpoint and point of view. Although the two are synonymous, the first tends to be more associated with physical location, while the second is often used to speak of one’s philosophical or spiritual or political perspective.

Faith is, among other things, about point of view, the way we look at and experience and live in the world. Some are uncomfortable with the phrase “born again.” Biblically the phrase has to do with being born into a new way of looking at things—being born “from above.” The call of charismatic religious pioneers, like Jesus among others, has been to see life in a new way, from a new perspective. It has been spoken of as being in, but not of, the world.

This week’s Gospel lesson, from Mark, continues with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he is calling disciples. As a fisherman, I’ve always been intrigued with the image of fishing for people. (Mark 1:17) Even if I stop thinking of the hook in the mouth and think about casting nets, I’m not sure that “catching” is the best way to get people to hear God’s good news.

There is something to be commended about the passion of a fisherperson and his or her effort to learn about the habitat and habits of the fish. This week, though, the focus I see in this passage is the radical, earth-shaking, perspective-changing message Jesus calls these disciples to carry into the world. “Jesus came to Galilee,” it says, “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (Mark 1:14-15)

The people had been waiting for a new day when justice and peace and love were realized in their midst. Now Jesus comes saying, “It’s near, very near.” In some cases, it sounds as if he is even saying that it has already come.

But how can that be? We’re still looking for justice and peace and love. The message of God’s good news calls us to look again, from a different point of view. What if we looked at the world and saw what it could/can be? That’s what God does. It’s not pie in the sky. We can begin now to live into the possibilities God has put before us. In the context of this passage, I believe that’s what it means to “repent.” It means to believe in those unprecedented, breathtaking, possibilities that seem unachieveable. The call to be a fisherperson is a call to live as if those possibilities were true, to make them true in our own lives.

It’s not so much a viewpoint that calls us to pull off to the side of the road and watch in wonder. It’s a call to see the wonder in every nook and cranny as we walk in the midst of all that is happening around us. Do I catch a glimpse of peace over there? Can I offer of crumb of justice?

The daily reading Margie and I did last night, reflecting on Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples, asked whose feet we could be washing. Jesus’ act of washing turned the pomp and ceremony of the powerful on its head. If more leaders—and we—were humble enough to figuratively wash feet, a new point of view might begin to develop.

The other readings also contain the possibility of seeing the world from a new point of view.

In Jonah, we have the startling declaration that even “God changed his mind.” (Jonah 3:10) Jonah is sent to Nineveh, viewed by many as a seat of wickedness. He is to call them to repentance. (vss. 2-4) Jonah’s point of view, like that of some in our day, was that these people deserved to be punished. They had made a mess of things and probably would never change. He bought into the prevailing point of view. Behold, the people surprised him—even apparently surprised God. God must have seen some possibility to have sent Jonah there in the first place. At least he was ready to see the change in these people when it occurred, which is more than we can say for Jonah. If we went on with the story, we would find that he was really upset with God. Jonah still wasn’t ready to change his point of view. He didn’t really want these people to repent, because then he might have to forgive them. He might find that he would like them, maybe even love them. A whole new world might be born if he saw Nineveh from a new point of view.

The Psalm suggests that many of the things people pursue in life “are a delusion.” (Psalm 62:9) “Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (vs. 10) What we value in life, where we expect to find reward and fulfillment, depends on our point of view. The Psalm is a call to see that our “deliverance and . . . honor” are found when we begin with trust in God. (vss. 7-8)

Some approaches to religion might run with this and declare that all life is illusion. They might see religion as separating themselves from the “dirtiness” of life by building walls or pretending it doesn’t exist. The short reading from I Corinthians seems almost to have that tone. They lived in expectation that the time when all would be fulfilled was at hand. “ . . . the appointed time has grown short,” Paul writes. (I Corinthians 7:29) All the usual relationships are “passing away.” (vs. 31) “ . . . let even those who have wives be as though they had none.” (vs. 30) Now there’s a license for a husband who wants to go on a spree of philandering! We don’t need to mourn or rejoice any more, or buy things and have possessions. (vs. 30) “ . . . those who deal with world” should behave “as though they had no dealings with it.” (vs. 31)

These verses would have to be laid against other New Testament readings where the instruction is to continue to be engaged in the world, to keep on working. For now, though, I’m willing to take them not so much as a call to “separation” but as a call to a new point of view. God’s call, in all times, is to see that life is about more than the daily fretting and fuming and accumulating. That is a world that needs to pass away. The message of the reign of God is about the possibility of another world, and Jesus said, “ . . . the kingdom of God has come near.”

Do we see it? Are we ready to live it?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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