On Repentance

Our theme today is one of Repentance.  To repent of course, we need to have something to repent of, so my first question this morning is who here thinks that they have something to repent of.  As show of hands should suffice – and I don’t need to know details!

It’s always good I think to get a sense of unity in a church.  On a more serious note though, of course we seek to repent because of sin.  What is sin?  It often sounds like an outdated world in today’s world of postmodern thinking where nothing is really right or wrong.  Postmodernism is something that so many people hide behind, everyone is due their opinion, and no opinion is better than any others.  The trouble with that is, is that if we follow the Bible, then God’s truth is the ultimate truth, in other words there really is a real truth, we  are then as followers of Jesus duty bound to figure it out, sooner rather than later.  The original Greek that was used for what we call sin, was Hamartia, which means to “miss the mark”.  Imagine watching an exciting, nerve-racking penalty shoot out; sorry for the football analogy.  It is a sudden death situation.  The team that misses the mark, misses out on the Prize. 

In Theology, to “miss the mark” really means to miss the mark of God’s perfection, and that’s all of us.  So yes, we are all in need of repentance.  The word repentance (as we know it), and yes another Greek lesson coming up, is actually a translation of the Greek work Metanoia, which is defined as “a change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or a spiritual conversion”  One might think of Paul’s Damascus experience as a tell tale example of repentance, or Peter on the beach with Jesus after Easter.

Metanoia is used 22 times in the New Testament and is used in a variety of settings.  Luke Ch 15 for example, tell us “ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents (changes their way of life), than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent”.  This is giving meaning to the parable of the lost sheep, of course, where a sheep goes awol and the Shepherd goes out to find it, at great personal risk .  If we ever get confused about the background meaning behind the parable of the Prodigal Son, bear in mind that the parable occurs just 4 verses later.

The emphasis placed on the rejoicing in the Kingdom of Heaven over one sinner who repents needs to be born in mind when reading the parable of the Prodigal Son. 

Peter, of course, in Acts at Pentecost says, “ Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”.  In fact the urge to repent occurs more often in Acts than in any other book of the New Testament.

The call to repentance goes back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist’s clarion call was “ Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. After Jesus emerged from the wilderness, he used the very same phrase, even down to the original Greek.  Repentance is then the first thing Jesus says in his ministry according to Luke.  The importance is brought home by the last words of Jesus according to Luke.  “ He told them, This is what is written; The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”

Repentance is therefore a key theme for Luke, who also authored Acts by the way.

I think it is fair to say therefore it was important then and now, to reflect on where we are and to resolve to make a change in our way of life – to repent in other words, and of course, since we are in the middle of Lent; a time for taking stock, to consider the pain and suffering that Jesus underwent to bring redemption and forgiveness to a suffering world.

A time to take stock and look at our lifestyle or habits today and ask ourselves honestly the question.  Are we living in accordance to God’s Holy Will or are we rebelling and seeking to follow our will instead.  And what is that rebellion other than sin.

If we find that we engage in the latter, and I suspect everyone here would own up at least in private that they do, then the call “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” is as relevant today as the day it was first uttered.

I wonder therefore whether you feel if sin itself is an outdated concept nowadays.  If we take a look at Chapter 6 in Paul’s letter to the Romans there is a discussion of two paths, one which leads to Death – The path of sin following the false God of Humanity, the sin of Adam if you like, and one which leads to everlasting Life – the path of Grace, as instituted by Jesus. 

At first glance this is problematic.  The last time I looked, Believers still mess up, they still get ill, they still die.  It is this problem at the heart of the chapter that reveals the tension between the here and not yet aspect of the Kingdom. The tension is purposefully left unresolved.  It is up to us to be part of the figuring of this out.  Humans by their nature sin.  Believers by their new nature do not sin.  Believes however, are human.  But Believers also represent a renewed type of humanity. 

Hang on with me because no one said it is easy.  I think within this we see the reality of the beachhead of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (think of the D-Day landings) and the ultimate renewing of creation at God’s culmination (think of V-E Day) when there will be a time of celebration and harmony not seen since the first days of Genesis itself.

It leaves me with another question.  How long does it take to die to sin?  Roman’s Ch 7 seems to talk about Paul’s own struggles, and if I am honest, then I have a long way to go.  My own thinking suggests a lifetime, but just when I am getting a bit too comfortable, Jesus makes it plain in our reading from Luke that time is precious and important, we need to be urgent about our activity of metanoia – changing our ways.  Not because of any nonsense such as a rapture, but because unexpected things happen.  We can all be subject to unexpected changes in our health that can change our circumstances.  Bad things happen.  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, changes in Government, a sudden economic downturn.  In Jesus time it was a crackdown by Pilate and a tower collapse.  Jesus stance was to say that bad things will happen in the world – he himself was starting his journey to something terrible in Jerusalem, but that now is the time to put ourselves right with God, now is the time to turn back, to change our ways, to repent. So we should avoid falling into an undue sense of comfort, don’t put off until tomorrow that which you should do today!    

Now indeed is the time to turn back, though without diluting the urgency, we need to be realistic about abilities.  We need to start turning now, but like one of those huge oil tankers, it will take some time to complete the process.  We need to show we are serious, and keep on persevering, but God is a God of love and mercy and knows that we will still mess up on occasions.  Trust therefore in God who will hold you up when you fall, who will guide you by the hand, he just asks you to start the process of turning back to him and he will be with you through the entirety of it.  Just make sure that you are turning towards God and not away from God

So we find ourselves in Jesus’ footsteps on this Lenten journey, we are all on our own Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  How will you use this time.? To give up chocolate, to give up Coca-Cola or Pepsi or to instead look in the mirror and see instead the you that you’ve created over the years, and look behind that you to see the real one, the you made in the image of God, to live in partnership with God, in relationship with the Trinity.  Give up instead the self that rejects God.  Give up instead the ways that say “I need, I want, That doesn’t quite fit with My dreams.” Mirror instead Jesus’ own prayer, “Not my will but yours, Father”

Repent therefore for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!   Turn back to God’s ways.


Amen

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