7. January 2018

Making Way – Making Waves

Service Type:

‘…Preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…’ (Mark 1, 4).

The cornerstone of the message of the New Testament is a call to repentance’…John the Baptist is said to have appeared, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance…’. Jesus very earliest preaching is described thus, ‘The time is fulfilled, & the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.’ On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declares, ‘Repent & be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ…’Easy to say, but not so easy to understand. It is required of anyone who would put their faith in God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ: one has to accept that a life lived apart from God; be it in ignorance, or indifference, even hostility to God, is not the life that one was made to live, and one is required to acknowledge same – to repent is to deny the merits of a life centred on self, to ask God to forgive such a way of living, and to commit oneself to a life centred on God, a life lived according to the example set by Jesus – the ultimate expression of a selfless life…

“Jesus calls all sinners to repent. True repentance is not a nebulous response of sorrow; it requires definite actions. Repentance so transforms the mind that it results in a changed life. Repentance does not merely say “I’m sorry” (similar to what we say when we accidentally step on someone’s foot). Rather, true repentance says from the heart, “I’ve been wrong and grieve over my sin, but now I see the truth, and I will change my ways accordingly.” ― (Joel R. Beeke)

And it can require intense soul searching…“We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker's, and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ: if we have repented these early sins we should remember the price of our forgiveness and be humble.” ― (C.S. Lewis),

Repentance & forgiveness belong together precisely because the Gospel declares that anyone who dares to ‘confess their sin’ (repent) God will forgive them their sin. But here there is a paradox that is itself a product of a selfish life. We are reluctant to change because we are afraid of what it might mean for us; even if there is a God, surely God will not want to forgive someone such as me. The greatest sin of all is to believe that our sin has put us beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, because in so doing we commit the ultimate blasphemy of judging God as we would judge ourselves rather than being prepared to allow God to judge us as only God can…

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.” ― (Thomas Merton)

…But the need for repentance is a constant theme that runs right through the lives of all of us from beginning to end. It does not absolve itself when one decides to repent of one’s past; the mere fact that we are human dictates that we will always have that about us which requires us to repent; only for the Christian now one can engage in an act of repentance assured that God will respond with forgiveness; we no longer need fear God. Hence any religion that predicates its teachings upon fear of god is just that, mere religion. Too many people fall into the trap of believing that being religious is the way to please God. No, no, no…

“In religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us, so every instance of sin and repentance is therefore traumatic, unnatural and threatening. Only under great duress do religious people admit they have sinned, because their only hope is their moral goodness. In the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit that we are flawed, because we know we won't be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Our hope is in Christ's righteousness, not our own, so it is not as traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses.” ― (Timothy J. Keller).

In short, we have nothing to prove to God, because in Christ God has already proven Himself to us. And so,

“The more deeply one enters into the experience of the sacred the more one is aware of one’s own personal evil and the destructive forces in society. The fact that one is alive to what is possible for humankind sharpens one’s sense that we are fallen people. The awareness of sin is the inevitable consequence of having met grace... This grace-judgment dynamic reveals that the centre of Christian life is repentance. This does not mean that the distinguishing mark of the Christian is breast-beating. Feeling sorry, acknowledging guilt, and prolonging regret may be components of the human condition, but they are not what Jesus means by repentance. Repentance is the response to grace that overcomes the past and opens out to a new future. Repentance distinguishes the Christian life as one of struggle and conversion and pervades it, not with remorse, but with hope. The message of Jesus is not “Repent,” but “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” ― (John Shea).

Hence, any act of repentance is consecrated by forgiveness, regardless. Repentance in Greek means something much closer to "thinking differently afterward" than it does "changing your cheating ways." Of course, repentance can look like a prostitute becoming a librarian, but it can also look like a prostitute simply saying,

"OK, I'm a sex worker and I don't know how to change that, but I can come here and receive bread and wine and I can hold onto the love of God without being deemed worthy of it by anyone but God.” ― (Nadia Bolz-Weber,).

And the lesson that such an example teaches us is that if God deems such as her worthy of the bread and the wine, then who are we to deny her the bread and the wine…which leads us nicely into Communion…