Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Advent 3: Sunday, December 10, 2017
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the notion of repentance. I didn’t want to spend my life feeling sorry for things I had done. If I screwed up, I learned from it, apologized, and moved on. I tried not to beat myself up regularly about things I had done or not done—in error.
And that’s what repent meant to me: to be really really sorry for something. We say it in the confession: “We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings…” Or in Rite 2: “We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent..”
Repentance clearly = feeling sorry. That is the commonly used definition today—Webster even agrees.
So—I reasoned, this means: “ Be very very sorry for all the things you have done wrong, because the kingdom of God is coming and we want to see some remorse!”
The word “repent” in its original Greek form is metanoeo, and it literally means ‘to change one’s mind’, or—”to change one’s course”, or – “to change one’s view to a different perspective.”
This is one church building. I think we all agree with that statement. It has pews and a front door, and an altar, and candles, people—some dressed in robes, some not—but it’s all part of this church: St. Mark’s. When I’m up here, or Danny’s up here, or anyone who serves is up here, we view the church from this perspective (demonstrate). When you all arrive in church you see the church from YOUR perspective (demonstrate). DO THE PERSPECTIVE THING WITH A PARISHIONER.
It looks very different viewed from two different perspectives, but I think we can all acknowledge it is still the same church.
So it is with our life. We are all on one world. We go to our jobs, we meet people, we have families, we get sick, we get ready for Christmas… We all live in the same world. But do we see it from the same perspective? Some of us have more than enough. Some of us have just enough. And some of us are struggling. I’ll bet all of our perspectives of the world are just a little bit different from each other’s. What if circumstances changed? Would our perspective change too?
When we encounter Christ in our lives, when we feel the transformative power of his love, when we begin to see ourselves in this one world as interconnected beings in the Spirit of God, when we view this world from Christ’s viewpoint—this new perspective can change our world.
When divisiveness wracks our country, when senseless, random violence erupts—when we become immune to social, political and economic injustice, when we do not see the “other” as a beloved child of God, no matter where they live, or what their personal circumstances, this is because we are seeing everything through the lens of our personal circumstances. It’s a limited perspective. Madeleine L’Engle once said, “I have a point of view, and you have a point of view—we ALL have points of view. God has VIEW.”
When we get stuck in our limited perspective, we need to repent– to change our perspective and realize there is another way, another path, another perspective: Christ’s. Christ’s perspective says we are part of one human community, we can listen without hatred, we can see ourselves and one another as the face of God in the world. We can tear down the walls that separate one from another. We can change our view, our perspective, to Christ’s view, and Christ’s perspective. Seeing things from Christ’s perspective changes our path forever—and THAT is repentance.
Repentance isn’t “feeling sorry—or feeling remorse”—or indeed feeling anything.
In the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, “repentance” means “to return” – that is, to return from exile, to return to life in the presence of God, to a life centered in God.
The way the bible translates the word, repentance means that we don’t feel something, it means we DO something.
Repentance is an action.
Repentance is not about the past– feeling sorry– but about the future– which path we now follow.
So let’s look at the prayer book with fresh eyes: a new perspective.
“ We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings…” “We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent..” Ahhhh—I was missing the comma. There are two different actions here. Feeling remorse when we know we are in error, and THEN repenting: We feel something, and then we must DO something. Walk a new path with eyes focused on this new perspective of the world.
And John the Baptist tells us what a changed perspective looks like: sharing possessions. clothing the naked, sharing our food, extending radical hospitality to the poor and the marginalized. Working against exploitation or extortion when we encounter it. We do many of these things now, but when we forget our common humanity—and we sometimes fall short of this goal– we are called back to repentance.
Repentance: it’s all a matter of perspective.