Rev. Carol A. Prochaska (ret.)
September 15, 2013
Title: Reaping the Benefits of Repenting
Scripture: 1Timothy 1:12-14; Luke 15: 1-10
Once upon a time at the bottom of the ocean there was a great thickness of lime mud. With time there came burial, great pressure and heat, and with that the lime mud turned to limestone. We all know how valuable and how useful limestone has been to builders—think of our church building.
Ah! But! Whenever limestone endured further pressure and heat within the confines of the earth's crust, it was transformed into marble. We all know how useful and valuable and beautiful marble is. Think of how grand our church building would be if it was made of marble!
Some of you will know that this process (lime mud to limestone to marble) is known by the geological term: metamorphosis. Now here's a cool thing: there is a biblical word which is a cousin to metamorphosis. It is the Greek word is metanoia. The first is about changed forms. The second is about changed minds. Meta = "change"; Noia = "mind" or "thinking." Thus we get "changed thinking." We go from muddy thinking to improved thinking to great clarity.
In scripture this process of transformed understanding or changed opinion is called repentance. To repent is to change the way we think. For instance it could go like this: "I am not loveable" or "nobody loves me" to "wherever I go, wherever I am, I am loved greatly." With metanoia our thinking goes through metamorphosis. Like beautiful marble our thoughts become even more beautiful! ...
When you hear the word "repent" what comes to your mind? Do you think of someone standing on a street corner, holding a sign and shouting about a world going to you know where? Do you connect the word "repent" or "repentance" with "joy" —the kind of joy like that of a shepherd finding a lost sheep, the kind of joy like that of a housekeeper finding a lost coin. And yet says Jesus, it's that kind of joy in heaven when one person repents, that is, when one person changes their understanding or their opinion.
So to repent—to go through a transformation—that comes about when we change the way we think is, according to Jesus, is to be celebrated. Apparently repentance is a heavenly thing. Apparently repentance is in our disciple job description. It's what we learners do!
Alcoholic Anonymous and Alanon use the expression "stinking thinking." It gets at the idea that certain thinking needs to change. Those who work the 12 Steps can testify that to let go of stinky thinking requires some work. Like lime mud to limestone to marble, it does not happen without time and heat and pressure.
It is also does not happen without the feeling of regret. When we see our ignorance, it does not feel good. However there is no indication whatsoever from scripture that we are to stay in the regret. Quite the opposite! Good News: Regret is the indicator that we are: 1) being forgiven; 2) being transformed. Remember the Apostle Paul who claimed that he was the worst case of all. Yet he knew himself to be forgiven and was able, in so many ways, to proclaim God's compassion. He knew God's mercy and love firsthand. We are so fortunate he wrote about so that we have his witness for ourselves.
When I was a student at Vancouver School of Theology, I rode the bus from Burnaby to the School. Each class day, morning and evening, I would see a church with a steeple topped by a neon cross. To my way of thinking that neon cross was tacky! There was no reason whatsoever to attach a tacky neon cross to the top of a church steeple. On those back and forth bus rides I determined I would never ever serve a church with a neon cross. When I shared this sentiment with some of my classmates, they wholeheartedly agreed. There would be no neon crosses for those of us who were biblical scholars and future ministers of mainline denominations. My grumbling was not unlike the grumbling of those religious leaders to whom Jesus told the two parables. Grumbling/ muttering/ murmuring can be a sign, not only of a lack of understanding, but also a lack of love.
Not many years later I came to be interviewed by a congregation in Schulenburg, TX. And there under that Texas night sky -on top of that church steeple—there shone—you guessed it—a neon cross!
They chose to call me and I accepted. Who knew maybe that tacky cross would fall down or burn out or something? At the end of my first week as their minister, on the Saturday morning, that big old neon cross came crashing down! Splintered pieces were strewn all over the church front steps and sidewalk! As I helped sweep up the pieces I heard words of concern and sadness. I didn't have much to add to that conversation. We soon learned that this was not an act of God. it was simply that over the years the base had rusted and then early on that Saturday morning it snapped off and tumbled down. In the days to come I would learn that the neon cross had been there for many years as a memorial to two brothers: one who was killed in World War Two and the other in a tragic plane crash. Their heartbroken parents, members of the church, had purchased that cross as a visible sign of their faith and in memory of their two sons. The sister, a woman in her 70's, was a church member - very active and very loving. I also came to know that the cross was a beloved community landmark. There were children in the town who knew the church as the one with the big lighted cross, which was also a landmark for pilots flying small planes in the area.
Did I feel some pressure and some heat as I came to see how little I knew? How little I understood? How muddy was my thinking? Yes. Did I feel regret when I saw how pretentious I had been? Yes.
And then came the Sunday when we celebrated the installment of a new neon cross. And I was there to say the words of dedication! And I was there to enjoy the Pot Luck celebration that followed.
We think a certain way. We think there is nothing wrong with the way we think. But sometimes there is. And it would be wise to pay attention to our grumbling. It may indicate a need for us to repent.
Good news: God was and is loving us in our stinky thinking.
Good News: That same love was, is, and will be working on our behalf to transform us.
So we are loved all the way through our metamorphous and then... We are the cause for joy. (Reminder: Joy is feeling good about yourself, others, and God all at the same time.)
What a journey we get to go on! We start at stinky thinking. We go on to see a new truth and to feel regret. We continue on into transformation. We are like marble! And now the world has become bigger for us and more beautiful. Because of our changed thinking we can now see it and enjoy it. Metanoia changed thinking; repentance is God's gift. It is our responsibility to accept and to go the distance.