The fourth Lenten theme at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church is repentance. This post will review the Scriptures and sermon for that theme and conclude with personal reflections.
The Old Testament text was Jeremiah 31:15-21 (New Revised Standard Version, with emendations):
- “Thus says the Lord:
- A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
- Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work, they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, your children shall come back to their own country.
- Indeed I heard Ephraim pleading:
- ‘You disciplined me, and I took the discipline; I was like a calf untrained. Bring me back, let me come back, for you are the Lord my God. For after I had turned away, I repented; and after I was discovered, I struck my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was dismayed because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
- Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in?
As often as I speak against him, I still remember him.
Therefore I am deeply moved for him; I will surely have mercy on him.
- Set up road markers for yourself// make yourself signposts;
consider well the highway, the road by which you went.
Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities.”
The New Testament text was Acts 28:23-28 (New Revised Standard Version, with emendations and emphasis added):
- “After [the Jewish leaders in Rome] had set a day to meet with [Paul], they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers.
- From morning until evening [Paul] explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.
- Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement:
- ‘The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.’
- Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
In the sermon Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen said that “changing direction is sometimes necessary. Making mid-course adjustments in life because we’ve gotten off track. Turning around. Finding a new way. . . .”
“Repentance is a common biblical term, found throughout Scripture. Whether in the Hebrew – the word is shuv – or in the Greek – metanoia – the Bible links repentance with a change of direction, a turning in life.”
The Acts’ passage about Paul’s meeting with Jewish leaders in Rome talks about the need for them to “[u]nderstand with their heart and turn. Repentance begins when the heart understands that it’s time to turn.”
That’s precisely what the prophet Jeremiah has in mind when he speaks to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. From the “prophet’s perspective the people had lost their way. He tells them their hope lies in turning and finding the path back not only to the land of Israel, but finding their way back to God. That’s the core issue here; is it the same for us? They had forgotten their covenant with God; that’s what landed them in Babylon in the first place.”
“Exile can be a powerful way for us to understand our own circumstances. Some of us are in a Babylon of our own right now, maybe of our own making. Some of us feel far from home.”
“The next time we feel ourselves in exile or isolated or cut off, let’s look for the way markers, the guideposts that point toward home, and then find within us the courage to follow them.”
“‘Consider well the highway,’ Jeremiah says to them. Remember how you got here in the first place. Make an honest assessment. Consider ‘the road by which you went.’
It helps to know how we ended up where we are; it’s important to have some sense of what went wrong.”
“That’s repentance-talk. The prophet is exhorting them to find a different path, to change directions, to turn back toward God. That’s the work of every person of faith, eventually. All of us. Over and over again.”
Theologian “Gustavo Gutierrez . . . calls sin, ‘a breach of friendship with God and others.’”
“Maybe that can help us remember better what went wrong and why we need to repent, why we need to change direction: we’ve broken the bonds of friendship with God and others. In so doing, we have let ourselves down, as well. We have diminished our own humanity by breaching our relationships. That’s the story of the people of God throughout scripture; and it’s our story, too. The people turn away from God; God calls them back; God waits; the people stumble along and, if their eyes are open and their ears unstopped, they – we – finally turn back toward God.”
“It’s the repairing of brokenhearted love”.
“If the question this Lent is What Does the Way of the Cross Ask of Us? The response points toward a change of heart. It invites us to turn around. To go back. To find our way home.”
“Much of what passes as Christian faith today is little more than glorified self-help, a way to improve our lives. Christianity is not a self-help religion; in fact, it’s not centered on the self at all. Quite the opposite: our faith is other-centered. It begins with and is sustained by the desire for right relationship; first with God, and then with others.”
“At its best, the Church is that road sign for each of us – and for the world around us. Our witness in the world ought to help people find their way home, and lead us in that direction, too.”
“But to do so, to be that witness, to find our way, we will have to rediscover the gentle power of repentance, a turning of the heart that puts us on the path back to God.”
In the Jeremiah passage, Ephraim confessed to God about his turning away from God and the disgrace of his youth. But Ephraim repented and asked God to let him come back. In response God says He is deeply moved for Ephraim and “will surely have mercy for him.”
This reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 10-32), where the younger of two brothers after leading a sinful life in another country “came to himself” and repented. He then returned to his home, and his father ran to embrace and forgive him and to celebrate the return of his son.
This Parable for me is one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture and one of the foundations for my Christian faith. It reminds me of my repentance and returning to God in 1981 by joining Westminster after 24 years of religious and spiritual nothingness. Since then its worship services and adult education offerings have been signposts and road markers that help me maintain that faith.
Apostle Paul in the Acts passage obviously is annoyed with the Jewish leaders in Rome who would not change from their beliefs and ways to accept Jesus. Paul quotes Isaiah to condemn them and tops it off with a taunt that the Gentiles will listen and accept Jesus.
Paul, in my opinion, is too hasty and uncharitable in this response. Any kind of significant change by an individual is difficult, including a Jew’s changing from a traditional Jewish faith to one that puts Jesus at the center of that faith.
It takes courage to make such a change. This is recognized by Alcoholics Anonymous’ use of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the courage to change the things that I can.”
 Prior posts discussed the following three themes: mindfulness, humility and mercy.
 A subsequent post will discuss several Jewish individuals who had the courage to change from Judaism to Christianity and those who did so out of fear of persecution.
One thought on “Repentance”