Tag Archive | repentance

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/6/15)

first reading:  Malachi 3:1-4

Psalmody – Luke 1:68-79

second reading:  Philippians 1:3-11

gospel reading:  Luke 3:1-6

Today is John the Baptist’s day.  Every reading except Philippians points us right to him.

Assumption Cathedral of the Ryazan Kremlin. XVI century

Assumption Cathedral of the Ryazan Kremlin. 16th century

As Christians we immediately think of John when we read from Malachi about the messenger who will come to prepare the way.  Our normal psalm from the book of psalms is replaced today by Zechariah’s song – a song he sang about his newborn son John.  And of course, the gospel reading is ALL about John, placing him in a particular time and place of human history.  It’s practically a history lesson.

Of course it’s appropriate for us to spend a bit of time with John in Advent.  He preached about the one who was coming, and we wait for the celebration of that coming on Christmas Day.

Except today we don’t hear John preach his message.  We hear about the message, but not the message itself – we mostly read a description of John.  And it’s not even the graphic description of his looks we’re so familiar with – this is a description that Luke pulled out of Isaiah chapter 40.

After reading these passages I’m left wanting more – more MEAT, if you will.  Preach to us.  Give us something to do.  Rebuke us, forgive us – anything!

But these readings won’t do that for us, and maybe that’s the point.  Maybe it’s the point to leave us hanging a little.  To leave us thinking, “Now what?”

Faith often does that.  We experience it all the time in life – wondering or worrying about what comes next.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing probably more wondering and worrying than usual lately. Our world and our country has seen more than its usual dose of violence in the last month.  It’s left me with anxiety about the future, wondering what kind of world we are leaving for our children and our children’s children.

And unlike some people who might point the finger “out there” and blame others for the course of events, I tend to look at myself and ask, “How have I contributed to this mess, either by my action or inaction?”

I certainly don’t have the power or voice to speak to or act towards a global audience, say, like the Presiding Bishop or the Pope, or the President – but I DO have the power and voice to speak and act LOCALLY – to do and say what I can, that will either speak the love Christ – or “something else” – to those around me.

So I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on myself.  This fits in perfectly with the preaching of John the Baptist, and with the season of Advent.

John the Baptist calls us to repent.  To look at our lives, to face clearly where we have fallen short – that we are always falling short.

John the Baptist says – stop pointing your finger out, and start pointing it IN.  Ouch.  That hurts.

But no one promised that a life of faith would be easy.  Even Luke’s referencing of Isaiah to speak of John isn’t easy.  Luke’s and Isaiah’s words describe John’s ministry AND OUR LIVES as constantly being remolded, remodeled, reshaped and changed.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”

This is a rich picture placed before us.  It’s some serious roadwork.  Hard physical labor – and dirty – when you look at it from a purely literal point of view.

But of course, Luke and Isaiah aren’t literally talking about highways and byways; the paths and valleys and mountains and crooked and rough ways are metaphors for our LIVES, as individuals and as a community.

OUR paths need to be made straight.  OUR holes need to be filled in, and our mountains need to be made low.  What is crooked in US needs to be straightened out, and OUR rough spots need to be made smooth.

The truth is that none of us are perfect, and there are parts of ourselves that need work.  And even when we get one part of it “made smooth,” there’s still more to do.  And sometimes in making one part straight, other parts get crooked, so we’ve got to work on them then!

Right about now, when I’m doing all this self-reflection and realizing just how “not perfect” I am, I get the urge to say, “Bring on the baby already!  Why all this John the Baptist uncomfortable self-reflection stuff?  Let’s just skip to Christmas!”

But reflecting is a part of the Advent season.  Waiting is certainly a theme, and is probably more popular because it’s easier – but so are reflection and repentance.

If you think about it, what better way can there be to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child than to confront how very much we NEED him.

Jesus came to be with us – Emmanuel – not as a statement of cuteness or cordiality, but because we need a SAVIOR.  Jesus came to be with us because we have crooked part of our souls that WE can NEVER make straight – rough ways WE can NEVER smooth out.  We cannot do it.

As much as we can do little things, as much as we can do some work on the roads of our souls, they’ll never be pothole free.  We need a savior.

We need God to come to us and save us from ourselves.

We NEED that baby, because that baby will go to the cross to make sure we see the “salvation of God.”

