Monday, October 19, 2015

Telling It - The Good News of Repentance

Preached on Sunday, October 18, 2015

Scripture readings: Job 42:1-11; Mark 6:6b-29

The word “gospel” means good news. The center of the good news is Jesus, who is God himself coming into our world and coming to our side. This is something that happened in history a long time ago, but it is also something that is happening now.
Columbia River at Desert Aire/Mattawa: August 2015
If we are the people of God (the people of Jesus) then we are people who experience the God who came long ago coming to our world, now, and coming to our side, now. This is good news. We have a story of good news in our lives that is based on Jesus. We have many stories of good news, and Jesus sends us out to share our stories of good news (the good news as we know it) with others.
People who don’t know Jesus can meet him in the scriptures, just as the people of Jesus’ day could have met him in their scriptures: in what we call the Old Testament. But that was never enough.
The good news was a thing that had to happen. It had to be lived out; so that stories could be told about it. That is why God became a baby in Bethlehem, and a carpenter at work, and a man wandering on the open road. That is why God was robbed of justice and crucified on a cross for the sins of the world. That’s why God died and rose from the dead.
Yet it was never enough for God to come in Jesus and live out the story so that it could be known. It was always the plan that Jesus would send the people who followed him into the world to tell the world their own stories about him.
It’s your job and mine to tell those stories that Jesus has given you and me. These are stories of good news. Part of the good news is the thing we call repentance. Repentance is a strange thing. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel happy. At least that’s what we’re afraid of before we do it.
And we are afraid that repentance is something you have to do. Doing it seems to involve feelings we want nothing to do with. Job did it and he said what we want to avoid saying at all cost, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) It doesn’t sound like any fun.
It doesn’t sound like something related to love. It sounds more like a reaction to expectations. We know that people have expectations of us. People have checklists of things they judge us by. They expect us to repent.
Repentance is not a reaction to a checklist of a bunch of things that God has decided he doesn’t like. There are lists like that, but I don’t think God carries a checklist with him to size us up.
Some Christians might carry such a checklist. I remember, when I was in college, knowing a lot of Christian kids who had a checklist like that. Christians don’t go to movies, or watch television, or play cards, or gamble, or drink beer or wine or margaritas. Christians don’t dance.
I remember a very cute Christian girl, whom I knew when I was in college, with a checklist like that. She asked me if I danced. Without thinking I said, “No, I’m a terrible dancer.” But that wasn’t the answer she was looking for. I’m pretty sure she suspected me of dancing because she knew that I was a Presbyterian and so she knew that I couldn’t be a very good Christian (if I was one at all). If I danced, she would have the proof of it on her list.
I believe a lot of Christians carry lists like that, and I don’t believe that they are very good tellers of good news.
No, repentance isn’t the way we deal with someone’s check list. For one thing that would suggest that God doesn’t love someone until they repent, or that God doesn’t do good things for people until they repent. God is doing good things for everyone all the time whether they pass the grade on someone’s checklist or not.
No one in the New Testament comes to Jesus with repentance first in order to receive a blessing. They are blessed, they are helped, they are accepted, they are healed, and then they repent. They turn around. They see everything in a new way. They see Jesus in a new way. Through Jesus they see God as they never imagined him to be.
Job despised himself and repented, not because of all the trouble he had gone through, and not because he believed his friends, at last, when they told him he was only getting what he deserved. Job despised himself and repented because he was so happy. He despised himself for missing it for so long.
The story of Job is long, and strange, and complicated. Job never did anything wrong. The worst he did was to doubt that God loved him. All his endless arguments come from that.
Long before he repented, Job said, “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us (between Job and God), to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more.” (Job 9:33-34)
Job wished there was some go-between to take God’s judgment away. Job was right to want that. He guessed some truth about God.
Then, later, for no apparent reason, he begins to think like this, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he shall stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25) The redeemer, here, is a word for someone who is your own flesh and blood coming to your rescue. Something told him that God could be this redeemer; and he was right, only no one had ever told him anything like this before.
At last something happened that Job could never have expected. Job had to make a confession. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3-6)
In the beginning, with all the tragedy that came into his life, Job felt that God was against him and didn’t love him, and wouldn’t speak to him. At last Job saw God. Job met God. His book never tells us what Job saw, but what he saw was more than enough. He saw it and said it was wonderful; too wonderful to know.
Job, long before the time came in history, saw the God who became flesh and blood for us in order to rescue us by living for us, dying for us, and rising for us. In some miraculous way, the God of miracles showed himself to Job. And Job looked and saw Jesus.
In the book written about him, Job received a new life that was bigger and better than before. In the end, God says that everything Job had said was right and that the accusing friends, with their checklists, were wrong and that they needed to be prayed for and forgiven by Job.
In the Bible, the words that are interpreted as “repent” mean to turn around and to have a new mind or a new heart. We never find the turn-around coming first. It’s always the change of heart and mind that comes first. God’s people see something and we must remember that what they see is something that never went away from them.
