Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Called to repentance. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 6, Proper 9B, preached on Sunday, July 4, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

     One of the hardest things for us to do is to admit that we’re wrong.  One of the hardest things for us to do is to name our sins out loud.  That’s why we squirm in our seats whenever the topic of private Confession and Absolution comes up.  We admit that we’re sinners, and we’re comfortable confessing our sins in a public and corporate way.  But...but to say out loud the sins that we’ve committed with our hands, the sins we’ve spoken, the deep dark sins that we’ve thought about; well, that’s too much.  We fight against this kind of confession, and we fight against anyone who calls us to make this kind of confession.  We don’t want anyone to tell us to repent, especially if we know that person. 
    There’s a proverb that says, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  It’s a confusing saying because usually we like the things we’re familiar with.  We’re creatures of habit.  When given the chance, we choose to do the same things over and over again.  We like our hobbies, activities and topics that we’ve familiarized ourselves with.  And we like our friends, people we’ve gotten to know over the years, people that we’ve shared life’s joys and sorrows with.  And yet, this proverb, “familiarity breeds contempt,” is true. 
How often do we get bored doing the same thing over and over again?  Think about your jobs.  Is there anything that you have to do repeatedly that you wish you didn’t?  Of course there is.  And how many of us would say that our family lives are 100% perfect?  Or that our relationships with our husband or wife or our children or parents or brothers and sisters are perfectly conflict free?  Aren’t these the people we’re most familiar with?  Aren’t these the ones whom we know best and who know us best?  And yet, they’re the ones we most often have conflict with.  They’re the ones we sin against the most, and they’re the ones who sin against us the most.  “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  It’s a proverb that’s true for us and a proverb that rang true for Jesus.  
Near the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He went back home, to Nazareth, to the place where He grew up.  The people there knew Him.  They knew Joseph and Mary and the rest of the family.  People there probably had memories of Jesus from when He was a young boy.  And so, they were astonished when they heard about the miracles He’d performed.  They were amazed hearing the words that He spoke in the synagogue.  
Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what Jesus said that Sabbath day, but Luke does.  Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah and He read from chapter 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).  Those verses that Jesus read were a messianic prophecy, and after reading them, He said that those verses were being fulfilled at that moment.  Those verses were about Him.  And hearing this, the people were astonished.  How could Jesus be the promised Messiah?  How could He be the Christ?  He was Joseph’s and Mary’s son.  He once was a boy running up and down the streets of Nazareth.  We know Him.  There’s no way He’s the Messiah.  
Knowing what the people were thinking, Jesus continued. “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household,” (Mk 6:4) and to prove this, Jesus reminded them of the prophets of Elijah and Elisha.  He reminded them that these men were sent as prophets to Israel, to their own people, but the people of Israel refused to listen.  Instead it was the Gentiles who heard their words and believed.  By referencing these prophets of old, Jesus was calling the people of Nazareth out.  He was calling them out for following in the footsteps of their forefathers who rejected God’s prophets.  He was calling them to repent of their sin and unbelief.  And the people in that synagogue wouldn’t have it.  
How dare he say that!  Who does he think he is?  We know who he is.  He’s the son of Joseph, with a questionable birth by the way.  His family still lives in this village today.  He’s no different from us.  The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus because they knew Him.  They rejected Him because they didn’t want to hear His call to repent.  And we do the same.
We don’t want anyone pointing out our sin.  We don’t want anyone telling us to repent.  Because of our sinful nature, because of our pride, whenever someone calls us out for our sin, our first response is to attack, especially if we know that person.  How dare they say that!  Who do they think they are?  They’re not perfect.  What gives them the right to say that I’m wrong!  And what about them?  What about their sins?  People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  No way am I as bad as them.  What a hypocrite!  These are familiar words.  If we haven’t said them out loud, we certainly have all thought them.  
It’s hard, it’s embarrassing, it’s shameful to have others point out our sin.  It’s difficult to face our guilt, to show our face in front of people when they know what we’ve done.  We don’t want to do this.  It’s easier for us to just turn away from them and our sin.  It’s easier to reject them and refuse to listen to those calls of repentance.  But that’s what we need.  We need to hear God’s call to repent.  We need to see our sin.  We need to face it and repent of it so that we can be set free from it, so that we can receive forgiveness and salvation in Christ.
    Repentance has to be preached.  That’s the sermon that Christ came to proclaim.  Jesus went to His people proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand.  He called them to repent and to believe in the Gospel, to trust in God’s mercy.  And He sent His disciples out to do the same. 
    After His rejection at Nazareth, Jesus sent out twelve.  He sent them out with authority over unclean spirits, giving them the power to cast out demons and to heal people.  But this wasn’t the only thing they were supposed to do.  The main thing was proclaiming repentance and speaking peace.  Their mission was to point people to Jesus.  That’s what the casting of demons and healing of the sick did.  It shows that Christ has all authority.  He has authority over sin and death.  He has authority over the devil.  He’s the one that forgives and gives everlasting life.  So look to Him and believe.  Repent of your sins and look to Him for your salvation that was won on the cross. 
We may not like it, but we need it.  We need to hear God’s call to repentance.  We need to hear it most especially when that hard message comes from someone we know.  In fact, we pray for that kind of call to repentance.
You may not have noticed it, but that’s what we asked for in our Collect for today.  Go back to your bulletins and open it up to page 4, and read that prayer again. …   “O God, Your almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy. Grant us the fullness of Your grace that we may be called to repentance and made partakers of Your heavenly treasures.”  In this prayer, we ask God to call us to repent of our sin.  We ask Him to send familiar people in our lives who love and care about us, so that they may help us turn from our sin.  We pray for this because that’s what we need.  We need others to call us to repent.  You need to be called to repent.  I need to be called to repent.  Together, we need this, so that we can turn from our sin and turn to our Savior trusting in His forgiveness, trusting in God’s great mercy.   
 It’s hard to hear someone pointing out our sin.  It’s even harder when we know that person. We say we’d prefer this, for a close friend to point out our sin over a total stranger, but of course that’s not true.  If we had our way, no one would call us out.  It’s hard to admit we’re wicked sinners.  But we need to hear this call to repentance, and we need to heed it.  We need to turn from our sin and turn to our Savior, because forgiveness is found only in Him.  
So repent.  Turn from your sin.  Turn from your deeds that transgress God’s Law.  Turn from those hateful words that you’ve spoken.  Turn from those deep dark and shameful thoughts that you’d be embarrassed of if anyone found out.  Repent and turn from your sin.  Seek the forgiveness of Christ.  Set your eyes on Him and His cross, for that is where your forgiveness, life, and liberty is found.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.  

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