John the Baptist preached repentance because we need it, as uncomfortable as it is for us to admit that.

In order to come CLOSE to appreciating who Christ is, and the gift of Christmas, we need to stop making excuses – and confront in ourselves how much we need him.

If we do only that this Advent, then we have done it well.



Ash Wednesday, 2015

Ash Wednesday, 2015 (preached 2/18/15)

first reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

second reading:  2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

gospel reading:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians give us the theme of this Ash Wednesday, and for the season of Lent.

So how do we begin?

The prophet Joel tells us, “Blow the trumpet sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people…”  and the words we will use in our gospel acclamation until Easter – “Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”

We have a solemn assembly this evening. God’s people are gathered. And this gathering begins our journey of reconciliation, of returning.

In tonight’s exhortation, which we will hear in a few minutes, we are summoned to the special disciplines of Lent – repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love.

These are ways we return and are reconciled anew.

repentanceRepentance.   Turning around.  Turning away from sin.  We don’t talk much about repentance. It’s certainly not fashionable to say, “I’m sorry.”

Political careers and personal relationships have been ruined because of the stubborn refusal to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

There is the popular phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I don’t know who came up with that, but it’s a LIE, plain and simple.  The truth is, love means having to say you’re sorry – A LOT.

We’re imperfect human beings, you and I, and we inevitably do or say things that hurt others.  And it’s hard to admit when we’ve made mistakes, and when we love, cover-ups and denials only compound the hurt – they never help.

When we love and we’ve hurt, we repent and ask our beloved for forgiveness. And if we do this in our earthly relationships, how much more do we need to do this with God?

fasting1We also don’t talk about fasting much, unless of course it’s a diet that we think will help us be more beautiful or fit or healthy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what spiritual fasting is.

Fasting is about denying oneself without the expectation of worldly benefit, and it’s NOT just about food.

Fasting is about sacrifice, giving up just a little piece of ourselves so we might experience just a tiny fraction of what Jesus gave up for us.

We have become too accustomed I think, to getting what we want when we want it – spending money we don’t have on things we don’t really need.

Fasting teaches us that it IS possible to go without, to wait, to have patience – whether it’s fasting from meals, or a specific food, and even better, fasting from unhealthy behaviors that teach us to have more respect for our bodies or for others.

Durer's praying hands

Durer’s praying hands

Prayer is something we DO talk about, but I wonder sometimes if we’re just giving it lip service.

How do we talk to God? I would guess that we are pretty good at asking God for stuff, even if it’s important stuff, like our health, or to take care of our loved ones.

But it’s easy to neglect praying for the needs of “others” – and by others I mean those we don’t know and will never know.  The hungry, those without adequate shelter (especially in this frigid weather), those of our brothers and sisters whose lives are being threatened for their faith…

And it’s easy to neglect prayers of thanks, especially if we’ve been feeling burdened.  It’s also easy to make prayer a ONE-SIDED conversation, not listening for how God is trying to speak to us.  Communication is important in maintaining and strengthening our human relationships.

We need to tell the special people in our lives on a regular basis that we are thankful for them; ask for what we need from them; respond when they need something from us; and listen when they speak.  It’s possible to have relationships without these things, but not deep meaningful relationships. And so it is in our relationship with God.

1366626254_186157Works of love, or to use the old word, ALMSGIVING, is the fourth of our Lenten disciplines.

We get nervous sometimes in Lutheran circles when talking about works of love because we don’t want people to confuse them with works that get us brownie points in heaven.

But that doesn’t mean that works aren’t important to faith. Good works, works of love, are ways we give thanks to God for our salvation, not ways we earn it.

One of the ways we show our love for God is to love our neighbors – both friends and enemies – in word and deed.  Jesus gave over his whole life for you and me, surely we can give a bit of ourselves to help our neighbors.

These four disciplines of Lent – repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love – help us to reconcile and return to the Lord our God.

It is a time to re-fresh, restore, and re-focus on our relationship to the One who gave us life and loves each one of us here.

For while Lent is a solemn time, the whole point of the solemnity is to draw ever nearer to God – to experience more our NEED for God, and the depth of God’s love for us.

Lent helps us make sure our journey to the cross of Good Friday is not without reflection on our sin which necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice, but also on his LOVE and forgiveness, which was his sole purpose.

