Lent 1   Mark 1.9-15

The Gospel of Mark wastes no time in fleshing out the period surrounding the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In six short verses we move from the baptism in the Jordan to the message of the Spirit to the arrest of John and Jesus’ inauguration of his ministry in Galilee. There is an urgency about the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is “driven” into the wilderness and after his temptation (about which we hear nothing other than the angels waiting on him) we are moved immediately to the proclamation that is at the core of Mark.
“The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
A sense of urgency toward repentance and the desire to repent are not usually married together, but in the proclamation of Jesus, they walk hand in hand. I wonder at whether or not you and I have any sense of urgency about our proclamation...or even urgency to call folks to repentance.

When I think of an urgent call to repent, I immediately think of earnest street preachers who are convinced that their shouting and bombarding passers-by will induce people to repent. I don’t think it is an effective method of evangelism, let alone calling people to repent of their sins. If modernity/post-modernity has taught us anything, it has taught us to believe that, while we do not have sins to repent of ourselves (being basically “good people”), we do know how to lament other people’s sins.

So let us consider how urgently we need to stop worrying about other people’s sins and have a good, long, hard look at our own. Perhaps the contemplation of them will give us the sense of urgency we need. It may even be that the message of the gospel will wake us up and make us recognize that God is doing something inside each one of us. If God is going to show up like an unexpected guest in each of our lives...maybe we could muster the same urgency we have when we have a fifteen minute warning of a guest coming by the house. Let the frantic tidying begin!

Along with this urgency to repent, I think we may need some urgency to believe the good news. If the image of an unexpected guest and the frantic tidying of the house is a start for you for repentance, perhaps the urgency of awaiting the beloved guest, one who has been missing for a while or is greatly loved will work too. We wait by the door, craning our necks and waiting for the good news of their arrival... and we believe that their coming will bring joy.

That would seem a wholesome diet to consume...urgency to believe that God is acting in the world for our good and that we have only to receive the free gift that is on offer.  Accepting that free gift requires that we repent to receive that gift. Urgency works for both the hard work of repentance and the easier work of believing in the joy to come.

Yours faithfully,

Bishop William G. Cliff
XIII Bishop of Ontario