The Fruit of Repentance
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
It had been almost 500 years of silence. Five centuries without a prophetic voice, when the word of God came to John in the wilderness.
The people were thirsting, yearning for a word from God. And now, in the wilderness, on the fringes of society, a voice cries out. “Prepare the way! Raise up the valleys, flatten out the mountains, make the crooked way straight for the coming King!”
John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. And the people came. Crowds of them, a line stretching from Jerusalem to the Jordan, eager to wash away their sin in the cleansing waters of baptism. To drink in God’s forgiveness.
“You brood of VIPERS!” John yelled. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” OUCH! Really, John? That is not very pastoral!
In Matthew’s account, it is the religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees to whom John directs this outrage. But here, he tells the whole crowd that they are venomous snakes and warns them not to rely on their ancestry as sons of Abraham – THAT will not save them. Nor will coming to be baptized in the Jordan River – not without a true change of heart.
But rather, John exhorts, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Repentance. It isn’t a word we use every day – is it? And we rarely, if ever use it outside of church. But here it is – central to the good news John has been called to proclaim.
REPENT. We tend to think repentance involves a lot of regret, remorse and sorrow over our sin – It is good to feel sorry about sin. But REPENT is NOT a feeling word. It is an ACTION word.
In Hebrew, the word for REPENT is SHUB. It is an everyday word meaning to turn. You are walking in one direction, you turn, and go in a different direction. That’s it. Turn. When you repent, you turn away from sin and you turn toward God. Action.
In Greek, the word is Metanoia. Guess what it means? – Yup. Turn. To go in a different direction. To change one’s mind. To change one’s attitude, perspective and conduct.
John isn’t calling people to be sorry, but to change! Don’t rely on this baptism of water – but turn! Turn toward God. Change your hearts and your attitudes and the focus of your life. If you do, you will bear the fruits of repentance.
John’s preaching may have been rude, but his sermon landed on receptive ears. The people asked, “what should we do?” John tells them to share their food and clothing with those who are in need.
Then he addresses the tax collectors and soldiers – Jews who were hated because they worked for Rome and used their power to cheat the people. Yet here they are. To the tax collectors, John says “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” And soldiers, “Stop extortion and bullying and be satisfied with your wages.”
It is so practical isn’t it?
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg and thus began the great Protestant Reformation. His very first thesis reads — When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. Did you catch that? The entire life of the Christian is repentance.
Repentance is not limited to an initial “coming to Jesus” experience – when you first turned away from sin and embraced Jesus as your Savior and your Lord. Nor when you came back to Christ, after a long prodigal-like detour. It is the ongoing posture of the follower of Jesus. At the very core of our life in Christ.
A friend of mine describes the Christian life as one big, gigantic YES to Jesus, followed by a whole lot of yeses. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Daily turning away from sin and toward God. As we continue to say YES, aligning our wills with God’s will …those opportunities to bear fruit of repentance are going to rise up to meet us every day. And that is good news.
Scripture tells us that John continued to exhort the people and proclaim good news. Exhorting people and good news. We rarely put those two together, do we? But it is good news! God cares about the marginalized, the poor, vulnerable, and victims of injustice, and intends to use you and me – repentant sinners – to right the wrongs of this world.
As we intentionally turn the direction of our lives toward Christ, the One who baptizes us not with water, but with the holy spirit and fire. We are changed. Our eyes are opened. Our hearts break with that which breaks the heart of God. And we see opportunities to bear the fruit of repentance everywhere. To share a coat with those who are cold. To feed those who are hungry. To encourage those who are downcast. To care for the sick. To pray for those who suffer. And – Yes, to resist evil, and stand up for what is just and holy.
This past week, we watched slack-jawed in disbelief at the uprising and attack on our nation’s capitol. We are wearied by the reports of injustice. We are drained by the constant drum beat of COVID numbers and isolation from friends and family. And we fear for the health of our parents and the future of our children.
We are grieved and weary – What shall we do?
Repent, remember is an action word. Your voice may feel small. Your actions may seem insignificant. Your prayers may feel ineffective. But this is how God’s kingdom comes. Subversively… quietly… powerfully. With each word of encouragement, with every shared meal or clothing donation, with every prayer.
Do not lose heart. Make no mistake friends. Your actions matter. Your words matter. Your prayers matter. They are the very stuff that God uses. Like a stone dropped into a pond, they ripple forth – to bring justice and healing and hope to our world.
So friends, Let us repent. And bring the good news.