Learn to Turn, March 26, 2019

by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the good news.” These words of Jesus are often recited on Ash Wednesday, to accompany the sign of ashes along with the somber admonishment: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  These are reminders of both our mortality and the good news of life in Christ, the paradox that we enter during the season of Lent as we seek to turn our lives toward God.

I was reminded of this paradox (especially my own morality!) when I enrolled in “ski school” on a recent family trip to Logan, Utah, to visit our son in graduate school. Near his home is Beaver Mountain, a family-owned ski resort with friendly instructors ready to help beginners learn to ski.

My instructor was Bill, a patient and encouraging coach with 40 years of experience in ski patrol (which, thankfully, meant that I was in very good hands). Our lesson was entitled “Learn to Turn” (though I kept wanting to call it “Live and Learn” or – more ominously – “Crash and Burn”).

As we approached the gentle beginners’ bunny slope, Bill skied backwards in front of me, giving instructions: “To turn to the left, press down with your right big toe. To turn the right, press down with your left big toe. Again, press down with your right big toe – don’t let your left knee bend in and don’t dig your left ski into the snow – let that ski follow the turn… Don’t look at your skis, Heidi, look at me! That’s it – way to go!”

Finally, after I’d figured out how to make gentle turns back and forth, Bill announced that I was ready to go up the ski lift to the first green slope.  “Now,” he said, “I want to tell you about the leap of faith.”  Being a theologically trained pastor, I was eager to hear what he had in mind – but a little nervous too, as I imagined myself leaping off the lift at the top of the mountain and crashing down the mountain….  “The leap of faith,” Bill explained, focusing my attention back on him, “ is that moment when you press your big toe down, turn left and down the slope and pick up speed, and – instead of following the temptation to slow down by digging in the opposite ski  – you allow the opposite ski to follow the same trajectory until it takes you sideways and naturally slows your speed to a level, manageable pace.”

Bill was right. Following his instruction felt dangerous and risky to me, yet it was the only way to navigate down the slope. But when I played it safe and tried to slow down prematurely, I lost my balance and fell.

So, what does all this have to do good news and mortality?  The word “repent” essentially means “Learn to Turn.”  It invites us to learn to turn away from the inclinations, actions, and attitudes that cause us to fall, and instead to turn toward the ways of Jesus. It means to keep our eyes on Jesus and listen to the instructions of Jesus, following the example of the One who knows from personal experience the way that leads to life.

Yes, this is risky indeed – Jesus said that in order to gain true life, we must let go of our self-centered ways of life.  This takes a leap of faith, which is different than blind faith. Bill didn’t say to me, “Just close your eyes and go hang on for dear life!” (That would have been a “crash and burn” situation.)  Rather, the leap of faith is a trusting faith where we keep our eyes on Jesus, and follow his instructions and example.

In this season of Lent, may we learn to turn, as we give our attention to Jesus’ words:  “The right time has come and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!”

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