Repent!

The word seems to come with an old-time gospel southern accent, or to conjure up images of bearded street preachers with cardboard signs. Enlightened liberal Christians might be embarrassed by these associations and point out that the original New Testament word, “metanoia” means to “change your mind” or “turn around.” “Hey, you – turn around!” I don’t know. Does this way of putting it convey the same urgency as “repent?” Or the moral sense, that we’ve done wrong? The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel has John “proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”

Fountain of the Baptism of Christ, in front of the St-John church in Lyon.

I do like the way the Greek “metanoia” means not just turning away from past sins, but turning towards some new future. The theme seems to fit January. The question is, what kind of future do we expect? We set goals for ourselves and we make plans, we take baby steps to get more organized, in better shape, to finally take that vacation – to better manage our lives and hope for the best (the elections!). It’s all good, but what do we make of Jesus’ message, that the future we want or dread is not to be? “The Kingdom (management!) of God has come near, repent, and believe in his good news!” Turn towards the real future: God alone is making all things new.

I think my discomfort with the word “repent” is about my shy Norwegian let’s be humble background: I don’t want to sound like I’m the “morally superior preacher.” But it’s not me who says it, it’s Jesus. And he doesn’t just say it – in some sense, he does it. John proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” and Jesus himself steps forward to receive it! He identifies with us, he says by what he does: “I’m with you. You will have life from me.” He begins his preaching on repentance by taking his stand with us, on our behalf.

As individuals and families, let’s repent. The readings we’ll hear in worship this month invite us to consider God’s call on our whole lives – and special speakers / bulletin inserts to consider our pattern of giving. As a congregation, we also repent. The council has been discussing the next few years, and how we can stay close to God’s call for us at this time and place. Review the “vision” article – there will be opportunities to raise questions and learn more during special forums.

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