"Rethinking Repentance"

Matthew 4:12-23

26 January 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

Prayer.

 

Jesus calling his disciples,

inviting them to follow him and fish for people,

has always been an inspiring,

imagination sparking topic;

upon which many a great sermons have been preached,

and many faithful listeners

have been encouraged

to go forth in similar fashion,

and make more disciples of Jesus Christ.

It’s pretty dramatic

when two brothers leave their fishing nets and follow.

It’s downright exciting

when two other brothers leave their father behind and follow.

If only I had the charisma of Jesus! we think to ourselves.

We’d fill this old church with new disciples by the bucket load.

We’d become a mega church before you know it, too!

 

Over the years,

I’ve probably preached a few of those sermons.

I hope they were inspiring;

maybe, maybe not.

Over the years,

I’ve ridden the church growth bandwagon,

that worshipped at the altar of

growth for growth sake,

that, it is all about following the recipe

and bring in the sheaves,

reaping in the numbers.

In recent years,

I’ve grown skeptical.

I’m rethinking and doing a lot of praying

about what makes a disciple

faithful,

fruitful,

successful.

I’m open to the observations,

Spirit led insights,

and opinions of others.

 

In regards to our Gospel passage for this morning,

my thoughts are directed to Jesus making his home in Capernaum,

the sea side village of about 1,000 people

on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee.

A community of a thousand is quite small.

People would be familiar,

families and tribe members would be known,

people would be neighborly

in both the positive and negative aspect of the word.

Gossip would be in the street,

behind closed doors,

at the market, and

in the Synagogue before and after services.

Simon Peter and Andrew certainly had come to know Jesus.

James and John obviously had become familiar with him, too.

It wasn’t like Jesus was a complete stranger

who issued an invitation out of the blue.

No.

They had seen a great light rising from Jesus;

a light just as Isaiah had foretold.

He had been teaching in the Synagogue.

They had heard him preaching repentance

and teaching people to prepare,

for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

So, by the time Jesus encounters them on the shore,

the pump had been primed,

the advance work was completed,

the invitation simply sealed the deal.

They left with Jesus,

knowing full well

that they could return home at any time;

and after the resurrection,

they did.

 

Before you’re completely heartbroken

that I’ve just sucked

all the unbridled excitement

out of your historically dramatic call narrative

of Peter, Andrew, James, and John,

allow me to refocus

our thoughts

on the content of what Jesus was teaching.

Jesus was calling people to repentance,

because the kingdom of heaven was near.

 

Though it was thirty years ago,

I remember it just like it was yesterday.

A requirement of the seminary course I was taking

was the ability to define repentance

and all of it’s associated characteristics.

It would be inquired about back home

in written and oral ordination exams.

So we had better learn about repentance

inside and out.

 

Repentance was taught as a moral transformation.

It was rather one dimensional.

It was linear,

making it easy to memorize and regurgitate.

Repentance, we were taught

begins with a review of one’s actions,

feeling contrition or regret for past offenses.

Repentance includes confession,

either individual confession

or corporate confession.

One might call this “owning up.”

Speaking it makes it real.

Repentance makes the moral resolve

to stop the sin

and never engage in the sin again;

a complete 180 degree about-face

to begin life in a new direction.

Repentance must address restitution,

righting the wrong,

repairing the damage that was the result of sin.

Then, and only then,

could repentance lead to the request for

and the granting of

forgiveness;

which is healing

in all it’s completeness.

 

Yes, I believe I could pass an ordination exam once again.

 

What if repentance isn’t one dimensional?

What if repentance was more than just a moral transformation?

Could there be a spiritual repentance?

Relational repentance?

An intellectual repentance?

Repentance is not unique to Christianity

or to our Jewish forefathers.

It is common to Islam, Buddhism, and even found in Hawaiian tradition.

More to the point;

Where is the face and hand of God

in this Christian cookie cutter recipe for repentance?

 

From our Hebrew heritage

we hear God promise to Elijah

that if anyone returns in penitence

that God will receive him back.

Hosea proclaims that repentance

bring healing to the world

and reaches to the throne of the Lord.

