December 7, 2014: A New Pair of Shoes Can Save a Girl’s Life!

Posted on : Dec 4th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Traditionally, on the second Sunday of Advent, the Gospel is always the message of John the Baptist: “Change your hearts and minds, for the reign of heaven is about to break in upon you!”

It was John that the prophet Isaiah described when Isaiah prophesied,

“A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of our God,

make straight the path of God.”

Okay, traditionally those words are “Repent for the Realm of God is at hand.”

I learned early on in my spiritual life that “repentance” is a dangerous concept. As a gay man, I was often told I had to “repent of my sin.” I never believed that message because I knew my sexual orientation had nothing to do with sin. Different, yes. Sinful, Absolutely not!

Then I noticed a lot of other people were being told to “repent of their sin” – feminist women who dared to challenge the patriarchy of the church leadership, peacemakers who dared to challenge the religious doctrine of a “just” war as well as those who protest against our nation’s involvement in war. I also learned that historically, African-Americans/Blacks were told to repent every time they dared challenge racism.

The final thing that convinced me that something was radically wrong with Christianity’s traditional doctrine of repentance came while I, and we, were still Presbyterian. Each year the Presbyterian Church hosted a national gathering of the Church called the “General Assembly.” Being good Calvinists, they began every worship service with a “Prayer of Confession.” These prayers spared nothing in naming the multitude of sins we had all committed. By the time you were done, you knew you were, as Calvin so aptly said, “totally depraved.”

The Prayer of Confession was then followed by a Declaration of Pardon. And then, as if these folks had never uttered a word of their contrite prayer of confession, they went on to beat the hell out of those of us who were gay and lesbian. They didn’t even try to hide their distain. From these and many more faith experiences, I began to sense that something was wrong with the Church’s traditional doctrine regarding “repentance and confession of sin.”

In December of 2003, a friend of mine wrote these refreshing words about the meaning of repentance. They were so good, I saved them. He wrote:

If I understand the meaning of repentance correctly, it was not so much an admission and confession of sin. But in fact, it was the changing of one’s life and the reversal of moving in a given direction. In my mind repentance is not a ritual of contrition, but an action that helps us overcome evil with good, one that changes the course of our life and the life of our community.

I think those words are much closer to the meaning of repentance than the traditional fare that has been served to us. However, this week my sister-in-law gave me an even better example of what John the Baptist meant in proclaiming “repent for the realm of God is here.” Karin’s words were quoting an ad for a production of Cinderella: “A new pair of shoes can save a girl’s life.”

Now, I am convinced, THAT is what John the Baptist meant! More on Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

 

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

 Matthew 3: 1-12

John the Baptist announces a big change that is happening:

“Repent, for the realm of heaven is at hand!”

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Change your hearts and minds, for the reign of heaven is about to break in upon you!”

It was John that the prophet Isaiah described when Isaiah prophesied,

            “A voice cries in the wilderness:

            Prepare the way of our God,

            make straight the path of God.”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. At that time, Jerusalem, all Judea and all the region about the Jordan went out to John, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

When John saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to be baptized John said to them, “You pack of snakes! Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?”   Give some evidence that you mean to reform! And don’t pride yourselves on the claim, ‘Sarah and Abraham are our parents.’ I tell you, God can raise children for Sarah and Abraham from these very stones!

Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I will baptize you in water if you have a change of heart, but the One who will follow me is more powerful than I. I’m not fit even to untie the sandals of the Coming One! That One will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.”

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