Sunday, August 10, 2008

going back to the jordan

The Jesus life is about “starting over.” It requires “going back.” It’s about a new beginning. To follow Jesus, we need to go back to the Jordan River, not just once, but every day of our lives. After all, the Jordan River is where the prophet John chose to baptize people in preparation for Jesus’ arrival. If you know anything at all about prophets, they’re somewhat of a “wildcard.” They enact things symbolically to communicate truth. For example, Hosea married a prostitute. Isaiah walked around naked for three years. Jeremiah buried his underwear (and to this day no one knows why). John the Baptist, standing firm in Israel’s prophetic tradition, also lives and moves and has his being in the realm of symbol. John baptizes people on the far side of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is an amazing symbol in Israel’s national life. The Jordan River is where Israel initially crossed to enter the Promised Land. After forty years of wilderness wandering, the Jordan River was the final obstacle between Israel and God’s promises. And so as John prepares for the Messiah’s arrival, and for the new Israel that the Messiah will form, John seems to be saying, “go back to the Jordan. Begin again.” In a weird way, in a prophetic way, John is asking people to reenact the drama of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. What is John saying? Start Over. Life can begin all over again. And the word John gives this “starting over” process is repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). In other words, “a new reality is on its way. It’s time to start over. Life can begin all over again.”

But first John tells the people to confess their sins. In essence, John is asking them to do something difficult. John is asking people to be honest about their lives. It’s easy to blame others. It’s easy to blame God. But it’s hard to tell God the truth about ourselves. It’s hard to tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way (Mr. Walker). After all, God already knows. There’s nothing we can tell God that He doesn’t already know. On the contrary, when we confess, we accept responsibility for who we are, and for what we’ve done. And when we do that, when we take our place at the Jordan River, we find that the waters are full of forgiveness and life and power. We find that God’s river washes us and prepares us to start over again. This is what repentance is all about.

I’ve come to realize that the command to “repent” makes people feel a little creepy. And I think that’s because we don’t really understand the word. Perhaps we think repentance means groveling back to an angry God (what happened to God as Abba). Or maybe we associate repentance with De Niro’s character in The Mission. But the Greek word for repentance is “metanoeo,” which literally means to “turn or to change one’s purpose.” This is where we get our English word metamorphosis. In essence, the Christian life is about this turning, this changing of our purpose, this metamorphosis. And we don’t repent once, but daily. Because the change God works within us is always gradual. In other words, we’re never merely “born again.” I think God wants a little bit more from us. Repentance is about being “born again, and again, and again, and again …” You get the idea.

FOR TODAY: Go back to the Jordan River. This means something a little bit different for each of us. But face a painful truth about yourself and confess it to God. And in doing so, acknowledge the joy that your courageous act of truth-telling brings to God, for it enables a deeper intimacy between the two of you. And allow God’s joy to make you more joyful. And if we do that, we can’t help but “change our purpose.” And this is what repentance is all about – going back to the Jordan.

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