Tuesday, 29 March 2011 10:03
Many years ago I preached a sermon that I entitled, The Joy of Repentance.
The reason I remember preaching that sermon after more than twenty years was the response it raised from a few members of the congregation. They were outraged. How could anyone even suggest there is joy in recognizing that we have broken our relationship with God? Their outrage revealed that I missed the mark in my sermon. Communication was unsuccessful and the good news of forgiveness failed to reach some of my intended audience. Without true repentance, we continue to live in our isolation, loneliness, brokenness, and separation from God. Joy comes through repentance and the forgiveness that God offers so freely.
Every year I find it amazing how many church members attempt to move through Lent without facing their sinfulness. They are willing to concede they are not perfect, they failed to love God with their entire being, they failed to love their neighbor completely, they made bad decisions, or they failed to fulfill their full potential. They insist they are morally upright, they keep the commandments, they believe Jesus is the Son of God, and they go to worship at least a few times a year. They are not real sinners, are they
John Wesley focused a majority of his preaching on repentance because he knew it was only when individuals recognized they needed a Savior that Jesus could transform their lives and move them from being religious to being Christian. Being religious, spiritual, moral, or a church member is insufficient. None of these will redeem us. Only Jesus can redeem. Jesus can only transform when we recognize we have fallen short of the honor and glory of God. Wesley made it foundational in his preaching that repentance was possible because of the abundant grace in Jesus Christ. We are welcomed, clothed, and prepared for a heavenly banquet as the prodigal child returning home. Our cultural setting in the United States makes it extremely difficult to invite persons to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls for us to die to our present life, adopt a new set of values, and love people we do not even like. Why would anyone do that? The truth is that this death to self enables us to experience life as God intends, a joy that is unspeakable, and the assurance that we are loved and forgiven regardless of what we have done. We are born into eternal life. The restlessness that lies deep within that can never be achieved, is satisfied as we finally rest in God's love and presence. We are raised from death to life and begin living as Easter people.