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Bigger Minds, Bigger Hearts

The Second Sunday of Advent ; Year A
December 4, 2016
Matthew 3:1-12
The Rev. Robin Razzino
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am not someone who gambles. I mean I played the lottery last year when it was like half a billion dollars (think of all the good we could do with that) but it still felt kind of dirty. So I’m not a betting woman. However (!), I would bet – let’s say four Christmas trees – that none of you came to church today to hear some hairy locust eater calling you a brood of vipers.
We have a lot going on in our lives, we are very busy, we are doing very good things, we are raising good kids, coming to church, addressing the needs of the community. We don’t come here to be dressed down by a man in camel hair.
And yet….and yet.
What if we actually need to hear the message coming from this one crying out in the wilderness? What if the call for repentance was actually an invitation – not to throw on sack cloth and beat ourselves up, but to reorient ourselves to accept the abundant lift offered to us by God?
Furthermore, what if – when we examine our lives – we come to the conclusion that we are feeling more like we are wandering in a wilderness than settling into our desired future – in our jobs, relationships…our lives of faith? If that is the case, maybe we might actually have an ear for what a man from the wilderness has to say to us.
Hey, here’s a guy who understands.
Here’s a guy who gets it.
John was preaching repentance and offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And people were coming in droves. Everyone was coming to listen and experience what he offered. These were not people who were running around pleased as pie with life and their lot in it – these were people – like you and me – who were broken – who were - at times - tired, cranky, petty, faithless, mean, hungry, lonely, sad, confused.
If all John offered were threats and ridicule, then I cannot imagine a very positive word would spread about him. But if we can cut through the coarseness of his appearance and his greeting, I think we can understand why he was so popular…why the call for repentance was like water for those wandering through dry land, dry times, dry courage.
Repentance is not saying you’re sorry a million times, asking for forgiveness and then going ahead and doing the same thing over and over again.
It isn’t the posture of a misbehaving child towards a stern parent. It is the posture taken by the beloved towards her lover. And it is a posture poised to act.
In a recent article, professor David Lose reminds us that “the heart of the word repentance means turning around, starting over, taking another direction, choosing another course.
[Yes] All of those actions by their nature call into question the value or rightness of one’s current behavior, but the emphasis is less on what is wrong with what we’re doing now and what is right and important and necessary about what we will do differently (David Lose, In the meantime).”
How do we need to reorient ourselves to align ourselves more fully with God’s desire for us – for love, peace, healing, and wholeness?
John calls out to us: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” The Greek word, from where we get our translation “repent” is “metanoia.”
As Father Ron Rolheiser clarifies, “The word, metanoia, comes from two Greek words: Meta, meaning above; and Nous, meaning mind. Metanoia invites us to move above our normal instincts, into a bigger mind, into a mind which rises above the proclivity for self-interest and self-protection. Metanoia invites us to meet all situations, however unfair they may seem, with understanding and an empathic heart.
Moreover, metanoia stands in contrast to paranoia.”
Rolheiser then goes on to describe a book by Henri Nouwen entitled With Open Hands.
In this book, Rolheiser states, Nouwen describes wonderfully the difference between metanoia and paranoia. He suggests that there are two fundamental postures with which we can go through life. We can, he says, go through life in the posture of paranoia. The posture of paranoia is symbolized by a closed fist, by a protective stance, by habitual suspicion and distrust. Paranoia has us feeling that we forever need to protect ourselves from unfairness, that others will hurt us if we show any vulnerability, and that we need to assert our strength and talents to impress others.”
How many of us our caught in the grip of Paranoia?
I look at myself and the people all around me and I see so much paranoia in our world – people grasping for assurances of safety and protection, people insulating themselves against anything which might harm them, people isolating themselves from one another; I see so much distrust, so much fear, so much ignorance, so much unkindness and so much false bravado.
When we come to church, however, we are invited to see something altogether different. We are invited to BE something altogether different. We are invited to follow a God that is altogether different from the world and the concerns of the paranoid and greedy.
Look above the altar.
“The posture of metanoia,” Rolheiser continues, “is seen in Jesus on the cross. There, on the cross, we see him exposed and vulnerable, his arms spread in a gesture of embrace, and his hands open…. That’s the antithesis of paranoia.” “Jesus, in his message and his person, invites us to metanoia, to move towards and stay within our big minds and big hearts.”
I read all that earlier this week and was undone. How beautiful it is to think of repentance as being guided by our bigger mind, our bigger heart!
How much further could we journey toward God and God’s desire for us if we better aligned ourselves with the model of Jesus’ vulnerability – the one who came in great humility?
There is so much in this reflection that I needed to hear. And it opened up the Gospel for me in new ways.
During this season of advent we are being asked to examine ourselves, our lives, our faith, our waywardness, our brokenness. Not because we fear God’s judgement and wrath but because we welcome God’s judgement – his help in reorienting ourselves to live from our bigger minds, our bigger hearts – broken open as they are.
In the Gospel reading this morning, John proclaims that there is another who is coming after him more powerful than he. This person - who we know as Jesus the Christ - is indeed the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah. He came to dwell with humans and to draw the world back into God’s love and desire for us. But even since his birth, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection 2000 years ago, we as followers of Christ, as children of God, continue to go astray from God’s love and desire for us.
And though we believe God is always working in us – to do more than we can ask or imagine as Scripture says – we are being reminded this morning that we have work to do as well: We are being reminded - called - to orient ourselves towards God through acts of repentance.
And we are being reminded that this posture of repentance - is of the beloved open to the lover’s direction and care.
The good news today - this Second Sunday of Advent - is that as the kingdom of heaven draws near – and we take the time and space to think and pray about how that is happening in our lives right now – we have an answer to the paranoia that grips our world, our nation, and our worst fears.
This answer lies in repentance and meeting each day with a bigger mind and a bigger heart.
Thanks be to God - and John - for this invitation to repent.