Feb 18th - The Fruits of Healty Repentance

"The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news?

You would have thought, wouldn?t you, that when the greatest spiritual leader of all makes the opening statement that defines his mission, that revelation would pervade the lives of his followers for all time.

Jesus emerges from his baptism of water and fire, and knowing that he will never get a second chance to make a first impression, says: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news?.

The time is fulfilled- God has been getting this moment ready for a while, and now it?s here.

?The kingdom of God has drawn near? From now on, all who care to be drawn near to are living under a new regime of mercy, compassion, life in all its fullness.

So, if you want to be a part of this, "Repent?, This does not mean "dig out all your deepest darkest vilest secrets and lay them bare?. (remember the Psalmist asks God to forget all those past misdeeds); "Repent? means, according to the Greek text "change your mind?. The less cerebral, more action orientated Hebrew equivalent translates "repent? as "turn around?, a decision perfectly appropriate when one is living into a new paradigm.

"and believe the good news?. This is a message of hope, something to get excited about, something to celebrate.

You would have thought, wouldn?t you, that when this same spiritual giant, seen through the lens of the writer of Luke, chooses a text for his first sermon, that passage would be seminal to everything that follows: "I have come to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, liberty to the oppressed, sight to the blind?? You would be forgiven for thinking that the God who speaks here is pretty well disposed toward his struggling, suffering people. Good news indeed.

And you would have thought, wouldn?t you, that when this same inspired teacher starts his best known sermon with a proclamations of how blessed are all those people who are positively disposed to others and the common good, that this would define and underline an emphasis of how God feels about people who are doing their best.
And, reflecting on the relationship between the writer of Psalm 25 and their God, you would think, wouldn?t you, that there is here a bond of warmth and trust and great hope.

I am not saying that God does not have to shout at people sometimes. He did that through the prophets, including John the Baptist, Jesus? forerunner and baptiser. And there are times, hopefully few, when we have to heed stern words of rebuke.
By and large, however, and overwhelmingly so with Jesus, the call to repentance, a change of mind and direction is hopeful and positive and life-affirming. I would go so far as to say that Jesus actually wanted people to feel good about themselves, and embrace the new life of the reign of God.

That being the case, what is the church actually thinking when it asks us in our liturgies, week by week, to pray repetitive prayers of confession like this:

We have sinned in thought, word and deed.

We have not loved you with our whole heart

We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

Nobody stops to ask what sort of a week we actually had. The negative is assumed. Then, having been forgiven, we go away, have another week of living, and come back and same much the same thing. "God, we have mucked up again. We got it wrong again. Doesn?t that ever bother you?
What is the point? If we are habitually underperforming, if nothing ever changes, why do we keep praying the same prayer over and over again; like the politicians praying the Lord?s Prayer in Parliament.

This is not healthy confession and repentance, and, at least most of the time, it bears no fruit, but simply reinforces the negative stereotypes we have about ourselves and one another. It is not good news.

Here we are seeing a fundamental difference between two ways of understanding who we are as human beings, and how God actually views us.

Let me try and illustrate with two anecdotes:

1. I remember vividly my first day as a conscript in the South African Defence Force. I boarded the troop train in Durban, dressed in civvies and with as healthy a self-esteem as could be hoped for an 18 year old male. When the train pulled into Kimberley at about three in the morning, we were woken by yelling corporals banging on the compartment doors. We were made to run the length of the platform clutching our suitcases. This experience, and the basic training in general was clearly engineered to break us down to nothing so we could be moulded into a unit of efficient killers who would obey orders without question, and leave behind the dreams and hopes of civilian life.

This is normal boot camp routine for all armies. You have to be brought to nothing before they can remould you in their required formation. What is far more worrying is when the same tactics are used by weird sects, and even, sometimes churches, who say in effect, "In you natural state you are nothing. You have to be broken down and reformed, reshaped into the conformity we require. Your total allegiance is now to us.

Some people actually like that. It saves having to think. And when the promotions come, the power can be intoxicating. I don?t think that is what Jesus is offering when he says "repent!?.

2. The other story is from Nelson Mandela?s "Long Walk to Freedom?. When he and a group of other prisoners are brought to Robben Island and being transferred from the boat to their prison block, the guards yell at them to "RUN!?. Mandela says to his companions. "Just keep walking?. The shouting gets louder, but the men just keep walking. The end to this story is that eventually, when the guards are engaging with Mandela, they walk at his pace.

