- About DPC
- Children & Youth
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, 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.’
This past Wednesday evening, our seminary intern Richelle Smith led us in Ash Wednesday worship
as we began our 40 day journey toward Easter.
During these 40 days of the season of Lent, the season of the lengthening days,
we will lift up the Christian discipline of listening – Listening through Lent.
Larry Fossett, who happens to be visiting the Holy Land as we speak,
has often said that there is a good reason that God gave us two ears and one mouth –
we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak!,
which happens to be fairly ironic if you know my dear friend Larry, who likes to talk!
Have you noticed how some people can get uncomfortable with even a few moments of silence?
If we take too long for silence during the prayer of confession,
someone will inevitably cough, or shuffle in their seat, or clear their throat.
Silence is golden, some say, but for others it can be almost terrifying.
During this season of Lent, we encourage you to take time, each day, to listen…
to listen in silence for the still, small voice of God,
to listen to Holy Scripture, to hear what the Spirit may speak to you through Bible reading,
to listen carefully to your loved ones, to hear the joys and concerns of their hearts,
and to listen to those you may not have really heard before,
the voices of those who may be different from you or who may hold different perspectives.
Mark reports that the kingdom of God, the reign or rule of God, has come near in Jesus Christ.
Repent, and believe in the good news, Jesus says.
In the Greek, metanoiete kai pisteute en tow euaggelio–
literally, turn around and give your life to the good news!
Our English word “conversion” comes from the Latin conversio,
which is a translation of the Greek word metanoia. Metanoia literally means “going the other way.”
A convert is someone who turns away from one direction in life and commits to a new direction.
The conversion may be from sin and disbelief to a life of faithfulness and trust in the living God.
Or, the conversion may be simply to change one’s mind about something.
Friends, I believe that it is high time for our nation to change its mind about some things.
It is time for our people and leaders to stop talking at one another
and start listening to one another.
We need to change our minds about health care, how we support and provide health care in general,
but, in particular, how we identify and address mental healthcare.
We have a crisis in our nation – with anxiety and depression, addiction, suicide, public shootings.
We need to change our minds about how we supply and prescribe and use opioids,
how the average person uses and too often abuses doctor-prescribed pills.
We need to change our minds about the availability of dangerous weapons, like assault rifles.
I consider myself a life-long learner.
I anticipate that I will keep learning and changing and growing my entire life.
This, of course, means that I will have to change my mind about some things.
I have changed my mind in the past on significant social and political topics,
sometimes through years of prayer and discernment, and I suppose I can do so again,
even, I admit, if it does get more challenging as I grow older.
As a Protestant, as a Presbyterian, repentance – change, transformation – is not an option,
but an assumption of daily faith and life in Jesus Christ.
Every time we confess corporate sin in worship, we declare to God and all the world
our intention to repent (to turn around, to change direction).
With God’s help, we can “begin again”.
The Reformation concept ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda
(the church reformed, always being reformed)
implies that repentance and the determination to “lead a new life”
is not an unusual or occasional emphasis—(not simply) a bit of extraordinary piety reserved for Lent—
but an ongoing and permanent dimension of the life of the Body of Christ.
(Douglas John Hall, Preaching Lenten Repentance to a Nation and a Church)
Hugh Kerr and John Mulder’s book, Famous Conversions (Eerdman’s Publishing, 1983),
chronicles different types of conversions of famous people in the Christian faith.
Kerr and Mulder make the point that some conversions are highly emotional experiences,
like Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus,
an earth-shattering experience in which he was blinded by a light and fell to the ground.
Other conversions are less dramatic and more intellectual, such as C.S. Lewis.
As a young man, Lewis was pretty much an atheist, a disbeliever, wary of any religion.
His conversion, he reports, happened over time, primarily intellectually, and was not overly emotional.
Lewis writes that his conversion was “unemotional but incalculable in its effect.”
He said it was “like a man who after a long night’s sleep, still lying motionless in his bed,
becomes aware that he is now awake.”
For still others, the conversion to belief in Jesus Christ is more of a vocational change,
– a change of direction, a new calling.
Toyohiko Kagawa was a young Japanese man who was illegitimate, half blind, and always sick.
He never thought much of his own potential or of his ability to do much of anything,
but one day he suddenly cried out as if from nowhere,
“O God, make me like Christ! Make me like Jesus!”
Over time, this small man who was always sick, half blind, and illegitimate
became a powerful reformer of the Tokyo slums who had a powerful influence upon many.
Then there are those conversions that are primarily moral –
a change from a life that is sinful to a pattern of obedience and service.
The great early church father, Augustine, had such a conversion.
