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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Repent-ish: A How-To Guide

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Repent: How To Repent

Today's the First Sunday in Lent. 

Lent is the 40 days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday.

Lent is a season of repentance in preparation for Easter. 

Protestants tend to celebrate Lent by repenting from eating chocolate in preparation for the Easter BUNNY.

Nothing wrong with that.

But our popular understanding of how to repent is narrow. It's limited.

In the Bible, even GOD repents. 

Even GOD repents.

God does NOT give up chocolate. 

So, praise the Lord for that.

We start Lent with stories of Jesus being baptized, and then being tempted in the wilderness. 

In the Gospel According to Mark, which we're reading this year, we don't get the details. 

Mark takes Jesus straight from the HIGH of his baptism, immediately down to the LOW of having his baptism tested.

Something that's never made sense to me – and maybe to you, too – is why Jesus, the Son of God, practically perfect in every way, would need to undergo a baptism of repentance. 

He's Jesus, right? 

What sins would he have to repent of? 

And, since he's Jesus, we know he's going to pass the tests when he's tempted in the wilderness.

He's not like us. 

Or MAYBE the Bible's showing us how he IS. 

Like us.

Because isn't that just the way life goes? 

For EVERYBODY, even Jesus. 


VICTORIES to temptations.

As soon as we repent of something, as soon as we swear something off – 

for 40 days or for the rest of our lives – 

the temptation to do it again – 

sticks out its bony fingers to pull us back in.


It's right back in your face. 

You swear off something – drinking, smoking, dancin' – and 10 minutes later, your resolve, your REPENTANCE gets tested. Again and again and again.

It's like that old trick: Someone tells you, "Don't think of a pink elephant."

What are you thinking of?

A pink elephant.

In both our scriptures today, there's a whole lot of repenting going on.

In the first reading, GOD repents.

In the second, JESUS is BAPTIZED into repentance.

These apples don't fall far from the tree. 

We'll get to Jesus's repentance in a second.

But let's start with God.

The First Scripture today is about God's repentance – GOD'S repentance – and oh boy, does that get tested. 

Even Jesus's father God had his resolve tested. 

Not by Satan. 

But by something even more devious: PEOPLE. 

People tested God. 

And God had to do some repenting, too. 

Like Son, like Father. Like all of us. 

And that's how we start the season of Lent. Repent.

When I say, "Noah and the Ark," what pops into your mind?

Did anybody immediately think of the repentance of God? 

Probably not. 

Because you're not preachers. You're normal. 

Your homework, your penitence this week is to go home and read Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. 

It's some wild stuff. 

It starts with Noah.

Noah who is not one, not two, not three, or even four, but 500 years old. 500!

Build a boat? It's a miracle he could get out of bed.

You'll also find that Noah is not the star of this show. 

He doesn't even have any speaking lines. 

He's a supporting character. 

The story is about God. 

God's the one who does all the talking. 

And boy, does God say some scary stuff.

In Genesis 6 it says, 

God saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And God was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Where it says, "God was sorry?" 

No, that's the English Bible being nice. 

It literally says, "And God repented."

And God repented that he had made humankind. 

I have a friend with grown children and grandchildren. 

She says that if she had to do it over again, instead of children she'd have pigs. 

Because with pigs you get to kill them every year and start over. 

She's joking. I think.

In Genesis, it's deadly serious. God says, 

'I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry – I repent – that I have made them.'

God's anger blows up. 

Why? Because people are the worst. 

They're a mistake

God wishes he'd never made them.

God wishes he'd never made the animals people like: those annoying birds, and those yappy dogs, and those insects that make noise all night and keep him awake. 

It's global destruction time. 

That's how mad God is.

God is MAD at everything because of PEOPLE.

Except Noah. God kinda likes Noah. It says,

But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

Doesn't say why. 

But then, Noah's 500 years old. 

How much trouble could he get into?

Noah's only job, really, is to build the boat. 

God does everything else. 

God corrals all the animals. 

God shoves everybody in. 

God raises the plank and locks the door behind them. 

Noah's just the labor.

So. God did something. God repents. Why?

Because God made people. 

And God sees that people are awful. 

People are God's big mistake. 

And of this mistake God, literally, repents.

But wait, there's more. Because making people is only God's FIRST mistake.

Let's pause there, and take a breath. 

This is a really rough story. 

For us, it's all bedtime and stuffed animals. 

We used to take our daughters to a pediatrician whose ceiling borders were Noah and the animals. 

Apparently he had never read Genesis.

Giraffes, and tigers. 

Mice and mooses – what's the plural of moose? Meese? 

It's actually moose. 

And don't get me started with hippos. Hippopotomi. 

Do you know what the name for the phobia for the fear of long words is?


Could you come up with a longer word to scare people afraid of long words?

That's so cruel. 

Ok. Back to the story.

God makes it rain, and rain, and rain. 

You know that part. 

The ark makes landfall and everybody runs down the gangplank. 

Noah finally does something on his own. 

You see, God had packed extra birds, not just two, and Noah takes the extra birds – sorry, birds – and makes a burnt offering. 

God smells the pleasing aroma, and has an aha moment.

God sees what God has done, and God realizes, finally, this was a sub-optimal idea. 