Our journey to the cross of Good Friday is also a reflection on how we RESPOND to his great eternal sacrifice.

How do we say thank you for a gift we can never reciprocate? For a love we can never return in kind?


***I don’t talk about the imposition of ashes in this sermon.  If you’re needing/desiring a more “ash” related message, feel free to look at my sermon from last year by clicking here.

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, year B, 2014 (preached December 7, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

second reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a

gospel reading:  Mark 1:1-8

In our gospel reading this morning we hear, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  St. Mark tells us that this messenger is John the Baptizer.

Through his preaching and baptizing, he made people ready to receive the One who would come after him, about whom he says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”  John is the baptizer, the announcer, the preparer – sent by God to make the way for Jesus the Christ.

The word “Advent” means arrival.  This reading tells us about Advent in the past tense – how John prepared the people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus.  But how can this reading apply to Advent in the present?

What does it say to us, who in this season of meditation and anticipation, are trying to find new ways of inviting the Lord into our life today?

Scholar Reginald Fuller states, “The Church must allow John the Baptist to perform his distinctive ministry of forerunner in its midst today.  How is he to do this?  By the preaching of repentance.  Unless people are first convicted of sin, they cannot know the need for a Savior.” (Preaching the Lectionary, 2006. p. 208)

Have we been convicted of our sin?  Have we come to the realization that we are far from perfect creatures, and NOT the Creator?

As Christians we need to be constantly aware of our sinfulness and brokenness.  That was the calling of John the Baptist.  He held up a mirror for each person to look at to see their true selves – the kind of mirror that strips away all the makeup, all the images we put on to make ourselves look better on the outside.

And what needed to be done 2,000 years ago still needs to be done today.

In some churches there is little talk of sin.  But how can God’s grace mean anything to us unless we recognize how much we are utterly dependent upon that grace?

Confronting our sin is not popular, it doesn’t make us feel good.  It strips us of all “holier than thou” pretenses, all notions that we’re better than anyone else.

This is so necessary for a life of faith, this is why confession is SO important, to strip ourselves bare before God, who sees us naked anyway, so that we can experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.

Because we’re called to repentance, not so God can lord it over us, hold our sins against us and keep us down.  John the Baptist called the people to repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

We need to confront and confess our sinfulness, come to repentance, so that we can experience in a profound way, the love and forgiveness that God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news – not our sinfulness, but God’s boundless, all-encompassing love for you and me.

In our Old Testament reading we have a wonderful image of God – and the last two verses are quite meaningful.  Isaiah gives us an image of God’s awesome power and how it’s used.

“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  God sounds like a real tough guy.  Watch out for this God – he means business.

But that’s not the end.  In the very next verse Isaiah explains how God uses this power – the power of his arm.  We read, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

God has the power to crush us – but loves us in spite of all the mistakes we have made and will make in the future.  God is loving, forgiving, merciful, kind and gentle to all the sheep.  This can give us comfort and strength as we examine ourselves, as we realize our sin and how much we need the grace of God.

I’d probably be negligent if I didn’t mention the unrest and protests that have occurred across the country in light of the events in Missouri and New York.  Hard to look at God’s model of power and NOT think of it.

God uses God’s power, not to crush, but to bring love – this is the ultimate example of the use of power for us – whether we are in law enforcement, involved in protest, or watching and wondering how to respond.

I think if all sides could come together and acknowledge their mutual sinfulness, both institutional and individual – if WE could each examine OUR hearts and how we treat one another – it would go a long way toward bringing real peace and justice to all our communities.

When John the Baptist says, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming,” he means the One who uses his power for love.

When John the Baptist says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he is talking about the One who stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals, and even washed their feet.  God’s love for you and me knows no bounds, it goes the extra mile and beyond our greatest expectations – and this isn’t just good news, it’s the best news of all.

But how will people know this best of all news?  How will the ministry of John the Baptist be carried out today?  How can people come to confession and repentance so that they can know how far God has gone to love them?

Through you and me.  WE are the Church.  WE have the mission to carry on where John left off.

But not to talk about sin so that we can beat people down.  Not to talk about sin so that we can pass judgement.

But to talk about sin, to acknowledge it, so that we can experience the awesome forgiveness of God that is waiting for each one of us, to make us free.