What never went away was the God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. That God was leading them through the wilderness and later they knew this God as the one who had finally led them to the Promised Land of peace, and freedom, and fruitfulness. They never managed to keep that new mind and heart for long. Without a new heart and mind from God, you can’t know peace, and freedom, and fruitfulness for long. The long troubles of the Old Testament are the continuing saga of what happens when you have no new heart and mind.
There was a family I knew long ago where the husband had been an alcoholic for years and then he recovered and he stayed recovered, day by day. You know, that is one of the places in our world where you see this secret of the new heart and mind. Recovery from addiction requires a new heart and mind every day. But this is true of all of us. It’s the only way to live as the children of God. And it is always a miracle, as well as a responsibility.
The wife in this family would say that the miracle of their life together, as a family, was not that Jesus had changed water into wine. Their miracle was that God had changed the wine into heat, and electricity, and house payments, and furniture.
Timothy Keller writes this, “In our world where everything is about promoting your self, repentance feels brutal. But repentance is the only way to be healed.” Repentance is really the power and evidence of a life revealed by God, in Jesus, for you.
Repentance is like saying you’re sorry. Good parents teach their children to say “I’m sorry.” Good parents know that this is a good way for their children to enter life in a way that they can learn, and grow, and thrive. It’s easier for children to say “I’m sorry” because they have new hearts and minds. Saying, “I’m sorry,” keeps them that way.
Grown-ups often don’t let other grown-ups say, “I’m sorry.” We teach other grown-ups that they’ve had their chance and blown it. If we were children we would believe in repentance
Your story of the power that gives you repentance is also the good news that others need to hear from you. They are waiting to hear your story. Of course they don’t know they are waiting at all. But God has told you that they are waiting for you to give them the good news.
Repentance is always happy, and the only tears from repentance are tears of relief, and love, and joy, and hope. Repentance is always happy because it sees something that makes everything possible.
The funny thing about the Gospel of Mark is that Mark doesn’t tell us the stories of those who repented. He only tells us the stories of people who had their chance, who saw the evidence, and walked away from it. One of these people even killed the evidence.
King Herod Antipas is one of those examples. He imprisoned John the Baptist who was a forerunner and a witness of Jesus. John was the one who baptized Jesus and saw who Jesus was. John knew that repentance was a preparation for life.
Herod loved to listen to John, and John must have only told Herod the truth about Herod’s own life and about Jesus, the Messiah who was bringing the kingdom of God. Herod was tempted by the goodness he heard and saw in John the Baptizer, but he never let what he heard and saw change him, or make a difference. His pride kept him from a new life and he killed the witness to the life of Jesus.
The scariest thing about the gift of repentance is what happens when the gift is resisted, and ignored, and eliminated. Even when you clearly see what is happening to you, you find good reasons to say no. You resist life, and peace, and freedom, and fruitfulness.
There was a girl I often sat with at meals in the dormitory cafeteria in college. She was living a very dysfunctional life. She was looking for love in all the wrong places. She was Jewish but one day she told me that she felt Jesus looking at her when she was in that wrong place. I told her that Jesus was only telling her that he loved her and wanted to give her a new life. Her answer was that if she followed Jesus she would have to change her life.
It was a dead end for her. The new life that would have come from repentance, the new life that would have come from not trying to hide from the eyes of Jesus, would have given her so much peace, and freedom, and fruitfulness. Her new life would have been a gift, just as repentance would have been the gift that led her to that new life.
You need to know that God considered Job to be the best man in the world, of his time, right from the start, before any of his troubles came. Read the first chapter of Job and don’t try to explain it away.
Job’s repentance is one of the most important stories in the Bible. He was the best person in the world of his day, and his temptation was to give up on the love of God, and to give up on the life and the future that the love of God still had in store for him.
One of the most important lessons is that good people need to repent because they don’t know enough about the love of God. They don’t trust that love and they give up on the life and they give up on the future that God still has in store for them. You know this about Job when you read his story to the end.
I’ve known young adults who failed at things that were very important to them. They felt like failures. They felt they were at the end of their dreams. I have told them that they needed to believe that God loved them and they needed to know, also, that they were younger than they thought they were. We all know how old we are, but we almost never know how young we are.
Good Christian people stop believing that God can still do great things through them. Churches stop believing that God can still do great things through them.
Maybe they are right, sometimes. But they are usually wrong and they need to repent, but they probably won’t. It takes a miracle to see, again, the God you have stopped seeing. If you truly saw God, if you let yourself know what God wanted to show you, you would have a new life.
There are times when you fall back on what you have always heard, and on what your prudent mind tells you, and on what other people say. Meanwhile, God has not gone away. His plan for your life has not gone away.
It’s a story that you will be able to tell in the future, if you repent. The Bible tells us that even the good people, even God’s people, need to repent and be people of faith again.
There are always very good and wise sounding reasons for saying no to this. Don’t do that. Be someone who says yes to God. If you believe that God is a God of miracles, then believe in one more miracle and be ready to take part in it.

You need to see the God who is here trying to get you to see that he is looking at you, and that he is ready to give you life. Other people need to hear you tell that next story.

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