Wiping out all people, all animals, all bugs and birds?

It was overkill. Literally.

And God repents, again. 

But this time, God puts some meat on the repentance. 

And this, THIS is why we got all this story. 

God says, 

says [from] his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,

   seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,

summer and winter, day and night,

   shall not cease.'

God knows people are sinful little snots, but even though, God swears not to do this mass-destruction thing ever again. 

God repents. 

And by repenting, God gives us all a model for resisting temptation, even temptation from Satan, even temptation from the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad people who come into our lives and that sometimes we can turn into.

Back in Genesis chapter 2, God gave Adam and Eve plants to eat. 

Originally, people were vegetarians. 

But now, God says, 

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 

What does that mean? We get BEEF! 

It means the earth that God drowned is now a gift to humanity. 

It's ours. The whole kit and kaboodle.

It's ours to use. 

It's ours to take care of. 

This planet is God's gift to us.

But God also realizes that people need guidance. 

We need rules. 

So God gives us the gift of laws. 

God says, 

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human,

   by a human shall that person's blood be shed;

This is the first law God gives humanity. And it's a gift.

It's the basis for all the others. 

It's the proto- legal system that governed the Israelites and extends to us. 

It's the  Bible's  genesis of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 

In other words, Be kind. 

But if you can't be kind, be fair. 

Don't let your wickedness get out of hand – like before the flood.

AND THEN God goes even further. 

God makes a one-sided covenant. 

Remember, Noah still hasn't said a word. 

God does all the talking, and God says, 

'As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.' 

And then so God doesn't forget – So GOD doesn't forget – God makes a sacrifice

GOD makes a sacrifice. And this is HUGE.

God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Rainbows. How pretty.

You see, back then, the BOW – the BOW and ARROW wasn't sweet and pretty. 

The BOW (and arrow) were THE high-powered weapon of war. 

God's bow, the rainbow is the height of weaponry. 

The rainbow isn't just the refraction of the sun's light by water droplets in the atmosphere. 

It's not how unicorns and Thor get around. 

The rainbow is the symbol of God's hanging up the weapons of aggression against people. 

God hangs it up and it serves as a reminder, a reminder to us, yes, of God's love, but MORE – the Bible says – a reminder to GOD of God's repentance. 

God will see it, and God will remember. 

Even if God is tempted to try something catastrophic again.

So, in summary – God shows us all how to resist temptation, how to NOT repeat the same mistakes. 

God shows us how to repent. 

God is fixin' to turn waters of destruction into waters of baptism.

Meanwhile, God gives himself the rainbow reminder to never, ever let his temper explode again.

This is GOD'S repentance. 

AND this is God's covenant

Does Noah accept God's apology? 

Does he agree to the covenant?

It doesn't say. 

Remember, Noah doesn't talk in this story. 

But even if he didn't accept, doesn't matter. 

God's going to keep God's side of the promise.

So. What does that have to do with Jesus resisting temptation? 

And what does that have to do with us?

In the New Testament passage, 

It says: 

And just as he [Jesus] was coming up out of the water[s of baptism], he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 

Water – the element that WAS the sign of chaos and WAS the means of destruction – 

water NOW becomes JESUS'S sign of repentance. 

God's Son is baptized into LIFE 

by the same water that God once used for DEATH. 

Water is transformed. 

What the Father used against us, the Son now uses for us.

Jesus is baptized into repentance, and then, immediately, the Temptations take the stage.

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. 

For 40 days, the same length of time as the flood, for 40 days and nights, Jesus is separated from his family, separated from his friends, separated even from God. 

As if he's all alone in a tiny boat on a vast ocean. 

Despite whatever temptations came Jesus's way, 

the covenant of God's love and God's provision, 

the presence of angels and God's spirit, 

sustained him, 

and saw him though.

It says, 

And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." 

And that declaration stuck with him, even in the darkest of valleys, even in the hardest of times, even when Satan himself was grabbing him by the collar.

God's love sticks.

It doesn't come off.

Not for Jesus.

Not for you, and not for me.

God's love is ALWAYS, ALWAYS a one-sided covenant, that God will never, ever break.

You and I have our own temptations. 

Don't think about them.

What are you thinking about?

Yeah, just like the elephant.

We're tempted to cause hurt. 

We're tempted to stray from God. 

We're tempted to give in to the devils that haunt us.

We're tempted to turn back when the going gets tough.

You and I have the choice to repent. 

Exactly the same as God. 

Exactly the same as Jesus.

WE can follow God's example of realizing what we've done.

WE can follow God's example of making amends to people we've harmed,

God's example of making agreements, and setting boundaries 

so we don't make the same mistakes again. 

We can choose to live a life of repentance.

We can choose a LIFESTYLE of repentance, and not just during these very short 40 days of Lent.

And even though some days we may feel like we're 500 years old, we're like Noah, in a better way.

Like Noah, we can choose to accept the repentance of people who've caused us harm. 

We can CHOOSE to accept the repentance of God.

We can CHOOSE to live in gratitude for the gift of this earth, this life, even the stinky people who make us mad.

Or not. 

We assume Noah accepted God's apology. 

But the Bible doesn't say. 

That one's left for us to decide. 

To live in a new covenant, God's daily new covenant

or not.