Friday, January 24, 2014

Listen, Notice, Discover, Change

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near." - Matthew 4:16-17

You never know what you're going to find when you start looking at things from a whole new perspective. A walk in the woods, along a path you have always taken, doesn't change all that much. You walk past the same trees, the same plants, the same abandoned tractor, the same squirrels even seem to be jumping from oak to birch to maple. Sure the seasons change, but its the same drill for the most part.

Do something different though, and you'll be surprised. Come at your woods from a different angle, and a whole new world appears.

A month before I moved to Rockton there was a cute article in the Tribune about a couple who build a pirate ship outside their Rockton home for their wedding. Yes, they got married on life-size pirate ship that they built in their yard and they've kept that pirate ship, even after their wedding. It's been getting quite a bit of attention, enough to attract the Chicago paper, local TV stations, and Good Morning America.

Well, for the first three months I lived in Rockton, I never came across that ship. Now, Rockton is not a really big place so figured I would come across it eventually.  But I never did... until one day recently. You see, I've been on all the main roads going to and coming from Rockton. Highway 2, Hononegah Road, Rockton Road. I've even taken a few other roads like Highway 75,  Rockton Ave., and Old River Road. Whenever I've taken Old River Road it was after dropping my kids off for school to then come down to Rockford... Going south. But then, one day recently, I needed to go to Stephen Mack Middle School from Rockford so I took Old River Road north...

And wouldn't you know. As I drove on that road into a big clearing, with lots of open, frozen farmland, and crossed Roscoe Road going north.  There it was... the jolly roger flying high and waving in the brisk wind above a big old pirate ship behind a farmhouse on Old River Road.  I had driven by that house a least a dozen times going south.  But it wasn't until I did a "180", and drove north instead south, was I able to discover the pirate ship that brought eyes of the country to Rockton just weeks before our move this summer.

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light."

In Matthew's Gospel the first message that Jesus had for the world, as he began his ministry, was very simple: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus was ahead of his time. The constraints of just 140 characters for a Twitter post would not have crimped his style one bit. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  It fits perfectly in a tweet. What a message.

But does it mean? "Repent" just on its own means a whole more to it than you think. Sure it can mean "stop doing bad things." Yeah, it can mean I'm sorry for what I've done and I'm not going to do it again. But that's the beginning. Literally, to "repent" is to turn around. To change. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (as he claims to be in John's Gospel) then to repent is go another way... the opposite way... to do a "180." To turn around and to repent means that a new life lies ahead, because you're going in a whole new direction. To turn around and to repent means discovering that truth is a whole lot bigger than you ever imagined.  

That's a lot for one word: Repent.

It's gotta be a lot because the Kingdom of heaven means a lot. Sure it can mean the heaven of our future. Our eternal home with God. But that's just the beginning. the Kingdom of heaven which has come near has always been near. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But our knowledge of that Kingdom and our participation in what God is doing with the Kingdom of heaven has never been closer... because we now have Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, to show us the way. Jesus is our guide who opens our eyes to what God is doing. Jesus is our light who reveals the Kingdom to us, pulling us out of the darkness.

Isaiah wrote that "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light." No wonder Matthew quotes that for us. Our light has come and we can live as Kingdom people right now.

But how do we?

It means more than going to church. It means more than being nice. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near means more than wearing the right clothes and watching the right shows. Remember, "repent" is an enormous word. Its an upside-down, flip around, twisting 180 and seeing the truth for real... kinda word.

The difference between living as Kingdom people in the light and living in darkness without hope can be a simple as driving south down Old River Road, or driving north up Old River Road. The same road, the same places, but from the one direction you only see barren frozen tundra and in the other you see a cool pirate ship where no pirate ship should ever be.

It's time to change perspective. Take a different road. Look in a different direction. Go into that woods you walk through every week and sit down, lay flat on your back and look straight up. Discover branches and leaves and sky and clouds and birds you never had noticed before... at least in that way.

Look at the ceiling right now. Look straight up! Describe the angles in the architecture and the the play of light and shadow in the corners you never noticed.

Stand for what you believe in and be firm in your principles, but today, do something different. Listen first before you share.  Listen to a person you have never listened to before. If you have a home, converse with someone who does not. If you are a senior, talk about the economy with a teen. If you are woman, discuss 21st century marriages with a man. If you are American, talk with a Norwegian about the Olympics. If you are Christian, listen to a Muslim describe Allah's love.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus called fishermen to become disciples. He wanted them to follow him. If they were going to follow him they were going to have to repent. No... not confess their sin. Repent. They would have to do a  "180" and turn around.  If they were going to follow Jesus they would have live a new way. Yes they would be fishermen, but now without any nets. Yes, they would be fishermen, but they would not catch trout or perch or walleye. They would now catch men and women.  They will live as Kingdom people.

If they had held on to their nets, they would have missed it: the Kingdom.

If they had continued catching fish, they would have had food, but they would still have hungered for truth.

Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  Don't miss this Kingdom of heaven which has come near. Do a "180." Throw down your nets and listen, notice, discover, and change.

The truth is waiting for you. Led by the Spirit, open your hearts and live today as Kingdom people.