Isaiah proclaims repentance

brings redemption with others

and with God.

The Hebrew word is “SHUV”

which means, turn,

to change.

 

From the Gospels and letters of the Apostles

we experience a different word for repentance.

When John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, or Paul speaks

the Greek word that is used is “METANOIA”.

Metanoia is a compound word,

I am told,

Meta meaning “changed”

Noia meaning “mind or heart.”

Yes, there is a moral imperative here.

But there is more.

In essence,

when Jesus is telling people to repent!

He is also inviting people to see things differently.

 

Repent!

Change from your ways of sinning.

Look at the world differently,

critically,

with a willingness

to allow

God to change your heart and your mind.

 

For Jesus,

he certainly was calling people to rethink religious life;

a lifestyle and culture,

at the time,

that was focused

on sacrifice and cleanliness,

strict adherence to the Law,

money, power, authority, and ego,

birthright and privilege,

corruption,

exclusion.

A call to repentance

was also a call to reconsider

a take for granted religion,

to open yourself to God speaking, calling,

and to allow your heart and mind to be changed.

 

How does Jesus’ call for repentance

impact us today?

Certainly, there is a moral imperative tied to repentance.

Stop sinning, confess your sin, change your ways, make restitution, and seek forgiveness.

At the same time,

I’d suggest our Gospel for today

is encouraging us to think more than just one dimensionally,

to consider rethinking Church

in terms of spiritual repentance,

relational repentance,

with the hope

that God will change our hearts and minds.

 

As an act of repentance

are we able to cast aside deeply rooted assumptions

and rethink Church?

 

The popular culture has much to teach us.

I’m privileged to chair the board of FLACRA,

Finger Lakes Addictions, Counseling, and Referral Agency.

I get to hear the inside scoop

in the world of addictions, treatment, and aftercare.

This world is rethinking itself,

in a similar way we may be called to rethink Church.

 

In the old days

the culture of treatment went something like this:

1. You have 3 chances to get clean and sober.

2. After 3 chances, you’re done with us. We don’t tolerate relapse. There will be no readmittance.

3. Break the rules and we throw you out.

4. You have to meet the State directed criteria for admittance.

5. You have to work harder than your counselor.

6. You have to establish goals and meet them.

7. You have to have money and / or insurance.

 

The fact is

this strategy is only modestly effective.

People are more complicated than these rules imply.

People that confront addictions are not simply moral failures,

they are people with dreams,

who love,

who want to change the world,

and themselves.

People with addictions are people chained by

a disease

that requires a soft touch approach

when possible and where needed.

Wellness is more about grace,

and living in that grace,

than simply meeting another goal.

 

Rethinking addictions has brought

fresh and new assumptions to the table.

At our last meeting this past week,

we were able to share

the world we hope to create.

It looks something like this:

1. Failure is never final

2. We take everyone

3. Once you are in, you’re always in

 

Wouldn’t it be great if Christ’s call to repentance

led us to rethink Church in a similar fashion?

that resulted in values and beliefs

that said:

1. With Christ, you always have a second chance.

We will love you, care for you, and support you

While you develop the necessary skills

to successfully develop and navigate

God’s call for your life.

If you fail, we will always welcome you back

and welcome you home.

When others fail,

you’ll become a part of the grace

that will never let them go, either.

2. We take everyone.

Everyone.

Period.

It doesn’t make a difference to Christ

and it isn’t going to make a difference to us:

if you have breath and a heartbeat,

you are God’s child

and we claim you!

All means all.

3. Once you are one of us,

you are always one of us.

You can move away,

call in sick,

even burn down the place.

It won’t matter.

You’re a part of the greatest alumni association anywhere.

God gave you to us,

and you’ll always be one of us.

You are closer than flesh and blood.

 

Dearly beloved,

Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Carry this message forward to us gathered here today.

Yes, this is a call to

repent from our failures

and begin a fresh walk with Christ

into the light of righteousness.

Could this also be

a call

to rethink assumptions

about the Church, organized religion, and our journey of faith?

Is the call to repentance

an invitation to see things differently?

The answer, my friends,

I’ll leave up to you.

Amen.