III Easter

April 15, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

Let me begin with a few verses from our readings this morning:

From the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter ends his discourse with the people by saying, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”

In the Epistle reading, in speaking of Jesus, St. John writes: “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.   No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.   Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.”

And finally, in the Gospel lesson, St. Luke writes: “Then (Jesus) opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

Do you see a theme?  I was surprised to find that all three lessons had something to say about sin and repentance.  Why was I surprised?   I think because in my mind Lent is the time to focus on sin and repentance.  Sometimes I think that we forget that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was focused on the subject of sin and repentance.

Not that Jesus sinned.  But, what is the first thing that Jesus does when He begins His earthly ministry?  He goes to St. John the Baptist and is baptized.  John the Baptist preaches repentance as a means of preparing for the coming of the Messiah.  And then, as if to underscore that this is necessary, Jesus Himself is baptized.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel the very first thing that Jesus preaches is, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”   And St. Mark says, “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus’ first sermons were on sin and repentance.  And, again, as we read in St. Luke’s Gospel this morning, Jesus last words to His disciples was “…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations…”

What can we say about this subject?  Let me give you a few thoughts.  First, repentance is not a once and done thing.  As long as we sin, we need to repent.  The early Christians were afraid that if they sinned after they were baptized they would not go to heaven.  This meant that often they waited until they were on their deathbed to be baptized.

But the Lord recognized that human beings are incapable of perfection.  It is something He calls us to, but we fall short.  What this means is that there is a constant need for self-examination and repentance.  I think that it is appropriate for us to take time daily to examine our conscience and say a prayer of confession.

Second, let me say a word about the sacrament of reconciliation, which is known more readily by its other name “Sacramental Confession”.  The Anglican understanding of sacramental confession is, “All may, some should, none must.”

All are welcomed to use this sacrament of the Church.  Some people who are particularly burdened by their sins should seek out a priest so that they can say out loud those things which burden them and hear the words that they are forgiven.  No one is required to make a sacramental confession. 

We have a general confession at every Eucharist, and this can suffice for many people.  Let me simply say that I have been making sacramental confessions since I was in seminary, and I find it a great blessing.

Finally, I would like to share some thoughts on a phrase that seems to be used more readily in the Church.  In recent years, I have noticed that in general confessions; the phrase, “We repent of the sins done on our behalf” is used.

This idea of sins done on our behalf is an interesting one to me.  One of the things this points to are the many “isms” that we find on our culture – racism, sexism, hetero-sexism and the like.

Much of this stems from power.  It is a usual part of any society that those who are in power will create mechanisms in the system which help them maintain that power.  What this means is that those people in the society who are like the people in power are given privileges which they themselves may not work to maintain.

What this means is that a society may persecute someone who is different from those in power.  Let’s look at the example of Nazi Germany.  We know that many groups, in particular Jewish people, gay people, and intellectuals, were persecuted.  This is an extreme example.

But, we cannot let ourselves off the hook so easily.  We, too, are a part of a culture which falls short of Jesus’ teachings.  We as a culture fall short of our baptismal covenant.    This means that we participate, willingly or unwillingly, in the sins of our culture.  This is what is meant by “sins done on our behalf.”

The easy way out is to blame the culture and to say that “I do not do those things.”  But what Jesus calls us to do is to examine our lives and how it is that we may have benefited from the sins of our culture; to acknowledge those sins in our lives, and to repent of them.  And, in fact, to take it a step further, to work for justice and to change. 

These are my thoughts on this subject at the moment.  I invite all of us to examine ourselves as a part of the greater culture and to be mindful of Jesus’ teachings and our own baptismal covenant.

As I read through the lessons this morning, I was struck by a theme of sin and repentance.  I think that all too often we focus on the love of Christ for us and the world.  Yes, indeed, Jesus loves us as we are and where we are.  But when we enter into relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it means that we are called to not stay as we are, but to ever strive to become more like Him. 

And this involves constant examination of our lives, both personal and cultural, and to remember the words Jesus preached in the Gospel lesson for today -- “…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations…” AMEN.