Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
This is African-American History Month. We at Trinty give honor not only to those who have made great contributions to this nation. We also honor the great saints from Africa that helped to form and defend the Christian faith. If we can respect Barack Obama, we ought not to ignore Athanasius the Great.
LACK OF REPENTANCE: A ROOT OF RUIN
Neither public official nor government will make America a better place to live. We have elected and re-elected the nation’s first president from our racial background. Yet, a teenage girl in his hometown was killed in the crossfire of gang violence. A veteran of our armed forces, who had a gun, was murdered at a shooting range. Had the weapons that shot the young lady and veteran been in the hands of someone else, these tragedies would not have happened. If the murderers had knives or heavy, blunt objects with the same hateful intent, the killings would have still taken place. Anyone who believes that if we would just elect the right people to the right positions to pass the right laws that our nation’s moral sicknesses will end is deceiving himself or herself. Our country’s, our community’s, no, the world’s problems go far deeper than that.
I believe a root of what is wrong with our community, nation, and world is that we do not take our Savior’s call to repentance seriously. We fail to go to our own closets, look in our own mirrors, and address the things that are wrong with us. Perhaps if we committed some obvious violation, especially if we got caught, we will repent. But, rather than a careful assessment of all of our sins, we too often fall in the trap of excusing the, so-called, minor ones. Lust, greed, envy, anger, and other sins that are easy for us to hide from others are often sanitized in our minds with qualifiers such as, “I couldn’t help myself, everyone else is doing it,” and the all-reliable, “The Lord knows my heart.”
The Lord also knew the heart of David and how in that 51st Psalm the king expressed deep sorrow for his wicked deeds. Some 40 generations later, One from the line of David gave the same requirement to all who would come to him, repent. Not just the adulterers, murderers, and thieves of civil society. But, those who commit these crimes in their minds must also confess all of their sins to God. Jesus makes no distinction between the man who molest a child and the one who undresses women with his eyes. Sins that may not be seen by men are still in full view of God. They all have the same effect. They separate us from Him and His kingdom. In order to have union with our Heavenly Father and walk the path to his throne, we must sincerely repent of all of our sins, no matter how major or minor we think they are.
When we fail to take repentance seriously, we deny the pathway God has established for us to come to him. Read chapters 3 and 4, and see that Isaiah prophesized that one would prepare the way for the Lord. This one was John the Baptist who cried out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” After John’s arrest, Jesus preaches the very same thing. There is no other way to the Father but through the Son and the Son says, “Repent.” No doubt, we all have other legitimate callings in our lives. The Holy Spirit may touch us all in different ways as we are different people. Paul describes such things in I Corinthians and other of his letters. But, no one designs an award winning kitchen or spends money on an elaborate home entertainment center without establishing and maintaining a firm foundation. Repentance with faith, hope, and love is the foundation of our walk with God. If we refuse his path, whatever gifts we receive in this world will be in vain. But, if we seek and find that narrow path, we will find life abundant and everlasting.
A lack of sincere repentance is also a lack of humility. Consider that John the Baptist wore lowly clothes and ate a meager diet. People came to him in the wilderness leaving the comforts of their homes to bear themselves to him. And Christ Himself, yet without sin bared himself to be baptized like everyone else. I am neither a Catholic priest who requires nor an Orthodox who suggest confession at a box in the corner or on a pew in a prayer service. But, when we in our prayer closets give the Lord only half or partial revelations of our faults and failures, we are telling Him that He lacks the power to correct and guide us. We are telling God that we trust ourselves with our souls more than Him. This is arrogance. God cast down those who are arrogant and lifts up the humble. How high does he lift up the humble? The one who humbled himself to be obedient unto death has a name above all other names. If we will do likewise, we will be lifted up in his company.
And how easy is it for Satan to tempt those who do not follow the prophetic pathway and humble character of Jesus? I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus overcame the temptations. In chapter 3:15 Jesus told John, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” By accepting the way prepared for Him with the right attitude, Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations. But, what does this say about us who don’t sincerely repent of our sins and do so out of humility? When we don’t stand on the rock of the example Jesus set for us, we are standing on the sinking sand of our own arrogance, desires, and fears. Satan does not have to make any great effort to tempt us when we stand on our own sands. Any rising tide can wash us away.
This is the greater problem in our nation. Not the dramatic tragedies of individual acts of horrible crime. Our society is constantly taken over by rising tides of sin since we don’t take repentance seriously. Sure, to dislike someone may not seem that much of a violation against God. But, unless that dislike is deliberately turned into love, the sands of ignoring the sin are carried off with even the most gentle waves. Thus, at best, the dislike causes deep distrust among communities, neighbors, even family members so that no one works together or does so effectively to improve where they live. And if the adults don’t repent of these seemingly minor sins, can we blame our children for forming violent gangs that will use any weapon available to express their hate for one another? Lusting is not the worst thing a man can do toward a woman. But, unless lust is deliberately exchanged for respect, women, other men, and even children become objects for fantasy. At best, our heterosexual relationships end too harshly and frequently as we see in our current divorce rate and disregard for marriage all together. And if the adults don’t repent of the seemingly minor sins, why should we be shocked about gay marriage and the rate of sexual abuse in this nation?
When we disregard some sins as minor and not worthy of repentance, they become the major points of moral rot for the individual, the community and nation. Unless we change this attitude of tolerance of “minor sins,” we will steadily broaden our definition of “minor” with every generation until we get to a point where almost everything is permitted and we feel shameless toward God for our sins. Human elected officials cannot change such a sad state of affairs. If anything, they will support such evils so that they can maintain their political power and privileges.
The change must be made in each one of us. We all must be cautious to ask for forgiveness of and change from all of our sins. St. Epherm the Syrian offers these words of repentance that I pray as part of my discipline: “O Lord, heavenly king, Comforter, Spirit of truth, … forgive me all the sins that I humanly committed today, and not only humanly, but even worse than a beast-my voluntary sins known and unknown, from my youth and from evil suggestions and from my brazenness and from boredom…” In our quiet time with the Lord, we must not leave anything out. Confess all things and bear all things to him. Let us let the waters of forgiveness wash every part of us so that we can live in the grace and glory of Christ Jesus. It is He that taught us and He that we must follow; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In repentance, there is cleansing, healing, and hope. If more of us become serious about repentance, we will have a better society.