Repentance is not a very common or welcome word these days, and for good cause. It’s been abused to hurt others – oftentimes painted in large letters on a poster attacking some lifestyle or another usually with something like: REPENT OR BURN IN HELL!
But let’s look a little deeper into the word. Sometimes people abuse words, but that doesn’t steal their deeper meaning if we can peel back some layers. What we’ll find with the word “repentance” is actually an invitation for us to turn around from any path that’s leading to a sort of “death” in our lives. An invitation to find a new path that gives life. To wake up to a fullness of hope and joy. It’s an awakening, of sorts, that repentance is calling us to enter.
When we’re on a wrong path – in a small way or big ways – we know deep in our souls that something is off. It’s a feeling that there’s a way of being, especially of being together here on earth, that we’ve lost. That we’re supposed to experience love, peace, joy and freedom – in our own hearts and in our relationships – but it feels out of reach.
We see it evidenced in the epidemic of deaths of despair in our nation, only heightened during this intense time of Corona. Our life expectancy is declining because we’re killing ourselves in our loneliness, isolation, depression, and division. And those of us who are surviving, or even still thriving in many ways, feel the effects as loved ones and neighbors struggle. We want to help. We wish there was more we could do. We mourn and feel the pain deeply. But we don’t know where to start.
This is, of course, a deeply complex problem. But may I suggest that there are small but profound steps we can take, even now. Jesus pointed us to one: repentance. In Matthew chapter 4, verse 17 we read that he began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Do not miss what Jesus does here. He joins repentance, turning around, and the nearness of the kingdom.
Might it be possible that as we look inward and turn, mourn, recognize the death of the things we’ve done wrong – to others and to ourselves – we will find, instead of guilt and shame, a freedom that is only available when we’ve fully recognized the depth of the bondage. A freedom that is found most fully when we allow the nearness of the kingdom to sink all the way down into our souls.
And so I say, to myself and to all who will listen today, “Wake up! Turn the other way! There is freedom and joy to be found!”
Lord, let your kindness lead us to repentance today. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Joel & Jeff