Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2005
The Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
Sermon: "Repentance is not an individual matter"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Repentance is not an individual matter
Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2005
Once upon a time a couple met. They were both married and had children. However, due to circumstances they were together very often and things were not secure in their own home lives. Over time they became more and more attracted to one another. In fact, they began substituting the presence of their own partners by marriage with one another. As is always the case, other people found out about their affair.
Friends of both members of this affair began to talk to them. They knew the affair was no longer in secret, but that many people were aware including some of the spouses. Now, here is the interesting aspect of the whole issue. One member of the affair brought the entire issue into the open. This person talked to their spouse, to their friends, even to the immediate supervisor. This person admitted the affair was real and that it was their hope to divorce their spouse and marry the other person.
The other member of this affair decided to keep everything in secret from family and from their immediate supervisor. Now, here-is the tricky part. The reason this person decided to keep everything secret was because of a religious reason. This person claimed that they had personally prayed to God about what to do and to ask for forgiveness. In response, this person claimed that God had replied that they were forgiven and that they did not have to bring this incident into the open. The affair could be kept in secret.
Now, why would I share this story today? Well, this story speaks directly to the meaning of repentance. We tend to think of repentance as an individual matter. If we sin, then we have to ask God for repentance. We believe this is an individual event and individual repentance. However, this belief is not necessarily true. It isn't true for several reasons.
First, sin is not an individual event. Second, repentance often is referred to in scripture and in prayer as a corporate event. Third, repentance is how the community prepares itself for the coming of the Messiah.
Now, let's look at each of these in just a little more detail. Sin is not an individual event. Many people believe that when they sin the only person they hurt is themselves. Is that a true statement? For example, stealing is not an individual sin. One person steals from another. A thief steals from a person's home. The thief needs to ask for repentance, but the act itself, is not an individual event. Other people are hurt. What are the feelings of the person who has been violated? What about the sin against God? If we choose any sin, then begin to see that sin is more corporate than it is individual. Just imagine, we have yet to even discuss sin by a country's political stance. Or the effect a corporate officer has on the well being of the employees when they sin against the company by stealing or by changing the work environment in a negative way. If we look at the story I used as an example, this couple sinned against God, their families, their friends, their co-workers and the list goes on. Many people are affected.
This concept of corporateness leads us to our second point. Repentance is found in the scriptures and in our prayers as a national and corporate event. John the Baptist comes preaching a message of repentance. We often think of it as being individual. We believe that concept because we hear of the people coming to be baptized. However, John is calling for the repentance of all of Israel for their individual and corporate sin. The king is Herod Agrippa. He is married to his brother's wife. She divorced the brother because he wasn't getting anywhere politically. Herod Agrippa was doing much better. John accused them of adultery. He called on all Israel to repent due to their sinfulness. The king was seen as a representative of the people not only from a political standpoint, but also on a spiritual standpoint. The king was God's representative. So when the king sinned, the whole nation had to repent. So, John's call to repentance is not just an individual call. It is a national call for all people to repent.
This concept raises some interesting questions for us, doesn't it? What would our political picture look like if we followed this tradition of antiquity? Also, how does this concept relate to us as the body of Christ? We pray a corporate prayer of forgiveness in our services. Are we praying corporately for our individual sins or does that corporate prayer also involve the sins of the corporate body in the world around us? If we sin doesn't it reflect on the organizations we attend? For example, if we hear of a priest who sins how does that reflect on their church? We certainly should know what this feels like? When Gene Robinson was consecrated many people believed we had sinned before God. As a result several people, myself included, were chastised because of other denominational beliefs. Whether you agree with what the political nature of the day, it was inappropriate for us to be chastised due to that decision. Yet, we were. We were because people do not view sin as simply an individual event. We view sin as a corporate responsibility. Repentance then is viewed similarly.
Repentance is viewed both individually and corporately. It is viewed as a both/and. We sin against others and ourselves individually and corporately. We sin against God individually and corporately. Repentance is needed both individually and corporately. Repentance is given both individually and corporately. Forgiveness is given both individually and corporately.
Here we have to bring in our last point. Repentance is not just about forgiveness. Repentance is also about preparation. When we repent we are preparing ourselves for the coming of the Messiah. John's message of repentance in the wilderness was indeed a corporate message. He was trying to tell the people that the Messiah was coming. To prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the people needed to repent. They needed to admit their sinfulness and the sinfulness of their nation of Israel. They needed to ask for forgiveness from their sinfulness and be made clean through baptism as they waited for the Messiah.
I am suggesting that we are in the same place even today. The season of Advent is a time for us to reflect on our lives. In this reflection, we might hear the call of John the Baptist: repent and prepare the way of the Lord. Where are we in our own spiritual lives? Where have we sinned against God and our neighbor? How are we participating in sin today as individuals, as a corporate body in this community, in our nation and in our world? How do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ again, not just as a little baby, but as a risen Lord?
Today, we have before us a wonderful opportunity. We have the story of John which reminds us of our call to repentance. It also reminds us of our incredible hope. Because of John we are reminded that the Messiah will come again. As we live our daily lives, we can prepare ourselves for the best hope the world has ever known, the hope we have in Jesus, who is the Messiah, the hope of all the world to come. Today, we pray for a reflective, prayerful, and penitent Advent. We offer this prayer so that when Christmas comes, we are prepared to celebrate the birthday of Christ and new hope. We have new hope in the risen Lord who will come to take us home. Amen.