Monday, January 23, 2023

Repent. . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A), preached on Sunday, January 22, 2023.

I grew up with a small town doctor who was a great physician but who spoke very bluntly.  On one occasion a very large woman in town came in to complain about her ills when Doc Tollefson told her “you are too darn fat.”  How dare the good doctor address her like that!  But was he wrong?  No, she was fat, very fat.  What was surprising is that so was he.  He could have and probably was also speaking to himself as well as this woman.  You are too darn fat.

When St. John issued the call to repentance, he spoke as one who was under the same need to renounce sin and serve righteousness.  John was looking not for a Savior who would redeem others but also for His own Savior and Redeemer.  We know this because John encouraged his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One to come or should they wait for another.  John was fat with sin just like the people to whom he preached.  He was also looking for the Christ who would save him.

So what does it mean then when Jesus comes along and takes up the same call to repent that John had once spoken?  Jesus is like us in every way but one.  He is without sin.  He wears our flesh and blood with all their limitations including death itself but He is not a sinner.  He is the Savior who is come to bring that which John said was coming.  John preached repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

When I was in seminary it would have been seen as rude to call God’s people to repentance.  After all, who am I but a sinner like you and like John.  And, as we all know, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.  So was invented the idea that the preacher must not address the congregation as you but always include himself – we need to repent.  The fallacy in that is that no preacher stands before you as your moral superior – he stands before you and preaches to you in the person of Christ – addressing you with the Word of Christ and not his own.

I am glad we decided that the preaching of repentance is not being rude or impertinent.  It is being Christ-like.  Jesus preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And those who would stand before you in Christ’s name dare not preach anything less.  Repentance is not something we do once to prove ourselves either ready or worthy of being Christ’s own people.  It is, as Luther’s 95 theses put it, the very shape of our everyday Christian lives.  
We cannot call people who do not know God to repentance.  Repentance is not a work we do.  Repentance is the fruit of the Spirit working in us that which is well pleasing to God.  The call to repent cannot be silenced until the Kingdom of heaven is fully come and sin is no more.  Until that day, the call to repentance should be heard in every sermon.  

So what does it mean to repent?  It means to turn around.  It means to make a 180 degree turn from walking in the way of death to walking in the way of life.  Of course, it does not mean that we will never sin again.  We have this gift in earthen vessels and we must regularly and even weekly return to the Lord for His forgiveness and to be restored because have fallen.  But neither can we claim to be children of light and remain in the dark.

Jesus tells us what this repentance is.  While walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers and said to them:  “Follow Me.”  They needed to turn away from the ways of the law that presumed you could earn your place in the heavenly kingdom and to turn away from the self-righteousness that presumed you were doing just that.  They needed to turn away from any idea that they were doing okay on their own.  They needed to turn around and follow Jesus and Jesus only.

Repentance is the shape of Christian life.  We pray this in the liturgy.  We pray to meet the Lord in the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood with repentant joy. In other words, to come to the Lord’s table not trusting in our own righteousness but in Christ’s righteousness alone.  That communion on the first day of the week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, is lived out over and over again throughout the week as the Spirit works repentance in us, teaching us to renounce sin and all ungodliness and to live the new lives given to us in the waters of our baptism, becoming the people God has declared us to be.

This is not the fearful repentance of a people who dread the Kingdom.  The doctor did not say lose weight or die.  This is the repentance of a people who have learned to hate sin the way God hates sin – the sin in ourselves every bit as much and more than the sins we see in others.  This is the repentance of a people who do not fear God’s judgment on us will change but who count on God’s judgment in Christ being the same forevermore.  This is the child who heeds the call to go to bed early because he does not want to miss tomorrow and not the kid who is sent to bed early because he is being punished.

Repentance usually boils down to behavior – give up the bad things and try to talk yourself into doing the good things.  But repentance is not a diet to shed a few pounds of sin.  Repentance is about who you follow, whose voice is most important in your ears, whose food you receive with repentant joy, and whose future can rescue you and keep you safe.  Following Jesus is not a matter of avoiding sins like they were pot holes on a highway but where the road leads.  Jesus calls us to repentance and faith because that road leads to heaven.  He walks that road with us to guard against temptation, to restore us when we fall, to lead the way when we are lost, and to support us when our strength disappears.  That is also what it means to repent.

