Repentance Can Blow Your Mind

“Knock, knock”
“Who’s there?”
“Repentance who?”
“Good question.”
Repentance always seemed pretty straightforward to me—essentially an apology to God for things that I have done and there is an implied intention to make a course correction.
But that is an incomplete understanding of what Jesus means. Look at Jesus’ first recorded use of the word “repent.”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near,” he states in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
The Kingdom of heaven is near? What does that mean? Was he telling people the end of the world was right around the corner?
The Lord’s prayer answers both the question of what Jesus meant and illustrates the deeper meaning of “repent” and “repentance.” Jesus teaches us to pray “…Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus urges us to pray for the emergence of the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, here on Earth. And for that to happen, Jesus knows, we must repent.
But that means we must do more than apologize to God for actions that we regret.
As the scholar and theologian Marcus J. Borg points out, “repent” meant something more to the early Christian community. And so it means more to us today.
The roots of the Greek word for repentance mean “to go beyond the mind you have.” The Greek, such a key language for accurately translating the New Testament, more closely reflects what those who actually heard Jesus speak understood him to mean when he spoke to them.
“Go beyond the mind you have,” Jesus is saying, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
Only by going beyond the mind we have—going beyond the normal Earthly way of thinking about things, the normal Earthly way of doing things—can we apprehend and comprehend the real possibilities of the Kingdom of heaven here and now, as Jesus wishes we would.
When we repent, when we go beyond the mind we have, then we can truly bear fruit to help bring the Kingdom of a loving God into the world. And we can help others to bear the fruitful promise of their own lives.
When we go beyond the mind we have then we do not simply cut down fig trees because they are not bearing fruit. When we go beyond the mind we have then we discover previously unthought of ways to care for that fruitless tree instead of chopping it down, ways to tend its needs and nurture the soil around it so that it might bear fruit.
In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus clearly intends the tree to represent human beings who need and deserve care and compassion to enable them to bear fruit and contribute to the Kingdom of heaven.
People like you and me.
God always sees so much more in us, and those around us, than we ever see in ourselves. Understanding that truth enriches not only the soil of our own lives but also that of the people with whom we share this earth.
With Jesus as our arborist, we cannot help but bear fruit. That, after all, is what fruit trees do.
Knock, knock and knock again on the door.
Jesus will surely answer in ways that may not be immediately visible but will bear fruit some day through our faithful perseverance, when the time is just right, when the world—perhaps one single person—needs us most.

Grace Without Borders

“But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians.
What a profound statement. What a wondrous truth.
And there is no debate about that. There is no need for follow-up questions or 30 seconds for a rebuttal. We don’t need to go to any media website to confirm the veracity of Paul’s declaration. He’s not making something up in an attempt to win our vote in a primary. Paul’s assertion is not going to be trumped by anyone. His words are simply true.
Because this citizenship is granted by God, we don’t need immigration papers. We don’t need a green card. We don’t need a work permit. We don’t need the permission of Congress, the White House, or any parliament or national assembly around the world.
Nobody has to smuggle us across the border because there is no line on any map.
God’s grace is without borders.
God’s love has no crossing guards or checkpoints.
Nobody will ever build a wall to deny us entry.
We don’t have to live in the shadows. We do not have to fear deportation.
There are human organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Clowns Without Borders, who minister to the hurt and suffering around the world. They will go anywhere. There are no limits on their caring and compassion, no boundary on their desire to heal wounds—physical and emotional—that are created by human conflict around the globe.
These men and women provide us an example, in microcosm, of the unfathomable expanse of God’s desire to reach out to us, wherever we may be on this planet, in healing love and grace for our own wounds—whatever they may be.
Grace Without Borders.
That is God.
Love Without Borders.
That is God.
Just as there are no possible human impediments between us and our citizenship in heaven, there is likewise no border that can block God’s love and grace from reaching us. There are no crossing guards or checkpoints. No wall could ever keep God’s love and grace away from us. God doesn’t need a green card or a work permit. Congress, the President and any national assembly around the world are all powerless to stop God.
We are citizens of heaven but God’s love and grace reside with us already, wherever this life takes us. What a gift that is!
So…what might we give God in return for such limitless generosity?
Perhaps that might be by removing any barriers to our own love in this world, removing any crossing guards or checkpoints between us and our forgiveness for those who have hurt us, and tearing down any wall that might stand between our compassion and those who need our healing touch, a healing touch that might simply be a word finally spoken from deep behind the borders of our own heart.
Citizenship is a great privilege, but it also carries tremendous responsibilities.

Let The Ashes Remind Us Of The Flame

And so our lenten journey begins. Forty days across the spirit meadows and 40 nights over the soul mountains to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee with its gentle waves reaching toward us even now in its widening embrace.
A high tide of God’s love and grace.
As brothers and sisters in Christ within the outstretched arms of a waiting, loving God, we each bring a spark of Christ within us to candle-flame the darkness and send it retreating from the face of our own flickering that summons strength for this journey.
Let us walk together now for these few moments through the bright eternal flame of the life of Jesus, right up to this very second.

And let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Here is my servant who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.
I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break
And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.’
Immediately the man was cured.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.
And the curtain in the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore but they did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’
When they did they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

And may our Lenten journey be guided by this inner light toward the resurrection cross of blooming flowers, the hallelujah garden of God’s love toward which our Good Shepherd leads us.
The world may surround us and mark us with its ashes, but there is a flame deep within us that the world cannot touch.
And it is inextinguishable.

Sometimes, I Wonder

“Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

—The Gospel of Mark



when the moon seems skillfully slung

to skip across the rushing clouds,

I wonder whose wrist and fingers

give the crescent of light its motion

and if the heart behind the hand knows I’m watching,

wading toward the deep end of the sky,

up to my neck now

and wanting to swim

in communion

with the reflection of the sun

along the surface of the lunar song

being sung across the skin of heaven.


the light splashes

and I feel its current all around,

lifting me for a moment so brief

that it seems unreal,

as if it were only a fantasy of my own desperate yearning.

Sometimes, I feel the heart behind the hand

send me skipping, too, across the clouds

in the wake of the singing moon.

And then my wondering turns to wonder.


The Corner Of Your Smile Inside Me

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

—the Gospel of Mark

I remember being a child in Nazareth,
sitting on the flat roof of our house under a night sky
so filled with stars
that I thought the darkness would turn itself inside out.

But there is more darkness in the world than is found in the night sky
and I prayed that one day, no matter what,
the light would turn all of that other darkness inside out.

That is still my prayer, God.

But I also prayed that the light would somehow turn me inside out, too.
And then one day you did.
The light of your love turned me upside down and inside out.
It still does.
Astonishing me.
Especially when I need it most.

And so here I am in this deserted place,
under the star-pricked sky,
feeling almost like a child in school
who has precisely followed his teacher’s instructions:
Make an imaginary night sky
by poking small holes in dark construction paper
to let the flashlight shine through from behind
like midnight constellations.

Because I am the child
who chose to tear away the dark paper
and let in all of the light, instead,
forever shining your love into the souls
of those who’ve gone away now
with their healing and their scars,
leaving me weary but warily exhilarated
at the luminous possibilities of it all,
brushing the hammers and the nails aside
—even though they always return—
and living the life you dreamed I would,
feeling the corner of your smile widening inside me,

and a joy deeper than rumbling laughter
reflected in the moonlight sailing on the waves below.