March 23, 2014: Spiritual Suspicion re: Meaning of Repentance

Posted on : Mar 20th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Lent is oftentimes described as the season of repentance.  Our English word “repentance” comes from the New Testament Greek word, “Metanoia” [pronounced: met-an-oih’-uh].  “Metanoia” means “To change one’s mind for the better” or “to turn one’s life around.”  In the Gospels, when Jesus says, “Repent, for the realm of God is at hand,” he means, let your mind be transformed / changed for the better and turn your life around from being self-centered to being God-centered.  But you’d never know that if you listen to TV preachers or some church leaders.

Back in our wild and woolly days when we were in the Presbyterian Church, we lived with one of the most dehumanizing and degrading terms ever invented.  It was a term that was used to prevent gay and lesbian people from being equal with heterosexuals. The term was “unrepentant practicing homosexuals.”  Those in positions of power and authority declared and got it written into the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church that unless you confessed your homosexuality – your God-given sexual orientation – as a sin, you were “unrepentant” and therefore, unworthy of ordination.  Well, more than one of us smelled a rat in this, but it became Presbyterian law for a long, long time.

As soon as I encountered this abusive use of the meaning of repentance, I became spiritually suspicious.  I knew the Presbyterian Church was dead wrong in the way it was using “repentance” and I began to ask myself, “I wonder if other groups are being abused by a bad theology of repentance?”  So, I began to talk with some of my feminist women friends, and low and behold women were told to confess their sinfulness whenever they sought or spoke out for equality with men.  And so I started talking with my African-American friends, and darn if they didn’t have stories to tell me about how they were taught that they were “less than” Caucasians and any thought or action to the contrary was “sinful.”

The more people I talked with, the more aware I became that “repentance” and “sinfulness” were being used by many Christians to put other Christians down – or keep us down.  And then it became crystal clear to me that I wasn’t the one who needed to repent, it was those who were oppressing me that needed to repent.

Whenever the meaning of repentance is used to oppress someone, to put someone down or keep them down, we ought to be spiritually suspicious.  In the Gospel this Sunday, we encounter Jesus telling a story about the meaning of repentance and forgiveness.  In this story, the story of the prodigal son, the “wild child” “comes to his senses” (repents: changes his mind and his life for the better).  He comes home to his father, expecting to be punished and abused, but experiences the exact opposite.  His father joyously embraces him, affirms him and celebrates his return.

To me, that’s what repentance should always be about.  More about this on Sunday.

Lenten Blessings,


~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 15:11-32

A story about repentance and forgiveness

Jesus told this parable:  A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to their father, “Give me the share of the estate that is coming to me.”  So the father divided up the property between them.  Some days later, the younger son gathered up his belongings and went off to a distant land.  Here he squandered all his money on loose living.

“After everything was spent, a great famine broke out in the land, and the son was in great need. So he went to a landowner, who sent him to a farm to take care of the pigs.  The son was so hungry that he could have eaten the husks that were fodder for the pigs, but no one made a move to give him anything.  Coming to his senses at last, he said, “How many hired hands at my father’s house have more than enough to eat, while here I am starving!  I’ll quit and go back home and say, I’ve sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called one of your children.  Treat me like one of your hired hands.”  With that, the young son set off for home.

While still a long way off, the father caught sight of the returning child and was deeply moved.  The father ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, “I’ve sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called one of your children.”  But his father said to one of the workers, “Quick!  Bring out the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.  Take the calf we’ve been fattening and butcher it.  Let’s eat and celebrate!  This son of mine was dead and has come back to life.  He was lost and now he’s found!”  And the celebration began.

Meanwhile the elder son had been out in the field.  As he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the workers and asked what was happening.  The worker answered, “Your brother is home and the fatted calf has been killed because your father has him back safe and sound.”

The son got angry at this and refused to go into the party, but his father came out and pleaded with him.  The older son replied, “I never disobeyed even one of your orders, yet you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends.  But then this son of yours comes home after going through your money with prostitutes, and you kill the fatted calf for him!”

“But my child!” the father said.  “You’re with me always, and everything I have is yours.  But we have to celebrate and rejoice!  This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and now he’s found.”

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