What is your response when asked, “If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?” I would like to travel west and visit the Grand Canyon and then the Rocky Mountains; from one landscape extreme to the other! The furthest west I have traveled by car is Tiskilwa, IL. Driving from Ohio to Illinois is quite a flat trip! When we are on very flat places, we can see quite far to the horizon. When we are at high elevations, we can see very far. When we are at low elevations, our distant sight is limited.
     The Gospel of Mark begins with quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. 40:4 speaks of a changing landscape; raised valleys, lowered mountains, leveled and smoothed ground. Mark completely skipped the story of Jesus’ birth and jumped right in with the accounts of his baptism and wilderness temptation. Then Mark got right to the heart of the matter: the purpose for Jesus’ earthly ministry–1:14-15; Jesus was going to really change the landscape of people’s lives!
     Are we ready for things to be different; to let God’s coming alter the landscape of our lives? And just how does that happen anyway? Well, both John and Jesus announced that repentance is involved in landscape alterations. Repentance: to change, to turn away from anything that hinders your trust in God, and turn toward God in love. Turn away from your sinful nature and turn toward God and His holiness.
     See, the first landscape that needs to change is my own. It is an individual choice to say “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who brings Good News of great joy!” That is a one-time decision. And that decision changes my own landscape:
I do not see with my eyes anymore; I see with the eyes of Jesus.
I do not think with my mind anymore; I have the mind of Christ.
My body is not my own; my body is to be used for God’s purposes.
My money, time, skills, talents, gifts, etc, are given to God for Him to use.
When I turn and follow Jesus, everything changes.
     In Psalm 85:4-7 the people were asking God to “Restore us again.” The truth is that repentance is also a daily necessity. Do not be satisfied with your squalid terrain! Do not wallow in the valley of sin nor should you bask in the heights of your spiritual arrogance. Confession & repentance are necessary to maintain the new and holy landscape that God has given to you.
     But wait; there’s more.
Because when we experience the change in personal landscape, the next revelation is that Jesus invites us into community with other believers, and He changes OUR landscape. As Jesus invited people to follow him, he challenged them to look beyond the edges of where they thought God was supposed to be. He cleared the path towards holy community—with God, with all who confess Jesus as Lord. How are we to achieve that? How do we change the landscape in community, in righteousness, with each other? What role does repentance play for us as a people?
     Personal confession and repentance are vital for both the individual child of God AND for the collective children of God. We do this when we gather for worship through songs, scripture, sharing, and prayer. We are God’s holy community. And because of the change in our personal landscapes, and the change in our collective landscape, we are commissioned, commanded, empowered to go change the landscape of the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Because the Good News of Jesus Christ changes everything. The Good News reaches back to the promises of God and helps us imagine new God-filled scenery. God’s presence among us invites us to look beyond the edges of where we think God is supposed to be.
“Listen: listen, God is calling, through the word inviting,
Offering forgiveness, comfort, and joy.
Jesus tells his people: share the good news
That he came to save us– and sets us free.”
I’m praying for you,
Pastor Deb