After years of prayer from his mother,
Augustine’s life changed from following all sorts of vain and selfish desires, as his father had done,
to joining together in “full commitment without restless hesitation”.
Over time, and with great focus upon Scripture,
St. Augustine became one of the most important Christian leaders of all time.
However one may come to a new direction in life, to conversion,
nearly every such experience has these elements:
1) the awareness of and conviction of sin, of our unworthiness before God.
Are we not aware as a nation of our sin-sick soul? Of our need for change?
2) joy and gratitude for mercy, for God’s forgiveness, for being given another chance.
3), the readiness and acceptance of a new life, a new direction.
It is time for our nation to have such a conversion experience.
It is time for our nation to repent of our corporate sinfulness
that somehow has led to the slaughter of innocents through public shootings –
in schools, in Las Vegas concerts, and every day on the streets of cities like Chicago and Atlanta.
These are not simply the acts of disturbed individuals.
These are the symptoms of a sick society, a society plagued by violence and sin and death.
It is time that our nation pray for God’s mercy and seek to mend the gaping hole in our nation’s soul.
It is time that we, as a people, seek and find a new way of life, a new direction,
lest we continue to see the faces of children who have been gunned down in the prime of their life.
A hundred questions may crowd the mind that contemplates a national conversion such as this.
What does it mean for a nation to seek repentance?
What does radical transformation look like for a whole society?
How might metanoia, turning and moving in a different direction,
apply to a national, state, or local government institution?
Jesus arrived in Galilee, a small, no account region that happened to sit on the main thoroughfare
between the great empires, to proclaim gospel, to preach good news.
He came to call common people to repent, to change their lives,
to change their minds about some things, and to believe good news.
The Galileans needed to change their minds about love for neighbor,
about who their neighbors would be.
Jesus called them to love not only those who loved them, but also the Samaritan, the Gentile,
and even their enemies, because God loved their neighbors.
Jesus called them to include the lame, the beggars, and the ones with the sinful backgrounds,
because God had already included them.
Jesus called the leaders to have concern for the spiritual and physical needs of the common people –
and not just to order their public life around the wealthy Pharisees or the learned scribes,
because God had concern for the least, the lowest, and the lost.
Jesus proclaimed that all of God’s people were to have access to God, whom Jesus called “Abba”,
because God was holding out God’s hands to welcome the prodigal home.
The kingdom of God has come near in Jesus Christ, but it is not yet fully realized.
There have never been simple, one shot answers to the important challenges that we face.
The answers begin not legislatives vote in congress, though they may culminate there.
The answers to our big challenges begin in the hearts and the minds of the people,
in our hearts and minds.
Take the tragedy of the shootings this past week in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland, Florida, or the horrific tragedy last year at the outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
Dare we not think that any one response will be adequate,
and God forbid that anyone think that no response is any longer acceptable!
The answers to such tragedies begin in the hearts and minds of common people,
and will require a multi-faceted approach, from all of us.
We need to change our minds about some things…
mental healthcare, gun control, security systems and protocols, cultural conditioning to violence.
Mental health is every bit as important for our research and support as physical health.
The kind of violent images and actions that children and young people absorb every day
on the television and social media are every bit as important as gun control legislation.
We need to change our minds about the types of games that are acceptable for young people to play,
games where the more people you kill, the higher is your score,
games where the graphics and sounds are so realistic, you can almost feel the warmth of the blood.
We need to change our minds about the weapons that are available for purchase.
Back in the 1930’s, the government outlawed Tommy guns, machine guns,
because they had become so popular with the mob and so dangerous to society.
Does any domestic citizen really need an AK assault rifle?
No one needs to be able to purchase an assault rifle any more than I need to keep a shoulder held bazooka
in the trunk of my car or a tank parked in my front yard!
We have limited access to certain guns and weapons in the past and we should do so again.
It’s just common sense!
Let us listen carefully during Lent.
Is the news media or the social media or television that you consume positive and upbuilding?
Is it focused upon building the common good?
Or is it denigrating and divisive, violent and sinful?
Think about it. Think deeply about these things.
Listen carefully during Lent.
Listen and look for the signs of God’s coming kingdom.
Listen again to the words of Holy Scripture, take to heart the longings of your loved ones,
allow yourselves to absorb the pleas of those long silenced,
The kingdom of God that came near in Jesus upset the status quo,
Jesus would not allow the status quo to reign.
He turned over the tables, he lifted up the lowly, he brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and he set all on one level plain before the righteous Judge and Protector of us all.
Jesus came to open deaf ears, and give sight to the blind, and proclaim release to the captives.
Let us listen during Lent,
then, by God’s grace, may we, as a church, as a people, as a nation, find some new directions.
May we turn from what is ailing us and participate in what God is doing among us.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 18, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030