"The Wilderness in Bloom"
Fred Phelps died the other day. Most people have no idea who he was, but some of us will remember Fred and his band of disciples from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas as some the most notorious hate-mongers this nation has seen in a long while.
Phelps and his entourage would travel across the country, picket signs in hand, spewing vile, judgmental, anti-Gay rhetoric, promising that the wrath of God would be poured upon Gay people and threatening anyone who supported or welcomed Gay people that they also would forever burn in hell.
A significant portion of the congregation of the church I was serving in Los Angeles were Gay and Lesbian. And so, several years ago Fred and his gang made their way to L.A., and they stood outside the church loudly protesting our "sin" of embracing Gay and Lesbian people into the congregation.
I thought I was going to be angry at this horrible man and his angry followers but when I saw them as they marched along the sidewalk outside the church yelling about the wrath of "God" and screaming about how much God hates people who break God's law, I felt nothing but sorrow and pity for them.
How sad, depressing and even frightening it must be to live with an image of "God" as a violent and vindictive and hateful judge who is out to get you.
As we began our Sunday service on that day of the protest, the voices of the Westboro Baptist "church" could be heard screaming at us from outside on the sidewalk. Over and over again they were chanting the word "repent."
I knew that, in their minds, they were warning us to repent of our wiliness to embrace Gay people lest we incur the wrath of God. But, I thought to myself those poor folks out there have no clue whatsoever about what they are chanting - not a clue about what that word "repent" actually means in the Gospels that they supposedly follow.
The Greek word "repent" is best translated as "Have a change of heart, change your minds completely!" Jesus would often tell people to repent. What he would actually say was "Repent and believe the good news."
In fact, "repentance" is at the core of Jesus' teaching. He was always telling people to totally change their minds about how they understood "God," and how they viewed themselves. He told them to change their minds about how they viewed and treated other people.
Jesus preached to folks whose image of God was that of a distant and demanding judge who rewarded law-keepers and punished law-breakers. Jesus preached to folks who lived in a culture dominated by the rich and the strong - a culture in which some people belonged and a bunch of other people were thrown away as outcasts.
So Jesus taught people to "repent," to change their minds about God, to radically turn the culture of dominance and exclusion upside down. His message was that "God" is an abiding presence of unbounded love and that every human being has equal value and should be treated with unbridled dignity and embraced with uncompromising hospitality.
Repent! Yes indeed "repent!"
It seems to me that the season of Lent and Springtime is a wonderful opportunity to do some repentance-some mind changing. And you certainly don't have to be a Christian to repent.
In fact all of nature is calling us all to repent - to change our minds.
What had appeared to be dead and barren earth suddenly springs into new life. Tulips peak up out of the snow covered frozen-winter earth, trees and bushes in dry rocky desert soil bloom into millions of bright yellow blossoms.
In this season of Lent and Springtime, nature tells us to "change our minds!" There is no death, there is only life. Everything that exists is flowing with the abiding energy of love - an energy that weaves the many into the "One."
Repent! Yes indeed "repent!"