The Repentant Life
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The Repentant Life
By The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A man entered a sporting goods store and told the proprietor, who just happened to be the owner, that he was taking up tennis and needed some equipment. The owner sold him a designer warm-up suit for $250, a pair of shoes for $100, three cans of balls for $30, a book of tennis tips for $15 and a membership in a local tennis club for over a $1000.
As the guy was leaving the store the he realized that he had forgotten the most important thing. So he asked, “Could you also supply me with a racket?”
The owner beamed with joy and replied, “Of course, how about half interest in this store?” (1)
Have you been in some of the Sports Superstores? I’m absolutely amazed by the fact that they now have shoes for every single sport. Growing up I can only remember two kinds of tennis shoes: high tops and low tops. I only remember three brands: Keds, Converse and the dreaded “store brand.” You just weren’t cool if you wore those. Everybody I knew wore Converse black high tops. Nowadays there are as many brands and types and shapes of shoes as there are breakfast cereals. They are all specialized.
Maybe I’ve noticed all this sports stuff because of my heart attack and the fact that I’m trying to get in better shape. It could be because I now have a Personal Trainer, (though personal torturer might be more appropriate) to whom I’ve made myself accountable for my exercise. Maybe it’s just this passage, but I’ve been thinking about the walk of faith like training.
For us it is Cross Training, so to speak. Oh not the kind of Cross Training that athletes get so they can play in two different sports. But it is Cross Training, It trains us about the Cross of Christ and how to bear our cross. And if you really stop and think about it. It is cross training in that sport sense, too, for it teaches us to excel in two very different fields.
Jesus spoke of us living in two different worlds. We live in this world. The world of here and now. The human world. The fallen world. But because we have given our lives to Christ we belong to another world. We live in this world but we are called to show our citizenship in God’s Kingdom by our actions.
The Apostle Paul even used cross training language to encourage the early Christians in his letter to the Corinthians and Philippians when he talks about, “running the race; going for the goal; reaching for the prize.”
In a very real sense, we are in training. As we train for the Cross and for the Kingdom there are some attitudes and lifestyles which we should adopt. One of the attitudes or one of the disciplines which Cross trainers should have is the attitude of repentance.
Paul writes: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) We are called to live and model “The Repentant Life” for everyone to see.
I. RECONCILIATION REQUIRES REPENTANCE:
A. First we have to realize that Reconciliation Requires Repentance.
In the Genesis and her in the Romans passage we have the Biblical explanation for the alienation we experience between us and God and us and the rest of humanity. This alienation is caused by our disobedience to God. As a consequence, our relationship with God is broken. And that brokenness has effected our relationship with each other.
That’s what this passages from Romans describes. The Biblical term for our alienation is sin. We don’t like that word but unfortunately we can’t change it.
And the truth is that God doesn’t like that word either. God doesn’t like that word and God certainly doesn’t like the brokenness it causes. God’s desire is that we be in relationship with God.
God even offers reconciliation through His Son.
B. But Reconciliation Requires Repentance. Scripture is very clear about this, the only thing that can bring us into a reconciled relationship with God and with each other is repentance. Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
In his first letter, chapter one, verse 9, John writes: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Reconciliation Requires Repentance.
Sometimes we try to fool God though. We’re only partly sorry or we know we need to be sorry but we’re really not.
I read about a letter which was sent to the Internal Revenue Service which stated: “Dear Sirs: I can’t sleep. Last year, when I filed my income tax return, I deliberately misrepresented my income. Now I can’t sleep. Enclosed is a check for $150.00 for taxes. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the rest!” (2)
That wasn’t really repentance was it. As a consequence, no reconciliation took place.
Reconciliation Requires Repentance.
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II. REPENTANCE REQUIRES REMORSE:
A. And Second: Repentance Requires Remorse.
Coming home for lunch, a father found that his three year old daughter had been sent to her room for disobedience. Mom had explained that she could come out when she said she was “Sorry.” Mom and Dad both talked to her and explained how important it is to say “Sorry” when you do something wrong. She refused to say “Sorry,” so she stayed in her room.
