These past few days I have been signing "year-end letters" - for those who in 2017 made identified donations to St. Mary of the Valley. I take it as an opportunity to pray for parish members. I am humbled by the generosity of our parishioners. If you made an identified donation - by envelope, check or electronic fund transfer - and don't receive a letter this week, let us know. Those who donate make possible our parish mission. It means you are taking a step of discipleship.
That's what we are talking about on these Sundays before Lent: Jesus' call to become missionary disciples. As Archbishop Sartain has pointed out, unless we hear that call, the Church (at least here) has no future. We may do all kinds of good things but if we don't form missionary disciples we have no future. Last week we saw the first missionary disciple - Andrew. He meets Jesus who invites him to "come and see." Andrew then goes to his brother Simon Peter, "We have found the Messiah," he says.
We also saw last week that Jesus comes as The Lamb. Like a sacrificial lamb he offers himself to take away our sins. This bring us to a difficult topic: sin and guilt. I know at this point some of you will shut me out. "I don't want to hear about guilt. Guilt causes so much harm. I agree. I don't like guilt either. The last thing I desire is a guilt trip. I want to free people from guilt - and myself too.
But how? Consider three instances of guilt: 1) Someone feels guilty throwing out food while people in the world are starving. 2) A person feels guilt for spending 3 hours a day on social media. 3) A guys feels guilty for indulging certain thoughts about his neighbor's wife.
In each of those cases you could say a lot of things - ranging from "don't sweat the small stuff" to "be careful." And we recognize that guilt is often misplaced because we are subject to forces beyond our control. Christians refer to these forces as the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is the culture we swim in. The flesh - those impulses that drive us. The devil - spiritual entities, demons who assail us. Those forces can overwhelm us. Yet we know they don't have total control. How do we know? Because Jesus tells us, "repent."
Repent means to make a new beginning, to refocus one's mind. As we heard in the first reading, refocusing happened in Nineveh when Jonah preached: they proclaimed a fast and repented. We've been doing some fasting and refocusing in our parish. I've heard encouraging testimonies. As Jesus says, "repent." Put on a new mind.
But Jesus doesn't simply say "repent." He says, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." To believe in the Gospel means to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God - the one who takes away the sins of the word. As Evangelicals say, accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.
You know, it really is good news that Jesus takes away our sins. It means I don't have go around projecting an image that "I'm OK." Or at least I'm not as messed up as that other guy. Or that I need to keep making excuses for what I did. No, forgiveness of sins means I can make a fresh start. I can ask Jesus to take charge of my life.
Martin Luther expressed this in a dramatic way. Now I don't like the fact that Martin Luther broke the Church into a thousand pieces, but he did have a striking way of expressing the Gospel. He pictures the human person like a horse. Where we go depends on who is in the saddle. If the devil is in the saddle, we go in one direction - to isolation, impotency and bitterness. If Jesus is in the saddle, he will lead in a different direction - to power, purpose and communion. You and I may be subject to a lot of forces that determine us: environment, heredity, inner impulses. Still we can choose who sits in the saddle.
The invitation this Sunday is to repent and believe in the Gospel - to accept Jesus and become a disciple, even a missionary disciple. Let Jesus lift your guilt.
To return to the three examples of guilt: Wasting food, well, allow Jesus to direct your Stewardship. Three hours a day on social media - pray and Jesus will teach you moderation. And those troubling, tormenting thoughts: Open your heart to Jesus. He has his way of untangling our lives. Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither was Jerusalem. As our Psalm says, "Teach me your ways, O Lord."
Accept Jesus. Let him lift your guilt. Become a missionary disciple. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Amen.