Rev. George Miller
Feb 28, 2021
So Wednesday was my birthday, and I had the most unexpected experience- I woke up feeling…younger.
Not like a naïve or midlife-crisis younger, but more like “I got this and I’m where I want to be” younger.
For me, that’s an unusual experience. So much of life has been about running away from reality, not accepting reality, wishing for a different reality, and feeling a rootless reality.
But Wednesday, it was a “I know who I am and I’m going to wear purple and a red hat if I want to” kind of reality.
What a great feeling. Had no idea turning 51 can be so liberating.
Then, a random thought popped into my head. I thought of my 20-something self, trying so hard to live right, living in a simple studio, going to the clubs all the time, hanging out with drag queens, actors, opera singers…
…and I said, out loud, “Go on, George. Enjoy yourself. Have fun. That’s what your 20’s are for.”
It was so healing, because by saying that I came a step closer to accepting who I am, all I’ve done, and further releasing all those shoulda-coulda-woulda regrets that bog us down.
By speaking to my younger self, I felt my current self…refreshed.
It was an opportunity to realize my20-something self was simply, truthfully doing the best he could with what he knew, and the skill sets he had.
Can anyone else here relate? Can you look back at your teens, 20s, 30s, even your 40s and say “Bless my heart, I had no idea what I was doing back then?”
What if that’s the main point of today’s scripture?
Today’s reading tends to give heartburn to many progressive preachers because Jesus comes across a bit cold and callous.
Us “We Are the World” type of pastors aren’t comfortable around words like “repent” and “perish”.
That’s because we don’t really understand what repent and perish mean. We have sadly been shaped by the church of the middle-ages which used the concepts of sin, hell, and satan in ways that were not necessarily true to what Jesus may have meant.
Today we have mega-church entertainment centers that use repent as a means of fearmongering to create an us vs. them mentality that puts butts in the seats and cash in the plate.
What if, when Jesus talked about repent and perish, he meant it more akin to “You can always grow and change to experience a better quality of life”?
What if today’s scripture is not about avoiding hell, but embracing the ways of Heaven in the here and now?
1st let’s do some seminary-level work.
Although the word “sin” is not said here, it is hard for our modern ears not to subconsciously apply the “S” word to this story.
But what is sin? What was the concept of sin back in Jesus’ day?
“Sin” is actually a sport term. Sin was used in archery to refer to being “off the mark” and missing the bullseye.
In Golf Hammock terms, sin means not to get a hole-in-one. That’s it.
In Katy Perry-Super Bowl 49 terms, sin is just a way of saying “Left Shark.”
Sin is a mistake. As theologian Thomas Moore states, sin is a “tragic mistake”.
We all make tragic mistakes, don’t we?
We forget to fully close the fridge, we accidently turn left into traffic, we say something we mean as a compliment, but it’s taken as a criticism.
The issue is not that we have these tragic mistakes, but when we do them over and over again, never learning, choosing to never learn, or simply not caring about our consequences.
That’s where “perish” comes in.
Our modern ears hear “perish” and we think “hell.” But most likely Jesus was being poetic and over-the-top dramatic (if you can imagine).
In Jesus’ day, life was all about relationships- being a part of, belonging, being “inside.”
No one is Jesus’ day wanted to be an outcast, no one wanted to be uninvited to the BBQ, no one wanted to be on the outside, looking in.
It was all about living together, dining together, worshipping together.
To be excluded, unwelcomed…that, that was perishing.
What Jesus is most likely saying is that life happens- buildings fall, corrupt leaders exist.
But much worse than that is when we get in our own way and our actions cause us to be excluded from being part of something bigger than ourselves.
To put this in happy, progressive words- Jesus is saying “Life is a gift, so do what you can to embrace it.”
How do we embrace God’s gift of life?
To repent means to turn back, to be open to change. To grow; evolve.
No blood sacrifices needed. No magic words. No additional tax to pay.
To repent is to realize the path your taking may not be the best, so you are willing to be redirected.
To repent is like saying “OK God, I tried it my way, now I’m willing to listen to the wisdom of others and the wisdom of Jesus.”
Jesus does not want us excluded. Jesus does not want anyone excluded.
Nor does Jesus find joy in seeing people cast out or not given an invite.
Jesus wants all of us to come in from the outside, to sit at the table, and to enjoy the banquet.
Jesus isn’t saying “In order to come in you need to completely change who you are.”
What Jesus is saying is “Come! Join us! Be the best version of you that you can be!”
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that great?
Doesn’t that make you feel young?
Sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters, we are home.
We are all doing the best we can with what we know.
We are the summation of our past, our family history and the times we are living in.
We don’t always hit the bullseye, we don’t always get a hole-in-one, and we don’t always get to be Right Shark.
But we do our best.
We get back up when we fall.
We put another arrow on the bow. We put another golf-ball on the tee.
Walking with Jesus empowers us to do over. The Holy Spirit gives us the wind and fire to strive ahead.
God watches, listens, pleased each time we learn from our human mistakes and take another step towards Heaven’s Kingdom.
Amen and amen.