A few moments later Dad overheard his six year old son go into his sister’s room and say, “All you have to do is say you’re sorry. You don’t have to mean it.” (3)
That’s the way a lot of us treat repentance. But the boy was wrong, true repentance to God and one another is both SAYING “Sorry,” and BEING sorry enough to mean it and sorry enough to quit our disobedience. Repentance Requires Remorse.
B. A little boy with a paper sack over his head prayed: “Lord, I’ll tell you what I did today, but I won’t tell you who I am.”
Most of the time we’re like that little boy. We would gladly confess what we have done, if we didn’t have to let God know who it was.
However, it’s really that embarrassment, which finally drives us to repentance. It is the shame and remorse that we feel for the wounds we have caused God. And it’s the Good News that God willingly forgives those who seek forgiveness, that let’s us take the sack off our heads and hearts.
Psalm 51 says: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Repentance Requires Remorse.
III. REMORSE REALIZES RESPONSIBILITY:
A. Repentance Requires Remorse because Remorse Realizes Responsibility. And that’s the Third point.
Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes walks into the living room where his father is sitting and announces: “I’ve concluded that nothing bad that I do is my fault.”
His curiosity peaked, Dad says, “Oh?”
Calvin continues: “Right! Being young and impressionable, I’m the helpless victim of countless bad influences! An unwholesome culture panders to my undeveloped values and pushes me to maleficence. I take no responsibility for my behavior! I’m an innocent pawn! It’s society’s fault.”
Dad is totally unimpressed and says, “Then you need to build more character. Go shovel the walk.”
In the last scene, Calvin is shoveling snow and complains, “These discussions never go where they’re supposed to go.” (4)
B. You know, many of us are a lot like Calvin, we don’t want to take responsibility for our actions. We don’t want to own up to our faults and our sinfulness. So, we delude ourselves and play the blame game. We blame others. We blame society. We blame genetics.
Now, there are some things that are beyond our control. For example, a man went on a ski trip and was knocked unconscious by the chair lift. He called his insurance company from the hospital but they refused to cover his injury. “Why is the injury not covered?” he asked.
“You got hit in the head by a chair lift,” the insurance rep said. “That makes you an idiot and we consider that a pre-existing condition!” (5)
There are some things that are beyond our control, but most of the time we can overcome society’s influence by simply saying “no” to the values and temptations it offers.
The 4th century theologian, Augustine wrote: “Before God can deliver us from ourselves we must undeceive ourselves.” (6)
Once we undeceive ourselves then we can take responsibility for our actions. Remorse Realizes Responsibility. Taking responsibility leads to remorse for those wrong actions. And that remorse leads us to repentance.
IV. REPENTANCE RESTORES RELATIONSHIPS:
And Fourth: our Repentance Restores Relationships. I saw a very poignant sight one afternoon as I was entering the Church in the town of Groesbeck. There on the sidewalk near the front entrance of the Church was a mother and her four little children. The oldest couldn’t have been over seven or eight.
On the other side of the street, working on the County Courthouse lawn was a trustee from the County jail. He was raking for all he was worth. He was as close to the edge of the sidewalk as he could get. He and the woman and children were carrying on a conversation. It was obvious this was his family.
They talked surreptitiously for a few minutes. I heard the mother tell the children, “It’s time to go. Wave good-bye to Daddy.” They all waved and then the little girl hollered, “I love you Daddy.”
I know that man was there because he broke the law. But I couldn’t help my heart going out to the brokenness of that family and the brokenness of those children’s hearts. I prayed that he would do well and be able to get a job when he got out, so that he could enjoy his family. Because it was obvious that they sure missed him.
God’s love is like that family’s love. It still reaches out to us in the midst of our brokenness. Even when we do wrong, even when we sin, God still loves us. Those kids didn’t quit loving their Daddy because he was in the county jail. They still loved him very much. But his wrongful actions caused a great gulf of imprisonment between he and his family.
