The prerequisite to repentance.
Homily 442 – 30th Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 3, 2021
Epistle: (298) 2 Timothy 4:5-8 (Sunday before Theophany)
Gospel: (1) Mark 1:1-8 (Sunday Before Theophany)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Repentance is a word we hear repeatedly in the Gospels and the Epistles, and throughout the Old Testament as well.
It is a significant word – one of the most important words in Scripture, along with forgiveness and self-denial.
Taken together, those three words offer to us the framework for the entire life of the followers of Christ – those called by the name “Christian.”
From these words other things flow – from forgiveness, for example, love flows, and humility. From self-denial, ascetical practice. From repentance, new life.
These are asked of all of us – they become the complete focus of our lives. Either gradually or suddenly, the rest of life no longer matters – only Christ.
And since all that matters is Christ, we begin to repent, to change, to practice ascetical behaviors – learning to deny ourselves, as Christ told us.
We shouldn’t forget that repentance is inextricably tied to forgiveness. There is no repentance without forgiveness.
Think about it – without forgiveness for our failures, repentance would be pointless, wouldn’t it? Our actions in denying the sovereignty of God would be unforgiven, and all the repentance – the change – in the world wouldn’t offset that.
All that remains without forgiveness is punishment. If we break the law and are unforgiven, all the repentance in the world won’t change that punishment is all that awaits us.
Yet, with forgiveness in place, repentance becomes possible. Desirable even – for us, certainly, but also desirable for God on our behalf. Ultimately, what does God want from us?
It is a serious question – why are we created? Why does humanity exist? The answer is challenging to many of those more learned and more holy than me, for sure. Yet, to my simple mind, the God of Love, who is, in fact, Love, must be expressed toward an object that can return love.
And of all the creation – angels, animals, whatever – in all creation, humanity is the only element that can return love to God. We have free will. And, from what we understand, we have the ability to repent.
The angels may have a type of free will – but it seems there is no provision for their repentance.
So, we are unique. And while it would be inappropriate to say that God needs us to love because God needs nothing, it could perhaps be said that humanity is the only part of creation able to receive God’s love.
In order for us to be in that relationship with God, the relationship of love, that seemed to exist before the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden – the Garden of Creation – then forgiveness becomes an essential element.
Without forgiveness, repentance is possible but pointless.
God forgives us – has already forgiven us – for everything we are doing, everything we have done, and everything we will ever do. This forgiveness is for one purpose – to allow repentance.
That is what confession allows. Confession doesn’t provide forgiveness, for that comes from God alone. Confession reminds us that we are forgiven already and forms the spring or fountain of our repentance.
Confession provides for us a bridge, reminding us that forgiveness is already accomplished, and that enables us to repent.
You may have heard me say that repentance means change, and it does, but the change implied is a change toward Christ, toward Christ-likeness.
It is change but with a specific focus. And if it isn’t directed toward Christ-likeness, we can call it change, but not repentance.
In the Gospel reading, it is said that the Forerunner and Baptist John baptized for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
In Christ, we are baptized for forgiveness in order that we may repent. We are buried with Christ, raised, and enter into new life – a life of repentance, a life constantly returning, over and over again, to focusing on our Lord Jesus Christ.
Several of the Fathers of Christianity throughout time, notably St. Augustine, but others as well, have pursued all the pleasures the world has to offer and found them to be fleeting. They perhaps bring an emotional high for a moment, which quickly subsides into something near despair.
The beauty of repentance, as a lifestyle, as an objective of our lives, is that in and through repentance, we find our fulfillment as humans. Weaning ourselves from slavery to the pleasure sensors of our brains, we become complete.
God’s love is able to reach us as we clean the windows of our lives. Clouded with sin, we clean our lives with repentance so that eventually, the light of God, the love of God, the presence of God begins to show into our hearts.
Sometimes we re-dirty the windows. So then, what do we do? We continue cleaning with repentance.
Knowing that while we now see darkly, we will, if we keep cleaning through repentance, we will be made clean, and the light, and love, and life of God will envelop our entire being.
And we will be truly human.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!