Monday, 6 March 2006

a Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent: On Repentance

1 Peter 3.18-22 Mark 1.9-15

Jesus decided to get baptized. Many of us didn’t. Our parents decided for us. For many of us our parents decided when we should be confirmed, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is important to realize, though, that there is a decision involved. Eventually, each one of us must decide for ourselves whether or not we’re going to take on the faith and promises our parents made on our behalf at our baptism.As we heard in the epistle, Jesus also strong>decided to die for sins once for all—yours and mine, all of them, big and small—to bring us to God. Jesus died in your place, as a substitute for your sin, on a cross, for your specific sins…and mine.

How does one respond to that?

Jesus tells us how. “The time has come,” he says. Today. This first Sunday in Lent.If we miss this one, we might think, there is always tomorrow. Except that one day, the time really will have come and it will be too late. To do what?

Repent and believe the good news.

Repent?

"Repentance is more than a change of mind or feeling sorry for one's sins. It is a radical and deliberate turning or returning to God that results in moral and ethical change and action” (Kenneth Barker, ed. Zondervan NASB Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. p. 1372).

From what do we need to repent? Our sin. How do we discover what our sin really is?

There are things the Lord will bring to mind immediately if we ask him. There are besetting sins that plague us daily as we battle with Satan’s temptings in our wildernesses.

There are also the sins lurking back there in the darker corners of our hearts and minds.

We Anglicans have a wonderful tool for dealing with those—by observing a holy Lent by self-examination, prayer, fasting, self-denial and by reading and meditating on the word of God.

Have a care. To slough this off is risky behaviour. This about life and death.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 1:
Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse—so gradually that the increase in seventy years would not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.

This is worth bothering about. So is Lent.

We’re dealing with the risen Christ who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand in great majesty, with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. Our future is in his hands.

What happens if we do not repent? I’m not going to mince my words. Our salvation is in jeopardy.

What happens if we do not decide to believe? Our salvation is in jeopardy.

Is having doubts the same as deciding not to believe. No. We can decide to believe and continue to struggle with doubts.

This First Sunday in Lent, the time has come. Again. The kingdom of God is near. And so, this morning, rather than using the usual prayer of confession, to give us all the opportunity to respond to Jesus' call to repent and believe, I’m going to lead you in Nicky Gumble’s prayer of repentance and belief from the Alpha Course.