I am a pedant: it irks me when people who should know better mix up repentance and penitence. Penitence is about being sorry and remorseful - a reasonable thing to do, perhaps, but on its own it doesn't take you anywhere much. Repentance, in the Bible, is about change: a change of heart, a change of attitude, a change of direction. I have a theory that religious people muddle the two up because they really don't like change.
We're already nearing the half-way point of Mark in the CTM sermon series. Covering the sixteen chapters of Mark in only seven weeks means we get through it awfully quickly! The title/outline that Mark gives at the very beginning tells us that this first half is about the good news of Jesus leading up to the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
I hope you are also seeing Mark's focus on different people's responses to Jesus and his good news - that the Kingdom of God has come near and we are to repent and believe the good news. As I said above repentance is about a change of direction: turning away from the ways of the world and turning to God; whilst believing is mostly about trusting.
The final reading for this week has Jesus winding up the religious leaders again. As usual it starts with them being critical and judgemental, then escalates when Jesus puts them right. The trouble is that they are sure of their own rightness and do not want to change. But Jesus calls everybody to repentance - to change - whether religious or not.
Actually, it seems to me that the religious leaders have three big objections to his teaching. One is on the surface - that what Jesus says and does doesn't fit in with their interpretation of Scripture. The other two are more visceral, it seems: firstly that Jesus is demanding that they must change to enter into God's Kingdom; and secondly that Jesus is encouraging all sorts of people whom they exclude to change and so enter into God's Kingdom - law-breakers, collaborators, the 'unclean' and the disreputable, all are invited to turn and enter into the Kingdom of God.
Maybe that's why reactions to Jesus are so different: those who feel entitled are threatened by what he says, whilst those who feel lost and hopeless respond to the new hope that Jesus brings.
The question for us is to see Jesus' challenge to our favourite beliefs, our views of who is in and who is out, and see how we react to that.
Churches are in an odd position. On the one hand we are called to proclaim grace: God’s forgiveness and acceptance of anyone (even an unclean woman deliberately contaminating Jesus ... even an immigrant, a tax-dodger, a paedophile, a politician?). On the other hand, organisations (and societies) need rules to live by.
Church history is littered with examples of this going wrong: churches seeking social control, power and influence – just like the scribes and Pharisees. But it is also full of those who step out in faith to serve others, to call unexpected people to Jesus, to shine Grace into the darkness. It’s just that the latter, being less self-serving, are often less-noticed.
Who in Caversham (or wherever your community may be) needs, really needs, to know that God loves them, warts and all? Who needs to know that they are a beloved child of God, whatever their past? How can we help them to understand this? And how can we really understand this for ourselves?