Sermons

Sun, Dec 08, 2019

The reality of 'repentance'

Series:Sermons

“The problem with legal settlements is that they rarely settle anything. The parties leave the table with both claiming victory, but with both harbouring a deep dissatisfaction”...

so wrote one commentator, this week… 

in response to news that Rugby Australia and Israel Folau had settled out of court.

For those of you who don’t know…

or who haven’t been following the story…

Israel Folau was a champion rugby player––

starring for New South Wales and Australia––

and he’s a member of a fundamentalist Christian sect.

He posted some virulently homophobic comments on social media…

which upset and embarrassed Rugby Australia––

which maintains a strong inclusion policy––

and which almost lost them sponsorship from Qantas.

During his contract renewal negotiations…

Folau agreed not to make such public pronouncements again… 

but... 

then promptly posted some more virulently homophobic comments…

was sacked by Rugby Australia…

and sued.

Although most legal commentators stated that… 

they expected the court would have found strongly in favour of Rugby Australia…

the two parties settled out of court this week and issued a joint statement.

In that statement, Rugby Australia apologised to Folau, and his wife, for “any hurt and harm caused”.

It also stated that “Israel Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby”…

and that he “apologies for any hurt or harm caused”…

claiming, incredulously, that he “does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the basis of their sexuality”.

And yet, before the ink had even dried on the settlement papers…

Folau was back on social media claiming that the settlement showed he had been “vindicated”…

and that he was looking forward to the government enacting legislation to protect the freedom of religious expression.

All of which makes a mockery of his so-called apology.

He may have legally…

or formally…

apologised…

but, clearly, he didn’t really mean it.

He might be sorry that he’s lost several million dollars in income…

and that he may never play rugby in this country again…

but he’s not really sorry for what he said.

And, no doubt, he’ll say it again and again.

 

I have to admit…

that sort of mealy-mouthed, feigned apology––

the sort we see, so often, from our political leaders––

leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

An apology that doesn’t ring true is worse than no apology at all.

 

In popular thought…

repentance is generally understood as an admission of sorrow, remorse, and even guilt;

but, more than that…

truly being repentant also means demonstrating… 

by your demeanour… 

that you mean it.

That’s certainly how we normally understand repentance in a religious sense.

Repentance is thought to be a feeling of guilt and remorse…

because of things that we have done or said… 

about which, we presume, God is angry…

and, hence, things for which we need to be forgiven.

Above all else, repentance is seen as an emotional response:

not just confessing that I have done something wrong…

but feeling it…

deep down in my being.

 

And yet, that’s not how it’s understood in the New Testament.

The word in Greek that’s usually translated as ‘repentance’ means…

literally…

“to change one’s mind”.

However, within their culture and worldview…

they understood ‘the mind’ differently from us.

For them, the mind wasn’t the seat of logical or rational thought.

Rather, the mind was what controlled the human will.

In other words, ‘repentance’ for them––

a change of ‘mind’––

was not, in essence, a feeling of remorse.

Rather, repentance involved a fundamental change in one’s will––

a change in one’s motivation or priority.

But a change in motivation and priorities must be manifest…

as a fundamental change in one’s behaviour…

and a fundamental change in one’s way of life.

It wasn’t primarily an emotional response––

let alone a verbal response––

it was something much more comprehensive.

It was a change in how you perceived and in what you valued… 

a change in the way that you acted…

a change in the way that you lived your life.

That is what’s meant by ‘repentance’ in our story this morning from Matthew’s Gospel.

Here, John the Baptist exhorts his hearers… 

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

Change the way that you perceive, and value, and live…

because God’s kingdom has come near to us…

because God’s coming reign of justice, peace, and liberation…

has broken into our world;

and, if you don’t change the way that you perceive, value, and live…

then you won’t be a part of it––

you will find yourself on the wrong side of history.

That call to repentance is, fundamentally, a call to embrace the values of God’s kingdom––

fully and completely.

It’s a call to embrace those values not just in terms of how we see the world;

not just in terms of what we believe;

not just in terms of what we value or aspire to;

but in terms of how we act and live––

in meaningful, practical, concrete ways.

 

But, let’s be honest, most of us struggle with that, don’t we?

For most of us, religion remains a fairly cognitive exercise.

It influences our thinking and our beliefs.

It may even influence our values.

But, so often, it doesn’t shape the way that we act or the way that we live––

not in a real sense;

not in practical, concrete ways.

Let’s be honest…

in the Church, we can talk a lot about love and forgiveness…

but we find it hard to love and forgive in practice…

especially in the case of people who aren’t particularly loveable or forgivable.

We can talk a lot about justice…

but we seldom roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty…

fighting to change the system…

or going out of our way to help the down-and-out stranger…

or those who are marginalised.

We all enjoy our safe, comfortable, and privileged lives…

and we work very hard to keep them that way––

especially as we get older––

rather than stepping out of our comfort zone…

and taking a stand.

 

From early times, the Church has remembered Advent as a penitential season––

not to the same extent as Lent, of course––

but we are told that, in Advent, we ought to be reflective and repentant…

as well as expectant.

Usually, however, that’s been translated into pondering our ‘sinfulness’––

a sinfulness that forced God to send Jesus to us… 

to be born at Bethlehem and to die at Calvary…

without which we couldn’t be forgiven.

But, as the theologian, Marcus Borg, points out: 

“That’s a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent”.

Instead, he suggests, Advent is… 

“a season of anticipation, yearning and longing for a different kind of life and a different kind of world”.

As such, Advent does, indeed, call us to repentance.

It calls us to reflect upon the state of our world…

and the state of our lives…

and the degree to which we are embodying and living out the values of God’s kingdom.

Advent challenges us…

genuinely… 

to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”;

to live in such a way, that the fulfilment of God’s purposes for creation––

revealed to us in the coming of Jesus––

edge evermore closely…

and become evermore a living reality.

Powered by: truthengaged