Called to Repent
Called to Repentance
Lent is a time of preparation.A time when the Christian community prepares for the events of Holy Week: The trial, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Part of preparing for these events requires that we examine ourselves and our complicity with sin and evil. To acknowledge where we have wronged and strive to do better. No where is this more clearly stated than our passage from Luke.
Scripture: Luke 13: 1-9
Called to Repentance
While I was at seminary I took a course called Philosophy of Religion. It was one of the few electives that I was allowed to take. Most of our courses are already prescribed for us. It was offered through one of the Roman Catholic Seminaries that is part of the Toronto School of Theology. I wanted to learn some of the classic thought and doctrine that forms our faith. So much of what I was taught is based on the Reformation period and afterwards. This was an opportunity to learn some theology and philosophy from an earlier period.
I recall that during one of the debates while looking at the issue of theodicy, which is ‘If God is good, why do bad things happen?’ or ‘if God is good, why is evil present in the world.’ One of my classmates relayed a story, it wasn’t a personal story of his but one he had read about online. It goes as follows:
A family was taking a vacation. They were a very religious and devout family. Due to some unforeseen complications they arrived at the airport late for their flight. Hurrying to check-in they discovered that they would be unable to board their plane. Another flight could accommodate them tomorrow. Disappointed they left the airport. Later that evening while watching the news they discovered that the plane they were supposed to take had suffered a malfunction and crashed. There were no survivors.
My classmate argued that the reason the family was late, was directly related to their deep faith. That God was looking out for the family and protected them by causing them to arrive late at the airport.
After relaying this story, I asked my classmate about all of the other people of ‘faith’ who might have been on the airplane. Why didn’t God spare them?
The idea that God spares you from tragedy that others suffer, while perhaps comforting for you, is terrible theology and not indicative of how I believe God behaves and acts in the world. In our passage from Luke Jesus backs me up.
Jesus is talking about sin and repentance. In response to a question Jesus says the following, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 9: 2-5).
To be clear in his gospel account Luke is letting us know that our sin does not have an immediate consequence. I can always recall in my first year Pastoral Ministry class, yes you are getting lots of memories from when I was at Seminary today, the professor relayed a story about a minister who felt that God was punishing him for not being as successful a minister as he felt he should be. Friends, God simply doesn’t work that way. First off all, God isn’t interested in punishing us. If that was the case, Jesus would not have died on the cross.
Karoline Lewis writes, “If Jesus didn’t ask this question, others surely would have, or at least hinted at the idea somewhere along the way in the conversation. We are well aware of those who view tragedies as deserved, those who link calamities with hidden sins that need avenging. After all, those louder than life, self-professed preachers say this often enough, and likely have convinced more people of this connection than we would like to admit — maybe, sometimes, even convincing ourselves.” (reference).
The next time you find yourself looking for a reason why something terrible happened, don’t point your finger at God. God doesn’t get the blame, something you did might, might. But not God. We are not punished for our sin in this life, we will have a reckoning with God our creator in the next.
However, if we stop here we miss the point of this passage in Luke. The point that is trying to be made is the importance of repentance.
Repent or perish. Some would say that if we don’t repent, it damages our relationship with God. Not repenting then would consign us to hell. An eternity of damnation.
I would argue something different. Look around, think about the world. What do you see when you look at your community, when you watch the news? I see a world that is perishing. I see a world which does not want to repent. Never mind remind, I witness a world that does not want to acknowledge the deep harm that is happening in communities around the globe.
Repenting is the act of expressing regret or remorse about things that are wrong. The word is used most commonly in a religious context, but it covers our desire to ask for forgiveness and then do something different. And the world doesn’t want to do this, people find ways to justify actions that are harmful to others. The result, a world that is perishing right before our eyes.
I could point to the example of climate change. Our dependence on fossil fuels, the use of plastics and how these end up in our waterways and oceans.
I could point to the violence in our society. A suspicious death in Port Hope the other day, nations amassing weapons which we know could end all life on this planet if they were ever used.
I could point to the example of white nationalism, to extreme views on race and immigration, of how these ideologies result in massacres. We saw it a week ago in New Zealand, two years ago in Canada. In fact, we might say that what we witnessed in New Zealand this week was a nation calling itself to repentance.
Karoline Lewis writes, “Repentance is necessary for our silence instead of calling a thing what it is — and then actually doing something about it.
“Repentance is necessary for how we keep on making excuses for horrific acts such as this instead of getting to the real issues that perpetuate environments in which events like the shooting in Christchurch can keep on happening.
“Repentance is necessary for how we continue to ignore the truth and refuse to connect the dots.
“Repentance is necessary for our complicity and complacency, for our explanations and enabling.” (reference).
The result of not repenting, is to perish. You might think the parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree is a secondary unrelated story to the words Jesus speaks about repentance. But it is not. The parable of the Fig Tree is tied directly to the act of repentance. The fig tree won’t grow because it has not been provided with what it needs: good soil, water and care. The result, the tree will perish. We as a people can’t grow and flourish because we fail to take care of our basic needs, because we fail to repent. The result, we perish. We can’t just stand and watch and hope any longer. That is insufficient. Repent, turn away from the direction the world is calling you and focus on God’s desires for creation. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.