Repentance and sin such freighted words for us. Leonard Cohen, inhis song The Future can sing out with a certain amount of confusion and frustration that we can relate to saying “When they Said Repent, Repent, I Wonder what they meant.” In a song all about a world a person in need of Repentance - Cohen plays with turning and returning and overturning, all aspects of the proclamation of John and then Jesus to repent.
Our problem with understanding repentance and sin is because these words have been used to beat people down. But also if we may have a sense that repentance is about turning, being overturned and return, but we may be uncertain in what direction to turn if we were to change the direction of our lives. Understanding repentance and sin we nee d to understand not only that we must turn from certain things but also that we turn aside to something else. What are we to turn towards?
What if we have an example? Jesus of Nazareth comes in response to John’s Call to repentance and be baptized, and is returned to his divine self, and turns away passes through the desert and temptation, and comes out proclaiming a presence and reiterates John’s call to repentance. All this is done by one who was without, outside, not under the weight, or stuck in the muck of sin, yet comes in repentance and is turned towards people and the Cross. What if Repentance isn’t essentially about sin but coming to ourselves? What if God also repents?
Repentance is a divine thing we are called into, though it is different for God than for us. In the story of the flood God repents twice. God is grieved over the state of humanity and thinks it may have been better not to have created humanity. And in our text today God laments over the destruction of the flood and in making this covenant with Noah and all flesh, God repents, promising, using the rainbow as the sign of the covenant and promise, not to deal with evil and sin and human waywardness through universal destruction. God’s repentance and lament isn’t because God acted unjustly or corruptly or wrong, But God’s engagement with the world produces what isn’t in line with God’s desire. In repentance God comes back to is God’s self, God finds consistency, or one might say in repentance both in repenting about having created humanity and repenting from having destroyed humanity, God remains God, in God's relationship to creation and humanity. God is a God of life, of wholeness, of creation. Thus God responds to destruction and death and corruption, attempting to root out the evil. But the price is too great, and isn’t a permanent solution. God doesn’t desire death God desire’s life thus God removed that which was bringing death to the world, but this was through death and destruction, though the potential violent means of the created order itself. Life is precarious, God promises to care for it even if it tends towards death.
If we can see God’s interaction in the world as involving repentance, and God continually turning to God’s, God being more true to God’s self. We have perhaps a deeper and more complex sense of who and what Jesus is. Also, we perhaps have a better understanding of why Jesus picks up John the Baptists call to repentance.
Repentance is a turning towards as well as away from. On one level repentance is an affirmation of our selves even as it is a denial of aspects of ourselves. We are complex. We aren’t always consistent, we don’t always agree with our self. This inconsistency we may call sin, for it mires us relationships and situations that will slowly suffocate who we are. The further problem for us (that is not a problem for God) is that we as often as not don’t know who we truly are. So repentance is a return to our selves. At times it is like it is with God, simply a recognition that a course of action if continued is inconsistent with our truest self and so we discontinue it, at other times perhaps most of the time it is coming to the painful recognition that little about ourselves, little that we have done is in agreement with who we are in God and relation to God.
In the grand scheme of things Repentance allows us as humans to ultimately return to our original selves in relationship to God, as God’s image, that is we return in repentance to who we were created to be. But at times we know ourselves not in relation to being made in the image God. Instead we are mired in our own self definitions we have created in relation to how others have defined us. Sometimes repentance for us means turning from the self we thought we were to a self given to us and revealed to us by God in Jesus Christ. Repentance means turning aside what from we have know and isn’t working to what is unknown out of trust in God and Jesus Christ. Turning from our sinful life to a life lived in God and thus in relation to our truest self. This means that repentance is not a singular event, it happens through out our lives. The need to repent can mean many things sometimes we are bound up in destructive and harmful behaviors, we may call sin, and must call out for help, and be rescued, at times it is simply like with God the recognition that a particular course of action if continued indefinitely would be inconsistent with ourselves our desires and our life in God.
When we are called to repent we aren’t called to something that God does not do, though we do it and must do it in ways that God does not, for we are not God. The continual call to Repentance, the returning to Lent each year is a call to turn aside, to not go down a particular path again. It is also a call to turn upon another path. It is a call to turn aside from those things that bring death and to turn to God and thus life. It is a call to follow in the way of God. We are called to turn to the one who can renew and uncover who we are as people made in the image of God. In repentance we commit to that path of coming to know ourselves in the light of god’s life and wisdom. We turn to the truest human Jesus Christ, who calls to us and guides us down the lifelong path of repentance. Amen