Which of these energies do we want to embrace and walk with- the boot camp rifleman, or Mandela? And how might this choice affect the way we confess who we are and change our mind and direction when we need to? Because the fruit of healthy and unhealthy confession are different indeed.

I want to commend to you a book called "Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology, by Australian theologian Val Webb. At one point, Webb describes the tortuous process by which early Christian theologians like the writer of 1 Timothy, Tertullian, Jerome, and especially St Augustine, established Eve as the original sinner, defining her role as evil, and ascribing to her a weak and subordinate position. To quote Webb, "Augustine was sexually active as a youth, and had a concubine and a teenage son when he decided to become a celibate monk. Since his sexual desires were the one thing against which he still struggled, he denied humans had moral freedom or free will to choose good or evil?and declared all humanity doomed to ?original sin? through Adam?s tainted seed in intercourse. Augustine identified sexual desire as the original sin?.

This pessimistic evaluation of human nature, sin and sexuality has dominated Western Christianity to this day?..

Evidence mounted to fully implicate Eve. If sexual desire was the original sin, then Eve and women are dangerous as temptresses of men. She tempted Adam, causing the fall.? And so on!

The drastic consequences for women in patriarchal societies cannot be overestimated. From the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages to the designating of home and hearth as the woman?s place, every freedom women have since gained has had to fought for. One of these was the opportunity to use anaesthesia in childbirth. According to the Pope?s encyclical of 1930, "Giving birth to children with pain and suffering was women?s destiny through Eve, and any relief from or avoidance of this forbidden.?

Even to this day, there are churches that do not allow women to hold leadership positions, based on the perversion of biblical material. The fact is, so-called "original sin? is not known in the Bible, and Eve has no prominence beyond Genesis. Denigration of women is certainly nowhere to be seen in the ministry of Jesus. Quite the opposite in fact, as preacher Carlos Rodriguez tweeted recently. He says, "Dear Church; Jesus protected women- Empowered women- Honoured women publically- Released the voice of women- Confided in women- Was funded by women- Celebrated women by name- Learned from women- Respected women-And spoke of women as examples to follow.- Now it?s your turn?

What I am saying is that it is past time that we changed our mind about ourselves, and one another, and started questioning old assumptions and stereotypes, in order to make a creative and hopeful response to Jesus call to repentance, and believing the good news. We are people of worth. We are entitled to respect, and especially self- respect. The church of Jesus must be a place where all are honoured. Women, especially, are owed their rightful place. There are equity issues still to be resolved, both here and in the wider society. This comes right down to the way we use language, so as not to imply that everyone and everything is male unless otherwise stated.

I believe that when Jesus calls people to repentance, he has the healthy variety in mind, where we come to a sober estimate of who we are, the positives and the negatives, and a hopeful, exciting idea of who we might be.

So where does this leave us in the here and now. What is the way and the fruit of healthy repentance for us as we move forward into a new paradigm, with whatever changes of mind and changes of course are needed. It includes:

* Embracing a positive self-esteem. For some, this is a new paradigm, changing of their mind, turning around. As a bewildered Robert Johnson writes in his book "Inner Work?, "Why do so many people spend so much of their time opposing their own lives?

* Embracing the freedom to think for ourselves, to question and to doubt, or, as Val Webb hopes, to even do our own theology and question doctrines of negativity and subjugation. Take for example these words from four term Chancellor of Germany, Lutheran Angela Merkel, "God does not want puppets or robots; people who just do as they are told.?

*Embracing one another as people to be both loved and respected, cherished and encouraged. You will see lots of positive sayings around the Bill?s Place café. They are to remind us of our worth, and to be kind and not critical toward one another.

You would have thought, wouldn?t you, that Jesus being who he was, we would have got to this point long before now.

I invite you today to make one response to express your commitment to a repentant and hopeful community of faith. I invite you to write one, or maybe a few words on the card you were given. It is an indication of what you can offer to the healthy, life giving energy of this congregation. Tells us your good news. I am not asking you to do more things, though you might decide that for yourself. Your worth is not measured by how much you give. Nobody is asking you to run yourselves into the ground here. What I am looking for is a simple affirmation of a gift of grace, an attitude or action that adds to the positive energy, and helps to build the good news story of the Hamilton Broadmeadow Uniting Church. If you like, during the offering you can come forward and place that card, with your offering, in the plate out front. Or, just put it in the bag when it comes around.

I want you to repent, and believe this good news- in God?s eyes, you are better than you think. And everything Jesus said and did confirms this to be true.

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