"And so, John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
O God, Your almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy. Grant us the fullness of Your grace that we may be called to repentance and made partakers of Your heavenly treasures; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen
Often highway motorists see the sign, which reads "No-U-turn". And how many of us have found ourselves traveling down the interstate having realized that we were going in the wrong direction? How many of us have looked in the rear view mirror and ahead into oncoming traffic and with no state trooper in sight, have cut into the median past the clearly marked sign that reads "authorized vehicles only no U-turns permitted" and sped off in the opposite direction?
For the Christian a U-turn is not only permitted but regarded as preparation for Christ’s coming to us with forgiveness. The U-turn is another expression for repentance; a change of mind or a turning around. We call this act repentance. Repeatedly, the Scriptures exhort, "Return to the Lord". It is expressed in the words of the hymn "Turn back, o man, forsake your foolish ways". For Jesus Christ to come to you, you must make a U-turn of repentance. That is what the season of Advent is all about.
What does it mean for us to repent? What must I do? We go through certain steps as we seek forgiveness from the Father. This morning let’s consider The 5 R’s of Repentance.
1 Responsibility I take ownership of what I have done. There are some who do not want to own up to the fact that they have done any wrong. If you want forgiveness you first must ask to be forgiven. As parents we see this often with a child who will say "don’t look at me, I didn’t do it! It wasn’t me!" If you refuse to acknowledge that you have stolen, for example, there is no way that you will be forgiven for violating the 7th Commandment. The first R of repentance is responsibility.
2 Remorse There are some who will take the responsibility for their actions. Yet they feel absolutely no guilt. They express no remorse. And that is not merely the cold-blooded killer that we are speaking of here. Some are rather bold as they will tell you that they are proud of the fact that they have done what they have done or said what they said. They might even add the statement "…and given the chance I’d do it all over again!"
When you inflict pain on someone and seek forgiveness you must experience the same pain that you inflicted through regret and remorse. How many times have we heard it, or maybe said it ourselves as parents, "say you’re sorry" and the child snaps back sarcastically "sorry!" Is that child truly sorry? Does that child really desire forgiveness? The first R is responsibility. The second R of repentance is remorse.
3 Repair In the parish I served before coming here to Zion the parsonage was located across the parking lot from the school. On Saturday afternoon two of our high school kids borrowed the key to the school gym to shoot hoops. They returned a few hours later with a sheepish look on their faces. It seemed that there was a foam high jump pit in one corner of the gym. They had drug the foam right under the backboard so they could jump off of the foam and dunk the ball in the basket. There was only one problem with what they were doing. The rims on the backboards were not meant for kids to be hanging on them, they were not "break away rims" that we have now. As these two lads hung on the rim the glass backboard shattered into a million pieces!
They took responsibility for their actions and yes, they had genuine remorse, but they protested and cried "foul!" when they were handed a bill for $750 to replace a new glass backboard! It’s easy to say the words "I’m sorry!" we back up our words when we right the wrong as we repair.
Notice how these steps become increasingly difficult! This is how repentance goes. Notice also how some sins are virtually impossible to repair – in fact, some we cannot repair – such as the taking of a life – or a word that is spoken in anger – these cannot be taken back. Consider the serenity prayer ‘LORD GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CAN NOT CHANGE THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN AND THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE The word repent causes us to think before we act. Responsibilities, remorse, repair.
4 Repeat Not! We do not have license to return to the scene of the crime. We are not given the liberty to act up and act out at will. As we take responsibility, feel genuine remorse, make repairs on the damage we have done we change, we move on, we repeat not!
Now, many would say that if you follow these steps that you have obtained forgiveness. Yet there is one thing missing. We cannot do these things on our own. There is one thing lacking and one thing needful. This is our last word for today.
5 Redemption Paul reminds us "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself…not counting our sins against us" - 2 Corinthians 5:19 When John the Baptist tells us, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!" he is calling for us to cling to Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem and to trust in Him alone for salvation and life.
We turn. From the material to the spiritual. We turn. From a sinful life to a holy life in Christ. We turn. From serving self to serving God. We cannot do these ourselves. That is why we say, "By the assistance of God the Holy Ghost I amend my sinful life."
The call to repentance during this season of Advent is one, which needs to be heeded. Turn back, o man. Return back to the Savior. Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
The preaching of John the Baptist woodcut by Schnorr von Carolsfeld, copyright © WELS Permission to use these copyrighted items is limited to personal and congregational use.