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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT Jump Starting Lent - Mark 1:9-15

There are times when scripture seems to run on and on to make a single point. This week's gospel is not one of those times. It is rapid fire, brief and to the point. In a single line, Jesus is jump starting us into Lent: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. Every phrase, every word packs a powerful message: Get ready. The Christ has come. He calls us to eternal life.

Repent is the operative word for this First Sunday in Lent. Repent does not mean breast-beating and lamentation. It literally means to re-think… to put some quiet time aside… to stop… to interrupt our routines… to re-assess and adjust our priorities and our behavior.

Jesus understands our natures. He knows we are a bundle of reflexes and instincts. He knows that we constantly need to reorder our lives to bring them in line with God's plan for us. He knows we must constantly repent and refocus to get ourselves right with God. That's why we have Lent.

As we begin this season of repentance, we are reminded that our forgiveness is conditional. It depends on our capacity and our willingness to forgive… to purge ourselves of grudges, resentments, hatreds… to rid ourselves of the poisons that destroy families, friendships, communities and nations.
My father-in-law recently joked that he suffered from “Irish Alzheimer’s”… He said he forgets everything but grudges. Unfortunately, this is a condition not limited to the Celts. How many slights are still fresh in our minds? How many wounds do we carry around with us waiting for payback time? What a burden. What a waste. Hate harms the hated, but it destroys the hater. Failure to forgive makes us slaves to the past and blind to the future.

To jump start Lent… to repent… we must clean out our spiritual attics and basements. We must dump the spiteful junk that has been piling up… reminding us of past slights and festering humiliations. We must let in the fresh air and the sunlight of grace. We must forgive. Then see what a difference it makes… to be refreshed and renewed… to confidently await the coming of the risen Christ.

From the time of Abraham, the chosen people had waited for the Christ… for the Messiah… for the kingdom of God. They were not quite sure what that meant; but they knew that God had something big in store for them. Then Jesus comes along and tells them that their time of waiting is at an end. He is the Messiah… the Promised One of God. Doubtless, he is not what they expected. But God knew better. The kingdom he promised is not a triumphant warrior kingdom. It is not a feudal system where one neighbor gets to lord it over other neighbors. It is a kingdom of love. It is a family where we all have equal access to
our loving God and we all share a responsibility to love each other.

That the kingdom was and is near has sparked two millennia of speculation; little of it very productive. I find it more useful to frame the concept of near in terms of spiritual proximity, rather than as a fixed date in time. In Christ we have Emmanuel… God with us, not just while he walked the earth, but as he promised… with us to the ending of the world. In Christ, God is not remote. He is not unapproachable. He is a palpable presence in our lives. He is near.

The mystery of the Trinity also begins to take shape in these brief lines from Mark. Later in Acts and in the Epistles, the Spirit will come to the fore. But for now, we are only briefly introduced to the Spirit, urging Jesus into the desert where for the next forty days he will be tempered by solitude, by sacrifice and temptation.

All of which brings us quickly back to this jump start for Lent. These are precious days. Let's not waste them. Repent. Banish hatred and rejoice in the relief that release brings. For the next forty days let's live his kingdom. Share his love. Spread his good news. It is Lent and Jesus is near. Let’s run to meet him.
eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - First Sunday in Lent, Year B: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

…Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ - Mark 1: 15

Jesus moves out from the desert and begins to exercise his ministry. That’s the purpose of a wilderness experience! Jesus is now ready to exercise the full capacities of a saving mission that would end in crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Challenge and Opportunity:

Lent can be a period when we see great benefit in living in a wilderness for awhile. Such a season can offer new energy and give us new direction. What’s the purpose? So that we may emerge at Easter with readied, redeemed, lifted Spirits to love and serve.
Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck Annual Meeting "Tips"

This may come as a surprise, but the Annual Parish Meeting takes place...every year. Ours is always scheduled for the last Sunday in January or, as we call it here in New England, The Last Sunday Before the Patriots Appear in Yet Another Super Bowl.

As at other Episcopal parishes around the country, we gather for a meal, elect Vestry members, and present the budget for the coming year, and allow people to ignore what's actually being said by handing out a comprehensive report of all the ministries just before the meeting. I always like to present a year-in-review slide show which, I think, adds some color, texture, camaraderie, and humor to what can be fairly dry proceedings.

Annual Meeting week always creates a bit of anxiety around the office -- not Holy Week-type stress -- but there are lots of last-minute reports and details to pull together. The copy machine in the parish office gets ridden hard and there's inevitably a complicated pastoral emergency that arises.

Oh, let's be honest. It's mostly the rector's anxiety. I always apologize in advance during the staff meeting in the week preceding the Annual Meeting. I think most clergy in charge of parishes approach the Annual Meeting with the nagging fear that the Vestry will attempt to invoke the church equivalent of the 25th Amendment. That's the one that allows for the removal of the president from office if the vice-president and a majority of the Cabinet deem him physically or
mentally "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Not that there is a church equivalent, but that's the level of paranoia that gets unleashed.

Anyway, I've had the Annual Meeting on my mind the past couple of weeks and I have a few "suggestions" to make yours more enjoyable for everyone. Oh, and here's an actual tip that we're doing this year: hiring a magician to entertain the kids while their parents attend the meeting. Definitely steal that idea!

1. During the Rector's Report, have the curate sit behind the lectern and stand up after every few sentences to enthusiastically lead congregational clapping.

2. Have the Treasurer present the budget using "fuzzy math" and "voodoo economics." Basically, keep talking in circles until there's a motion to close the meeting.

3. Encourage the Rector, during the dreaded open discussion portion at the end, to "answer" every question like a Bill Belichick press conference: "We're on to next Sunday morning."

4. Pray for all the trees you killed by printing all those copies of the Annual Report that is also available online.

5. Remember, if you keep the meeting under an hour, there is a brass plaque waiting with your name on it. Sure, it will be attached to the bottom of one of the uncomfortable metal folding chairs people are forced to sit on during the meeting. But still.
6. If the coffee has run out by the time the rector makes it in to offer the opening prayer, there will be no Annual Meeting (which is either a promise or a threat, depending on your perspective).

7. After the meeting begins, lock the doors. Captive audiences are the best audiences.

8. If the congregation spends 20 minutes debating why the candle budget increased by 1.5% last year, there may be bigger issues that need addressing.

9. Don't entertain any suggestion that begins, "Wouldn't it be really great if we made this a Bi-Annual Meeting?"

10. When the same guy gets up to speak, as he has at the last 35 Annual Meetings, and demands to know why we no longer do Morning Prayer on Sunday morning, consider it a motion to adjourn.

In the end, for as much preparation as it takes, I do love Annual Meeting Sunday. It's a gift to be able to hit the pause button amid the pace and volume of parish life and both celebrate the last 12 months while looking ahead to the future. Blessings to all who have upcoming Annual Meetings. May your budget be balanced and your attendance figures be up.

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