Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

Repent and Forgive

April 22nd:

Repent and Forgive
April 22, 2012
Call:   Acts 3: 12-19
Text:   Luke 24: 36b - 48
Read:   W&S #33

                                Repent and Forgive

If you are like me,
Then you will have to admit that the direction to "Repent"
can be  well...         disconcerting   even discomforting

As Christians,  we may then find        that discomfort
        Discomforting in and of itself

For not one of us is without sin
Not one of us can say he/or she has never let God down.
        And that is what sin is: letting God down;
Not one of us can claim perfection.

Therefore, it seems like we should be more comfortable
Perhaps even embracing -
Of the concept of repentance.  For it leads to needed forgiveness.

But we are not.
And I think that our problem comes
        Not from the true concept of repenting
        But from the distorted concept that way too many people profess.

I believe that we find the word discomforting because
too often       it is couched in terms of a threatening God

When I hear "Repent!"   I think of Jonathan Edwards'
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
        Which I read some 50 years ago - and never forgot.

Edwards presents the image of God dangling us by a thread directly over the pit of Hell.

I picture that and it causes me to imagine God saying,
        "Repent, Jim!   Repent, Jim or I'll cut this thread
      And I'll allow you to fall into the fire and brimstone of the pit below.
                What will it be, Jim?           What will it be?"

I don't like that picture.

I don't like that picture
because it scares me - and scares me a great deal!

More importantly, though,       I don't like that picture
because I have a hard time reconciling that picture
        With the Good shepherd
        With the one who constantly teaches of love
        With the one who loved me enough that he went to the cross

In short, I have a hard time reconciling the picture Edwards paints
        With the picture that Christ paints.
and     With the loving and merciful God about whom Christ taught
The God revealed to us through that same Jesus Christ.
And thus, although I would defend God's right to dangle me like that
        I cannot believe that that's the way God tries to bring us into a correct and closer relationship.

I cannot accept that the God whom I serve is
        a God of punishment
        a God of retribution
        a God of vengeance

My understanding of God
        Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
Is of a God who prefers
love to punishment
reconciliation to vengeance and retribution
and a God who has chosen to sacrifice what God loves most
                God's own son
to avoid cutting Jonathan Edwards' thread
and allowing us to fall into the pit.

That does not mean that God     doesn't care what we do
        Of course, God cares
That does not mean that God     doesn't expect things from us
        Of course, God does
That does not mean that God     is weak or indifferent.
        Of course God isn't

But I believe that God's approach to calling us closer is one of
        Demonstrating God' s love               not God's anger
        Demonstrating God's mercy       not God's thirst for retribution
        Demonstrating God's kindness    not God's awesome power
This is clear from Christ's statements to the disciples on Easter night
        Both in John's version which we heard last week
        And in Luke's version which I share now         [24: 36b - 48]

Look at the approach Jesus took - the very night of his resurrection

The first thing he said was     "Peace be with you."
        He came to them
not angry about the cross and the nails
not to upbraid them for fleeing, denying, and disbelieving
        But rather to share his peace and his love.

Then he asked them "Why are you frightened?"
        And explained he was not a ghost - even eating to convince them.

He did not want them terrified.         He did not want them frightened
He did not want them worried, apprehensive or nervous
                He wanted them reassured and comforted by the Good News

After calming them down,
        He explained what had happened and why
He explained that everything written about him
                In the law of Moses     In the prophets In the psalms           had to be fulfilled.

Then at last he assures them that it was written
        That the Messiah   was to suffer   and was to rise on the third day
And (and here we get to the words of our title)
                That repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed.
                        Proclaimed by them!     And now today by us.
I can't help but think that if Luke was of the Jonathan Edwards' school, he would have written it differently
        Leaving out the reassurances with which Christ began
        Then explaining that he had risen on the third day
to show God's power
                Not to demonstrate God's love and comfort
        And emphasizing
that that power would be used against them
                        If they didn't repent
        And that they were to go out and threaten people with what would happen
                If they didn't repent.

When I read this Easter night passage from Luke's gospel
        I cannot see repentance as a demand or repentance as a threat
When I read it, I see instead that repentance is an invitation
        An invited response
coupled with forgiveness
- not with the threat of punishment.

I hear Christ telling the disciples to go out and proclaim his story
I hear Christ telling them to let the people know
        That all God wants is a sincere apology and an effort to change
And     That God is prepared to - even desirous of - forgive them.

When a child misbehaves or lets a parent down
The parent wants the child to recognize his/her error
The parent wants the child to understand why it was wrong
The parent wants the child to learn not to do it again.
The parent wants to continue a loving relationship with the child.
That's what God wants from us as well.

Edwards would have us believe that God as parent would say to us as disobeying or disappointing children
        "I am the boss.         You have foolishly disobeyed me.
                If you ever do it again
                I'll punish you so hard that you'll feel it for eternity."

I hear Christ, however, telling us that God is actually saying to us
        "I love you so much
I have gone to extremes to do for you
                Beyond anything I had to do
How hurt I am that you disobeyed me.
Apologize and I will forgive you

In both cases we respond, "I'm sorry" and "I won't do it again."

But which apology and profession of future good behavior is more meaningful:
        "I'm sorry" and "I won't do it again.   Don't punish me!"

Or      "I'm sorry" and "I won't do it again."
"You have been so good to me and I have let you down?"

Which parent should be able to put the disobedience behind and resume a loving, trusting relationship with the child?

Which God/child relationship is transformed
        The one where the child responds out of fear?
or      The one where the child responds out of love and gratitude.
The answers to all three questions are obvious.

It makes sense, doesn't it?

Just think of our own relationships.
        I feel much worse when I am hurt by people whom I love
                Than if I am hurt by a stranger
        In fact, the more I love them, the deeper the hurt

All I want is an apology, a promise that they will try to do better,
        And a resumption of a loving relationship.

Isn't that what God - whose capacity for love is even greater than ours -
        Wants as well?
Isn't that why we have the cross
and a gentle reassuring charge
        To proclaim repentance and forgiveness?

With all that in mind, we can   and we must     understand that
        Repentance is a response to what God has already done for us
        Not an action designed to prevent what we fear God might do to us

We repent because we are grateful for the love God has given to us
        Not because we are frightened by possible future punishment.

Looked at this way, the word "Repent"
        Becomes a comforting word
        Rather than a discomforting one.