Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI, Sunday January 21, 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale, “Repent – it’s never too late”
Yesterday afternoon I sat by the bedside of Father Paul Koumrian, Paul as you know is dying and very close to the end. We talked and Paul was funny, acerbic and wise. He asked, as is his character, about my concerns. “Oh, I just don’t see a sermon for tomorrow.” With great vigor and conviction Paul commented, “Be evangelical” and so in his honor I preach this sermon and you cannot be more evangelical than to preach “repentance.”
Mark 1:14 “Repent…” (Message Translation “Change your life”, Neale translation “Change your mind”).
The Greek word for repent is metanoia – “an Ancient Greek word (μετάνοια) meaning “changing one’s mind”, it refers to… the process of experiencing a psychotic “breakdown” and subsequent, positive psychological re-building or “healing”.
This repentance business is not easy but it seems to lead inevitably to re-building and healing – the “mending of nets” so beautifully referred to in today’s Gospel.
I believe that the mission of the Gospel is not just to reach out but also to reach in; I believe that the mission of the Gospel is not just to increase numbers but to increase depth; I believe that the mission of the Gospel leads us not only to treasure the ancient but also to celebrate the spontaneous. I believe this is what the heady call to “repentance” is all about… that there is no one around us, there is nothing within us, there is no situation that besets us to which we say these awful, awful words “Well, this can never change.”
Poor Jonah – I really love this man – poor Jonah battled with the vocation to repentance.
To begin with, he is resolute, he will not repent… though God may call me, though sailors may perish I will be resolute to resist God’s call. At last he succumbs to God’s call – “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time… and so Jonah set out.” But then all hell breaks out within his soul as he observes with bitter irony that the people of Nineveh repent and that, blasphemy of blasphemy, torture of torture, God himself repents and changes his mind!
In opposition to Jonah, contrary to his example, I read with joy of the readiness of Simon and Andrew, of James and John to lay loose of their talents, their trades. They indeed repent (turn around) and follow with unbridled joy and faith their newly discovered Friend – Lord – Savior. This is how I want to be… ready to repent, in the words of our Collect for the day “to answer readily the call of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These men were ready to lay loose not only of their trades but also of the image that went with those trades… they were ready to repent and turn around. Maybe sometimes we become captivated by the images we carry of ourselves… so captivated that without a readiness to repent we become immobile, stolid and quite unremarkable.
In a few moments Lilly James Anthony will be baptized; on her behalf parents and godparents commit her to a life of repentance. I have come to believe that there is nothing more holy, more healing, more empowering, more worthy than to entertain in one’s mind the constant possibility of repentance. This vocation to a life of repentance is not easy but it can be done – “I will, with God’s help”.
When Wendy and I returned from vacation on Friday night we were foolish enough to begin to watch the news channels report the grinding towards a government shutdown. We watched with strange seduction as members of our Senate discussed in cabal, in conference, in conversation as the hour of midnight drew near. I hesitate to comment on this at all but it’s blindingly obvious that without a readiness to repent shutdown is inevitable. And be assured, psychic shutdown (mine, yours) is inevitable without repentance. It is damnably true that if nothing changes… nothing changes.
It seems, as if, to make reference to “repentance” is tantamount to political weakness, of feebleness of mind and principle and yet… and yet… unless there be some readiness to adopt with grace a position, an attitude of repentance (of mind changing)… nothing changes.
Friends, there is no final word about us that we should ever utter; there is no final word about others that we should ever utter. By the grace of God, in the economy of God, in the hands of God everything, everyone carries the potential for repentance, for change, for renewal.
To repent is not a sign of facile indifference, to repent does not signify a feeble will – to repent is to follow in the steps of the divine for “God changed his mind about the calamity that he said he would bring upon them.”
I ask myself, and I ask, you… am I, are you, ready to repent and return to the Lord… holding lightly all relationships, all vocations, all treasures and all possessions… am I ready not just now but constantly to repent and return to the Lord?
As our Collect wisely prays, “Lord, give us grace….” Amen.