God is the same way. God’s love doesn’t diminish when we sin, but there is a great gulf that we create by our sinfulness. God stands on the other side calling out how much God loves us. And the only way we can cross that gulf is to put our lives back into the hands of God through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Once we repent of our sin, pardon can occur and the gulf disappears. Then God can fold us in the arms of love once again.
The Good News is that Repentance Restores Relationships. And primarily it restores our relationship with God.
V. RECONCILIATION REAPS REJOICING:
A. You can tell I had fun with alliteration this week because my final point is that Reconciliation Reaps Rejoicing.
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus said, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) When we repent; when we turn around and head the other direction, which is what repent literally means, our relationship with God is restored; reconciliation takes place. And when that happens God and all of Heaven rejoices.
B. There is a legend that says that once upon a time the Angel Gabriel called all the angels together. Each one was asked to visit earth and bring to heaven the one gift which they thought would be most pleasing to God.
One angel saw a martyr dying for the faith, and brought back a drop of martyr’s blood.
Another brought back a small coin that an old destitute widow had given to the poor.
Another returned with a Bible that had been used by an eminent preacher.
Still another brought back dust from the shoes of a missionary laboring in a remote wasteland. Others brought back similar things.
One angel saw a man sitting by a fountain in a town square. The man was watching a child play nearby. This man was a hardened sinner. But while looking at the little child playing he remembered his own boyhood innocence. As he looked into the fountain he saw the reflection of his hardened face and realized what he had done with his life.
And in recalling his many sins he was suddenly sorry for them. Tears of repentance welled up and began to trickle down his cheeks. The angel took one of those tears and brought it back to heaven. And according to the legend, it was this gift that God chose over all the others as the one most dear, the one that pleased God the most. (7)
That legend is reflected in the parable of the prodigal son. Remember the great joy the father experienced when his repentant son returned home? Jesus told that parable to remind us that
Reconciliation Reaps Rejoicing.
A man and his wife were playing golf on the ninth green when she collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack. “I need help!” the woman gasped. Her husband ran off and told her he would get help.
A few minutes later, the man returned and began to make his putt into the ninth hole. His wife looked up from the ground and asked the man what in the world he thought he was doing. The man told his wife, “Don’t worry, I found a doctor. I’m just finishing my putt while we wait.”
“But where is the doctor?” the woman asked with all the strength she could muster.
The man walked a short distance to the next tee, teed his ball and drove it toward the tenth hole. He then answered, “I found a doctor on the sixth hole.”
The woman probed, “You found a doctor on the sixth hole and came back by yourself. Where is he?”
“Ah, He won’t be very long,” the man answered confidently. “The guys on the seventh and eighth holes agreed to let him play through.” (8)
Unfortunately, a lot of us are as unfocused on the priorities of life as that golfer. As Christians, you and I are constantly in training through the spiritual disciplines. We are in training for the cross and the Kingdom of God. Every day we’re called to lace up our cross trainers, the shoes of repentance so that we can begin to run the good race of faith. And unlike the golfer in that story I just told, you and I are called to stay focused on the real issue, our relationship with God and not the side issues of the world.
I don’t know what it is that might still be separating you from God, but know this, God wants you back. God is waiting with open arms, to bridge that gulf and to restore you to a right relationship. All you have to do is repent and be reconciled to God through Christ.
Paul writes: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
Reconciliation Requires Repentance,
Repentance Requires Remorse,
Remorse Realizes Responsibility,
Repentance Restores Relationships,
Reconciliation Reaps Rejoicing.
Reap the rejoicing of reconciliation through repentance.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), May 1986
2. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), June 1984
3. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), January 1992
4. Calvin And Hobbes by Bill Watterson, 2-19-92
5. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), February 2002
6. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1981
7. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July 1984
8. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), February 2002
— Copyright 2002, Billy D. Strayhorn. Used by permission.