My friends, I am just as fat with sin as you are.  We all need to repent.  But I am not here to give you the false comfort that because your pastor is also a sinner you should not feel so bad about yourself.  I am here to give you the true comfort that God has not simply called us to repentance but works that repentance in us.  I am here to call you to repentance because Christ has died for your sins and been raised for your justification.  I am here to call you to repentance because the way you are going leads to death and there is another way in which to walk that leads to life.  That is the call.  Repent.  Believe.  Walk in the way.

The word repent has gotten a bad name.  The doctor did not tell his patient she was too darn fat because he did not like her.  Out of care for her he told her the blunt truth.  God does not call you to repentance because He does not like you.  He calls you to repentance because He loves you enough to die for you.  He calls you to repentance because it is His will and purpose that you walk not in the way of death but in the way of life and of life everlasting and Christ is that way.  For that to happen, Christ needs to be YOUR way, truth, and light.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.


Timothy Carter said...

Timothy Carter Commented. 1/23/2023. 10:30AM. Pastor Peters, you preached: “Communion on the first day of the week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, is lived out over and over again throughout the week as the Holy Spirit works repentance in us, teaching us to renounce sin and all ungodliness and to live the new lives given to us in the waters of our baptism…. becoming the people God has declared us to be.”

You speak of “the repentance of a people who have learned to hate sin the way God hates sin… the sin in ourselves every bit as much and more than the sins we see in others.”

Beautiful, Confessional, Comforting and Convicting preaching. We are indeed made into Children of God…not because of what we do but completely because of what God has done for us through the Means of Grace….mainly within the church.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.

gamarquart said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I am very much aware that I will write some harsh things about “Repentance”, which will contradict both Lutheran doctrine and particularly practice. Please do not be offended.
Beginning with Luther’s first Thesis, ” When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’(Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance,’” there were, at Luther’s time, those who thought this was a bit radical. Luther’s response to them was, in effect, “You will pray the Lord’s Prayer every day, so that means you will repent for the rest of your life.” This responds technically to the criticism, but certainly not the spirit in which it was originally written.
The first thing we have to understand is that, according to Lutheran doctrine, there are two types of repentance. Here is Walther:
”Thesis XII.

One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased. He does not speak of repentance which precedes faith, but of that which follows it. The great majority of sincere Christians who have the pure doctrine have a keener experience of repentance after faith than of repentance prior to faith.”
The same Luther, who wrote the 95 Thesis, wrote, after his “Tower Experience,” in the Smalcald Articles: in the Section “Of the False Repentance of the Papists”: “40] And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because, through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7:14-25, [shows] testifies that he wars with the law in his members, etc.; and that, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost that follows the remission of sins.” You may say, “you are arguing against yourself!” But here we have a problem in the translation from the German. By the time Luther wrote the Articles, he had a much better understanding of the Gospel. In German, part of the text reads, “40] Und diese Busse währt bei den Christen bis in den Tod;…“ The German word „währt“ does not mean “continues“, but “has an effect” or “is in effect.”
In other words, the one Repentance at conversion, is valid, or works until death. That does not mean Christians should not be contrite about their sins on a daily basis as our Lord taught us that in the Lord’s Prayer. But we should be confident that God forgives us our sins in accordance with His Word and Promise.
Luther wrote in his great Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 5, v. 1:“Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ's sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.”

If repentance is not “the entire life of the Christian,” what is? Joy is first on the list, as St. Paul writes in Philippians 4, “4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be apparent to all. The Lord is near.”
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Continued in next posting. George A. Marquart

gamarquart said...

Continued rom previous posting
The second, which is inseparable from the first, is service, or joyful service. When on the day before His death, our Lord said, John 13:34-35, “34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He said this after He had washed the Disciples feet, and explained why he did it.
I was genuinely surprised to read a comment from Rev. Schmemann, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church in America, a Church from which one rarely hears about joy, but here it is, ““The origin of “false religion” is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. Meanwhile joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the fruit of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy these can easily become “demonic”, a perversion at the base of the most religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility.”

I am afraid that ours has become a religion of fear, because we do not understand the fullness of God’s gift to us in the Gospel. That, and only that is why ours and other churches have been losing members for such a long time.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart